UK Football

With extra time to grow, Kentucky football hopes to see beautiful things from Rose

Wasn't easy but A.J. Rose helped by redshirting

Kentucky running back A.J. Rose redshirted last year. Now he's ready to use on the field what he learned sitting out. Offensive coordinator Eddie Gran likes Rose's physical style.
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Kentucky running back A.J. Rose redshirted last year. Now he's ready to use on the field what he learned sitting out. Offensive coordinator Eddie Gran likes Rose's physical style.

When their kids are hurting, parents look for the quickest way to stop the pain.

But sometimes there is a greater lesson in the struggle.

That’s what Asim Rose Sr. and his wife Shauna Scott-Rose reminded each other early last fall when they saw their son upset that he would redshirt his first year at Kentucky.

“It’s been some rough, rough conversations,” Asim Rose said of his son, UK running back A.J. Rose.

“There were times I really felt he was at the breaking point to where he wanted to talk of possibly transferring and all that, but that was out the door. Once you start it, you’re going to finish it. He had to realize that.”

Rose came in with Benny Snell, both true freshman running backs with loads of accolades and talent. They talked about being a dangerous one-two punch for Kentucky.

But their paths diverged.

With depth in the backfield last season, the Cats’ coaches had to play one and sit the other. Rose watched from the sidelines as Snell became a Freshman All-American while setting six UK freshman records.

Rose watched as Snell ran for 1,091 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2016.

He was frustrated. His parents stayed in his ear.

“Every day isn’t going to be a great day,” Asim said they told A.J. “Every day isn’t going to be easy. You have to sit down and apply yourself. It’s nothing wrong with taking on a challenge.”

If you looked at both players’ film coming out of high school in Ohio, the perception was that Rose was a step ahead of Snell, said their main recruiter, tight ends coach Vince Marrow.

“A.J. is a very talented young man,” Marrow said, before adding the inevitable but, “A.J. needed to redshirt. He don’t like to hear that, but I always tell his butt that. A.J. needed to redshirt because he needed to mature.”

That definitely is not what the former star coming out of Garfield Heights, Ohio, wanted to hear.

It was rough watching the season unfold without him.

“The first three games was frustrating, seeing everybody play and not being able to play out there, but I got through it,” Rose said after practice on Tuesday. “My mom and dad pushed me, my coaches pushed me. I had to know how to do it, to get in the playbook and everything.”

It’s part of growing up, his parents and coaches told him.

“Really it just came down to maturity,” offensive coordinator and running backs coach Eddie Gran said of Rose. “He just wasn’t quite ready. You could see all the physical tools.”

Gran told Rose to get in his playbook, to know the ins and outs, the nuances of every play, even the ones where the running back doesn’t touch the ball. He told him to focus on getting in textbooks and doing everything correctly off the field, too.

“He took that to heart and came back this spring, worked hard in the weight room, did a great job for us, learned the offense,” Gran continued on Tuesday. “And you can see after three days he’s really locked in and wants playing time.”

What Kentucky has discovered it has in the 6-foot-1, 200-pound running back is a strong option to replace yardage lost in the departed Boom Williams and Jojo Kemp.

In some ways, he has the power of Snell but the speed of Williams, who led the Cats last season with 1,170 yards and seven touchdowns.

“This kid is going to surprise a lot of people,” Marrow said of Rose, whom he said was clocked at 4.38 in the 40-yard dash. “Got some power. People don’t realize he’s got some speed. … I’m very excited to see him. Very excited.”

Gran, who has coached running backs for decades and tries not to say too many nice things in a row about them, likes what Rose offers.

“I like A.J.’s physicalness,” the offensive coordinator said. “I like that he is fast. He shows a burst we really didn’t know he had.”

The Kentucky GPS devices that track player speed (among other things) clocked Rose at 21 miles per hour, which impressed Gran.

“For that big body to get that fast with our GPS, that’s pretty impressive,” the coach said.

But the best way to catch the eye of this offensive coordinator is with your mind. That’s where Gran has seen Rose grow the most.

“Just the way he’s evolved learning the offense,” Gran continued during spring practices. “Last year compared to this year is night and day. He’s doing a great job. He’s doing a great job in the classroom. I think there’s a direct correlation with those two. He’s just bought in. He’s getting it. He’s not a freshman anymore. He’s maturing.”

His parents are happy to hear that and to see that.

It was difficult telling their son to pick his head up and push forward even when he was hurting.

Rose’s family can’t wait to see him take those final few steps of his journey into the end zone this season.

Added Asim Rose Sr., “Just to see it come full circle for him is going to be awesome to see.”

Staff writer Ben Roberts contributed to this report.

Jennifer Smith: 859-231-3241, @jenheraldleader