Kentucky freshman running back JuTahn McClain has been making noise since arriving on campus in Lexington this summer. His performance and work ethic so far as a ‘Cat even got offensive coordinator Eddie Gran to compare him to UK legendary running back Benny Snell as a guy that forces you to give him playing time.
Though he did not play in either of the first two outings, he finally got his opportunity after sophomore running back Kavosiey Smoke sustained a rib injury against Ole Miss that has kept him out for some time. McClain was deemed as the No. 3 RB on the depth chart going into Kentucky’s matchup against Mississippi State, and even though he had just one carry that was late in the game, the freshman bounced through defenders for 17 yards, showing the promise that the UK coaches have been raving about.
Fast forward to this past Saturday in UK’s 34-7 win at Tennessee, the freshman running back saw even more playing time, as he rushed for 23 yards on seven carries.
McClain said today in a brief media availability that he is thankful for the trust offensive coordinator Eddie Gran has put in him, especially as a newcomer.
“First off, I’m thankful for the opportunity. Like, I’m a young buck so it means a lot to me, knowing that coach Gran trusts me enough to put me out there. And the big guys are coaching me up as well, like AJ (Rose) and Chris (Rodriguez), (Kavosiey) Smoke. With Smoke being out, they put their trust in me, and I just feel like that was something big for me,” he said.
Making the transition from high school to college football is normally large enough that freshmen are forced to redshirt, but due to how well McClain has performed so far this season, he has gotten playing time immediately. The freshman running back emphasized studying film as the most important preparation technique to get himself ready.
“Toughest part is you gotta really stay in your book. You gotta study. It’s not really like high school, it’s a big transition. In high school you could just wing it and basically do everything you wanted. You can get recruited off of that and be straight, but in college, it’s like, you gotta study and be in the weight room. You gotta make sure your body straight. That’s just what they taught me — you gotta be in the film room, you gotta look at your opponents, you gotta know your opponents, that’s the first thing coach Gran teaches us running backs in the running back room — you gotta know your opponent and go out there and execute. If you don’t know your opponent, then your as good as dead,” he said.
What makes the transition even more challenging is that McClain is faced with going up against an SEC defense. He said size and speed are clear differences, but that the UK offensive line has helped him be able to adjust.
“”They’re really flying around. They’re huge, like in high school, you really don’t see that many big people. You could see a couple big guys in a couple of games, but in the SEC, it’s a whole bunch of big guys. And shoutout to the big guys in the Big Blue Wall ’cause they make it easier for me to read and they take care of the big people up front, making it easier for me to make second level cuts and read what the linebackers and safeties are gonna do.”
With the rise of JuTahn McClain, Kentucky can feel even more comfortable that they will have a strong running back room for years to come.