During the season, it’s almost described like a scene in a Norman Rockwell painting.
Smiling football player in his pads working hard in practice, waiting patiently for his turn to put the helmet on and play.
It’s not quite an accurate portrayal. Sihiem King and his coaches said as much Tuesday.
“I was really frustrated,” the junior said of waiting his turn last season behind running backs like Boom Williams, Benny Snell and Jojo Kemp.
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King was the odd man out on a team that focused heavily on the run, getting just 11 carries on the season for 81 yards and one touchdown.
It’s never easy to be the guy behind the guys, offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said.
When asked if he had to say things to keep King engaged last season, Gran said. “Yeah. All the time. Every week.
“It’s the hardest thing as a coach, it’s the hardest thing as a player who wants to compete and wants to play,” Gran said of dealing with King, a 5-foot-9, 172-pound junior.
“We always talk about being humble and having the humility and it’s tough, but he’s gonna learn a lot from that later on in life, because he’s gonna get a chance right now.”
No Cats coach is ready to sit down and Sharpie in a depth chart, especially early in spring practices, but it seems like a given that Snell is the Cats’ top running back.
He returns to UK after a season in which he broke six freshman records and was named to multiple All-America lists. Despite not getting a carry in his first three games, Snell ran for 1,091 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Gran wasn’t ready to declare Snell “the guy” in the first week of spring practice.
“Let’s not use those words,” Gran said Tuesday. “He’s got a lot of work to do. We need to make sure when you are considered that guy there’s a lot of responsibility with that. Right now after two practices, he’s doing really well and he’s taking that responsibility well.”
This is his time, and you can tell. He’s got a lot more energy and he’s explosive and I’m excited to see him to try to compete for that job. They all should.
Eddie Gran, discussing UK running back Sihiem King
The UK running backs coach is eager to see what a player like King can add to the mix, likely used in concert with Snell.
“Sihiem King, he really had a tough deal last year with all the running backs that we had, and he had to sit out,” Gran said of King, who played in all 13 games last season, but failed to get a carry in 10 of those.
“This is his time, and you can tell. He’s got a lot more energy and he’s explosive and I’m excited to see him try to compete for that job. They all should.”
If Snell is the hard-charging, pile-moving running back, King could be a good change-of-pace player, especially with his strong hands.
Gran noted that King could be a good receiver out of the backfield. UK running backs caught just 15 passes last season, but more of that could be added to the playbook.
Gran referred to King as a “scat-back type” similar to Williams, who is headed to the NFL Draft after leading UK in rushing last season with 1,170 yards and seven touchdowns on 171 carries.
“I don’t know if (King’s) got the explosion all the way down the field, but for the first 20 yards he sure does,” Gran said when asked about the Williams-King comparisons.
For his part, King just sounds eager to show what he can do with the ball in his hands, whether it be in the backfield or the return game, where he returned kicks off and on last season, getting 213 yards on 10 kickoffs, including six for 118 yards in the win over Louisville.
“I’ve tried to make the best of every carry I get,” said King, who had a season-high six carries for 75 yards and a score at Tennessee last season. “Any time I touch the ball, I try to get something out of it.”
A spring game for Barker?
There’s no firm timetable for the return of quarterback Drew Barker, who had back surgery in November. But his position coach sounded optimistic that the junior would be an active participant this spring.
“He’s further along than we thought he’d be,” Darin Hinshaw said of Barker, who has been limited in reps and throwing distances as he recovers. “I really think he’ll get to compete some this spring after spring break. We’re not going to jump into it with him because we don’t want to do something to set him backward because he’s gone so far forward.
“We’re going to gradually wean him in to getting some playing time and all that stuff this spring. I think you’ll see him out there and hopefully he’ll get to participate in the spring game, so we’ll see.”