When he arrived on campus, Kash Daniel didn’t know if he would play right away or become Kentucky’s one-man hydration station.
Any role was fine with the linebacker from Paintsville.
“If they want me to play special teams, I’ll play special teams,” Daniel said in January. “If they want me to fill the water jug up, I’ll fill the water jug up. It doesn’t matter what it is.”
There’s been no jug filling in his first season, but there’s been lots of special teams play, where the 6-foot-1, 241-pound Army All-American has started to make his mark.
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Daniel has seen action in all 10 games this season for Kentucky and made 10 tackles, nine of those in Southeastern Conference play. And five have come in the last two games, including some monster tackles on kickoff returns.
He’s starting to make his mark, playing every snap of special teams last week at Tennessee, earning the team’s special teams player of the week honors.
“He played exceptionally well,” Coach Mark Stoops said on his radio show Monday night. “He made three really important tackles on kickoff. He was very physical on punt and it’s great to see.”
He played exceptionally well. He made three really important tackles on kickoff. He was very physical on punt and it’s great to see.
Mark Stoops, on Kash Daniel’s special teams play against Tennessee
As the defense watched some gruesome film from last week’s Tennessee game, which included the Cats giving up 599 yards and nine explosive plays that equaled 275 yards alone for the Vols, Stoops pointed to the projector.
“Our film is our résumé,” he told the UK players. “It’s about us. What do we want to look like?”
Kentucky’s coach knows what Daniel’s answer will be.
“He cares a lot about that résumé I was just talking about and what that film looks like,” Stoops said. “It’s important for him to go out and play well, and we’ll continue to bring him along.”
Daniel can’t imagine feeling any other way about the film in front of him, that résumé of sorts.
“I’m always really hard on myself,” he said. “I have been since I was a kid. No matter how good I actually did, I’m going to tell myself I could’ve done better.”
Ignore the sloppy globs of black that he rubs under his eyes before games. Daniel’s outer war paint does not paint a full picture of the freshman linebacker.
His quest is perfection.
“It’s a lifelong thing,” he said. “My dad was the one who instilled that in me. I remember when I was a kid, if your room wasn’t made a certain way, he was jumping down your throat about it.
“That goes from household things to the football field to the baseball field. You can credit my dad for that one.”
I’m always really hard on myself. I have been since I was a kid. No matter how good I actually did, I’m going to tell myself I could’ve done better.
Daniel learned from an early age that if he didn’t do it right the first time, he’d be doing it again soon.
“You’re not accepting good, you’re not accepting OK, you’re not accepting anything but perfection and you’re not going to be perfect every time,” Daniel said. “But striving to be perfect, you can do that.”
It’s what his coaches have seen from the freshman since he arrived on campus with the early enrollees in January.
“When he makes a mistake, truly you can tell that it bothers him and he works hard to correct it,” inside linebackers and special teams coach Matt House said.
“For a freshman, sometimes that takes time. He’s definitely above the curve as far as putting pressure on himself and understanding that in order to be a great player you have to practice great.”
Does the perfectionism ever slow him down, get in his head too much? House doesn’t think so.
“He’s cut it loose when he’s been on the field and I think that’s a good thing at that young age that you want to be right all the time,” he said.
Daniel has seen several series at middle linebacker as a backup to junior Courtney Love, starting with one in the fourth quarter at Florida. Stoops hopes Daniel and several other inexperienced players on defense will get to see some extended time against winless Austin Peay this weekend at Commonwealth Stadium.
The freshman definitely has earned it with his special teams play and his attention to detail in practice, the head coach said.
“He’s a guy who plays extremely hard,” Stoops said. “He cares. He’s passionate.”
Austin Peay at Kentucky
4:30 p.m. Saturday (SEC Network)