When Jojo Kemp says he wants to finish his senior season strong, he means it.
Just check the GPS device he was wearing during the Tennessee game last weekend.
On the longest run of his career, a 71-yarder for a touchdown in the second half, the senior running back said he peaked at nearly 22 miles an hour.
“He really hit a good speed,” Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops said of Kemp, a touch of disbelief in his voice. “I think he ran as fast as he ever has since he’s been here. ... He hit at a high number, so it was good.”
Kemp scoffed at doubters.
“That’s insane,” he laughed. “Everybody knows I’m fast. I don’t know what he was thinking. … I’m fast.”
In his four seasons at Kentucky, Kemp has been more than fast. He’s been resilient. As a true freshman, Kemp led all Cats runners with 100 carries for 482 yards and three touchdowns.
Other running backs have come along like Boom Williams and now freshman Benny Snell and they have meant fewer carries for Kemp, who is third on the team in rushing behind those two this season with 235 yards and four touchdowns.
But the 5-foot-10, 200-pound senior from DeLand, Fla., hasn’t complained. He just does what he’s asked.
“Everything’s not perfect,” Kemp said on Tuesday. “I always believe in keeping my head up, staying positive and keep working.”
It’s a motto that’s served him well in this season full of ups and downs, including a broken left hand that sidelined him for the game at Missouri and against Georgia the next week.
“It’s getting better; I’m getting used to it,” Kemp said of playing with a broken hand and casts in varying sizes. “It’s not my dominant hand, but I’m definitely getting used to it. It’s definitely been improving over the weeks.”
Seeing Kemp play through some injuries and some pain this season has impressed co-offensive coordinator Eddie Gran, too.
“He’s been hurt a couple weeks, then came back, had a good game, then hurt again for two to three weeks,” the running backs coach said. “Came back and showed that he’s resilient.”
Fellow co-offensive coordinator Darin Hinshaw has only coached Kemp for a season, but the coach has been impressed with the senior leader.
“What a fighter,” Hinshaw said of Kemp. “He’s been working his tail off. I’d love to see him finish with the big ‘W’ his last game.”
As much fun as it was to find the end zone in the loss at Tennessee, Kemp said it was just as nice to be back on the field with his teammates.
He knows he has precious few games left in a UK uniform.
“It felt real good to be back with the team and keep fighting and that’s all I was worried about, getting back out there, picking up blitzes and fighting hard with my teammates and try to finish,” he said.
Ultimately, it’s not just about finishing out a game strong, but about finishing the season strong. Kemp knows this is the last season he will have a chance to get Kentucky over the hump and earn that all-important sixth win to gain bowl eligibility.
It’s something Kemp has wanted since he committed to the Cats and Stoops so many years ago.
“Everything happens for a reason,” said Kemp, who now has 1,595 career yards and 17 touchdowns. “It’s a blessing that I got an opportunity to get a sixth win on senior day. It’ll be an awesome feeling. I’m really focused on finishing strong. That’s what it’s all about for me.”
Austin Peay at Kentucky
4:30 p.m. Saturday (SEC Network)