They were the three little words Sihiem King wondered if he’d ever hear at Kentucky.
“It’s your time,” offensive coordinator Eddie Gran told the 5-foot-9, 172-pound junior during the spring.
King has waited two years, through two coordinators and two systems, to get a chance to show he was more than a kick returner and mop-up duty running back.
With featured back Boom Williams gone, King hoped he’d get his shot, but he wasn’t sure.
But hearing those words motivated the junior from Colquitt, Ga., to dive into his playbook and give extra effort in practice.
“I feel like it was my time, my shot,” King said this week as Kentucky prepares to face Southern Miss. “I wouldn’t necessarily say I started working harder — I did, but I’ve been working hard — but I saw the light then, really and truly saw the light.”
And under that light a more consistent player emerged, Coach Mark Stoops said of King, who ran 11 times for 81 yards and a touchdown last season, most of that coming at Tennessee.
“He’s really grown in a lot of ways,” Stoops said. “He’s a more disciplined football player and I’ve been pleased with him. … He’s been a touch up and down in the past. And so I’m excited to give him some opportunities.”
When did that light come on? It’s hard to pinpoint for Gran and King, but there’s something about knowing it’s your time that changes things for a player, the offensive coordinator and running backs coach said.
“I think now that he really knows he has a chance,” Gran said. “It was hard last year because he worked like crazy every day at practice and then he didn’t get an opportunity.”
UK’s featured running back, Benny Snell, with his six school freshman records and All-Southeastern Conference Freshman status, saw the difference in King, too.
“He’s been improving his skill all around in and out of the facility, in and out of practice, asking more questions,” Snell said. “He’s definitely ready. He’s changed since last year. I can tell.”
The change was most evident to King’s coaches from the first scrimmage to the second. It was dramatic, Gran said. King stopped bouncing around like a pinball looking for holes and waited for them to emerge.
King, whom Gran said will go in to relieve Snell first, started seeming more aware of down and distance and what was expected of him.
His quarterback, Stephen Johnson, has seen a different King emerge as well. And not just as a runner, but as a blocker in pass protection.
“Just seeing the blocks, seeing where he needs to go, both running and pass protecting,” Johnson said of the junior. “He’s doing a great job at it. Even helping me out sometimes with protection and knowing where to go before the defense even moves.”
As Cats fans worry about who will replace the veteran leadership in that running back room and who will be the complement to the Snell show, King is leading the field.
But he’s not alone. Coaches have seen A.J. Rose emerge as well, with Stoops on a recent radio show saying the redshirt freshman “has really had a good camp” and “is a big, strong guy.”
The trio — possibly along with true freshman Bryant Koback — will try to find a way to help Kentucky get back to its status as one of the elite running teams in the league.
Last season the Cats finished 20th in the nation in rushing and third in the SEC behind Alabama and Auburn at 234.2 yards per game.
With the clock ticking down on the start of the season, all three of the young running backs are ready for their time.
UK Network additions for fall
Kentucky announced some changes to its fall football broadcast on Thursday, including former quarterback Freddie Maggard joining sideline reporter Dick Gabriel on the field for the Cats’ seven home games this season.
Maggard also will provide in-game video sideline analysis for the UK Sports Network. Chris Labar is the new studio host for UK football and will offer an SEC Scoreboard-type show.
As part of its new deal with Kroger, UK is adding road broadcasts from area retail stores for away games, including the opener at the Kroger at 4101 Tates Creek Road in Lexington.
▪ Mark Stoops’ radio show will air each Monday night during the season from 6-7 p.m. The lone exception is Nov. 21, when the show will air on Tuesday.
The weekly Stoops television show will air again starting on Sunday at 11:30 a.m. on WKYT and at noon on Fox Sports South.
Kentucky at Southern Mississippi
When: 4 p.m. EDT
TV: CBS Sports Network
Where to find CBS Sports Network:
▪ Spectrum Cable: Channels 531 (standard definition) and 968 (high definition)
▪ DISH Network: Channel 158
▪ DirecTV: Channel 221