By LARRY VAUGHT
At first, Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said it wouldn’t be hard to make sure he didn’t use running back Benny Snell too much this season.
A few minutes later, Stoops changed his answer just a bit.
“He’s a hard guy to take off the field because he’s going to get you the tough yards. We always tell kids: Make us play you. If they (other running backs) are doing really good things, then we want to play them,” said Stoops. “He (Snell) doesn’t want to come out of the game. He wants to put the team on his shoulders and you love that mentality and that’s good with us.”
It has been very good for Kentucky. Snell led the SEC in rushing touchdowns (19) as a sophomore in 2017 and was third in rushing yardage (1,333 yards). He’s already seventh on the all-time UK rushing list with 2,424 yards and is the only player in school history to have consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season. He’s already scored a school-record 32 rushing touchdowns. He’s on preseason watch lists for the Maxwell Award (Player of the Year, Doak Walker Award (top running back) and Walter Camp Player of the Year.
Kentucky opens the season Saturday afternoon hosting Central Michigan. Sonny Collins is UK’s all-time leading rusher for 3,835 yards — or 1,411 more than Snell now has.
Snell insists he’s not focused on the record, especially since many expect him to leave UK after this season to play in the NFL. He’s willing to play whatever role coach Mark Stoops has for him, and even hopes to be more active in the passing game this season.
“Whatever is best for the offense to keep the ball moving is fine with him,” he said. “No, I am not going to be okay with coming off the field. The Benny Snell mentality never changes. Know what I am saying. If want me to carry 40 the ball 40 times, then I am doing it. Whatever they say, I am doing, though. I just want to win.”
That mentality is why tight ends coach Vince Marrow says linemen love blocking for Snell, a belief offensive guard Logan Stenberg verified.
“I love having him running the ball. I know if I give him a little hole, he’s going to hit it hard. He’s going to make me look good,” Stenberg said. “And I will make him look good sometimes if I can widen that hole a little extra. It’s a good tradeoff.”
Stenberg knows what to expect if he doesn’t get his block.
“If I don’t give him a hole, he will make one. He will lower the head and go straight through it. Sometimes I will get his head in my arm, or even my head, but that is just part of the game with Benny. He’s coming through whether you gave him a hole or not,” Stenberg said.
“He brings it like that every day. Weight room, indoor facility, outdoors. He is always ready.
I love it. It makes blocking easier. If you got someone who is not appreciative and doesn’t want to work, it’s like why am I blocking for this guy. Once you have somebody who wants to get better and improve the offense, it drives you to want to do the same. That’s why we love Benny.”
True freshman running back Kavosiey Smoke says it was “great” learning from Snell the past few months and the UK junior gave him plenty of easy advice to follow.
“He told me just to stay focused and not get down on yourself. Be a good teammate and work hard,” Smoke said. “He’s very humble. Keeps up with everything. That’s something I can relate to. He’s going to let you know if you don’t do something right and get on to you and tell you what to do to make you do right. You have to like and respect that because you see what he does and know he knows what he’s talking about.”