By Sam Warren
September 17th, 2016 was the beginning of Benny Snell’s career at Kentucky. Mark Stoops team was 0-2 and set to play the New Mexico State Aggies; after a 45-7 dismantling at The Swamp seven days earlier. It was a rainy, sunless day, and the demeanor of the crowd indicated a lack of hope.
Drew Barker threw an interception on his second throw of the game and was taken to the locker room. The sideline was deflated, and the fans were speechless.
Kentucky was losing 21-14 at the end of the first quarter, and the big blue nation was prepared for disappointment. Many fans wanted Mark Stoops to be fired, and I must admit, I was one of them. I obviously know more now than I knew then. It is premature to judge a coach after two games, but a loss to lowly New Mexico State would have been too much for Mark Stoops poor resume to bare.
That’s when Stoops took a risk. Losing Drew Barker forced the offense to rely on short passing and running the ball; after all, Stephen Johnson was a second choice quarterback who hadn’t quite won the trust of the coaching staff. Part of “Boom” Williams workload fell upon the backups that day, and Benny was ready. The first time Benny Snell Jr touched the ball as a Wildcat running back was an 18 yard carry in which he broke two tackles. It was certainly an omen for what was to come; the greatest rushing career in Kentucky Football history.
In a recent interview on Kentucky Sports Radio Benny spoke on his emotions throughout the first two games of the 2016 season, and the hard work it took to get his spot. “It was heartbreaking. I was on every single special team: punt, punt return, kickoff, kick return. I had four tackles before I even got a handoff, ” said Snell.
“I’m proud of that because I put the work in for my spot and I deserve it. I feel like a lot of guys, it’s just handed to them. The spotlight opened up for the running backs, I was looking at it, and I was like yea it’s definitely gonna be me. I’m definitely taking over this role,” said Snell.
Snell finished that day with 17 carries for 136 yards and four touchdowns. The last touchdown being maybe the most emphatic of his career; carrying four New Mexico State defenders into the endzone on his back.
Snell finished his Wildcat career the leader in rushing yards(3873) and touchdowns(48). Making him not only a legend by Wildcat standards but also historically relevant by SEC standards; falling just one touchdown short of tying Herschel Walker’s career rushing touchdown record of 49.
Not only will Benny Snell forever be remembered for his record-breaking statistics, but even more so for his charisma. Kentucky football had met a plateau at that pivotal ending of the first quarter against the Aggies. Benny saw the opportunity and ran with it. Kentucky looked hopeless that day, but Snell knew what he and his team were capable of. Snell put the Kentucky football program on his back and carried it to its highest peak in 41 years; that is much more than was ever expected from a low ranked three-star recruit from Westerville Ohio.