By LARRY VAUGHT
It’s still kind of hard to imagine the meteoric rise in Darian Kinnard’s career. He’s gone from trying to earn a starting spot at Kentucky to being ranked as the second best returning offensive tackle in the Southeastern Conference and a likely NFL draft pick after his junior season ends.
Yet his rise in the high school ranks was almost the same way …. yet he did not bail out on Kentucky when he had chances.
Kinnard was an early verbal commitment to Kentucky but by the time signing day came he was a four-star prospect ranked as high as the 101st best player in the country by 247Sports and a top 20 player in Ohio.
“I was committed so long to Kentucky but after I became a four-star (player), other big schools started reaching out to me. I had to sit back and re-evaluate what I wanted. I thought maybe I had jumped the gun by committing so early. I had maybe some buyer’s remorse,” the 6-5, 350-pound UK junior said. “I literally went from no stars to four stars in almost no time and had to start dealing with a lot more coaches
“But I stuck with Kentucky and it was the best life decision I ever made. It got a little stressful. I just felt good about the great opportunity I got from Kentucky. I did not really think about getting to the point where I might be able to leave school early for the NFL, but I always thought I could succeed if I just got the chance.”
He waited for his chance and then started all 13 games in 2019 when he had 32 knockdown blocks and just one penalty in 706 snaps. He helped UK rush for 3,624 yards, 36 touchdowns and 6.3 yards per carry — all school records.
“I am not a cocky person but I believe in myself,” Kinnard said. “I had full faith I could come here and overcome thrown my way. I had to hit the ground running and get to work. I did that. I wish I could have started more games as a freshman (he played in nine games and started two) but I understand people don’t want to put faith in a true freshman right away.
“I get that coaches trust older guys more. It is a coach’s job on the chopping block if you have a bad game. I understood that.
“I worked just to get my name out there and the next year was my time and I took over and did what I knew I could do. I kept my nose to the grindstone. I know can still be better and I I know I will be better this year.”