Kentucky hoping freshman Clemons can deliver a jolt

Big-time football in true freshman's family tree

mstory@herald-leader.comSeptember 8, 2011 

For Josh Clemons, scoring a touchdown on the fourth carry of his college football career was exciting.

Being able to look into the smallish crowd (24,599) attending the Kentucky-Western Kentucky University game at LP Field on his way from the end zone back to the UK bench and spot familiar faces — his mom, dad and two cousins — was priceless.

"They were sitting close to the side," Clemons said Wednesday. "I was actually able to catch a glimpse of them. They were really happy. That was nice."

If there is a "buzz" player on Kentucky's roster of offensive players, it is Clemons. On a UK team that seems to have a glaring need for playmakers, the 5-foot-10, 201-pound true freshman running back from Fayetteville, Ga., is thought to have the potential to fill the bill.

In UK's offensively sluggish 14-3 victory over Western, Clemons was UK's leading rusher — albeit with only 39 yards. Still, in a game in which UK had only seven runs of 5 yards or more, Clemons provided four of them. His 14-yard touchdown jaunt around right end in the second quarter proved to be the game's decisive score.

"I felt like I played all right," Clemons says. "There's a lot I can improve on that we're working on this week."

The high school résumé Clemons brings to Kentucky suggests a back with that highly desired combination, speed and power. As a high school track performer, Clemons competed in both the 100-meter dash and the shot put.

"He's really a powerful guy. He's bigger than you think," said Kentucky running backs coach Steve Pardue. "Initially, you look at him, you don't look at his whole body. You start looking at his arms, his chest, his shoulders, he's really developed beyond his age."

Clemons has big-time football in his genes.

His dad, Charlie, played linebacker at Georgia and then for three NFL teams, including the St. Louis Rams Super Bowl championship squad (1999 season). One of Josh's cousins, Chris Clemons, is a defensive end for the Seattle Seahawks. Another cousin, Nic Clemons, also played for the University of Georgia.

At Whitewater High School, "we knew Josh was going to be a college back real early," says Wes Hardin, the school's offensive coordinator. "What we didn't know as far as him being a real, big-time, SEC-kind of back was whether he was going to get tall enough."

After shoulder and ankle injuries limited Clemons' sophomore-year production at Whitewater, the back emerged as a star as a high school junior.

As a senior, Clemons averaged 8.3 yards a carry and ran for 2,003 yards. He was named Georgia Class 4A Offensive Player of the Year by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Schools such as Central Florida, Maryland and Mississippi State vied for his services. Tennessee and Kentucky got in on Clemons later, Hardin says.

Georgia — where, remember, Clemons' dad had played — never offered. "I think that was his dream school," Hardin says of Josh.

By picking Kentucky, Clemons will have a chance to show his home-state school what it missed.

He's publicly understated about that prospect. "It's something I want to do good in if I get a chance to play," Clemons said on UK's Media Day of facing the Dawgs.

To have any hope of extending its bowl streak to six seasons, Kentucky is going to need a whole lot more offense than the 190 yards (93 on the ground) it generated against WKU.

If the buzz is right, Josh Clemons may play a big part in making that happen.

UK's Pardue said he thinks the Georgian has a chance to develop into an every-down SEC running back.

"With a young running back, you always worry about how well do they pass protect? He had a good first game at that," Pardue said. "He does a good job securing the ball. He catches the ball well.

"He can be an every-down back because he does not have limitations in those areas. He's not there yet. But he's working every day to get there. Josh has great vision, great instincts and the game is really important to him; he studies it."

Which is why UK hopes its "buzz guy" can put a jolt into its offense. Soon.

'Heroes Day' at UK

Kentucky is calling Saturday's game against Central Michigan at Commonwealth Stadium "Heroes Day," in honor of those who serve in the U.S. military as well as the police, firefighters and other first responders.

Anyone who works in that capacity can present a service ID at Commonwealth's Gate 4 ticket booth and receive a complimentary ticket for themselves and a guest as long as supplies last.

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