Some players make bold pronouncements about their goals each season, both statistically and in getting their names among the who’s who of national watch lists.
Some players write it on their walls or in their lockers.
Some players keep those goals next to their beds.
Kentucky’s Benny Snell has goals in mind, but he doesn’t like to share them.
“I prefer to keep those to myself,” the sophomore running back said recently.
At one point during the season, Snell admitted that he sometimes sneaks a peek at the Southeastern Conference rushing yardage totals and touchdown numbers.
If he did that this week, then Snell saw that he finished as the league’s regular-season leader in total rushing yards at 1,318 and its leader in touchdowns on the ground with 18.
Snell certainly finished the regular season like he was chasing something, even if he doesn’t say what exactly.
After a career-low seven carries for 18 yards at Mississippi State on Oct. 21, Snell closed the regular season with gusto, running for 777 yards and 12 touchdowns on 123 carries (6.3 yards per carry) in the Cats’ final five games.
Offensive coordinator Eddie Gran saw a significant change in the sophomore sensation after that loss in Starkville.
“He’s being more patient,” Gran said. “That’s something you learn and you can’t try to make stuff up. You’ve just got to stay with the system and do what’s right.
“It matters to him. You can tell when he’s running the ball. You can tell after a game, before a game. I’m really proud of him.”
It’s hard not to admire how hard Snell goes about his work, Coach Mark Stoops said.
“He’s been running the ball like those yards are personal to him,” Stoops said.
Which begs the question: Just how personal?
How close is Snell to reaching those goals he’s quietly set for himself?
How close is he to running away with Kentucky history and some Southeastern Conference history, too?
Could Snell finish his Kentucky career as one of — if not the best — to rush for the Cats?
The numbers say yes.
If Snell were to stay all four years, he’s on pace to own the Kentucky rushing record books, something he’s already started doing in his first two seasons.
Of course, most high-level running backs stay in college just three seasons before moving on to the professional ranks. If Snell follows that path and stays just one more season at UK, he will need 1,427 more rushing yards to become the Cats’ all-time leading rusher, a 42-year-old record held by Sonny Collins, who finished with 3,835 yards and 26 career touchdowns.
If Snell were to run for his average this season (110 yards) in Kentucky’s upcoming bowl game, he would need 1,317 yards to best the school’s rushing record. That’s one yard fewer than he’s managed already this season with a game to go (the 1,318 is the most ever by a UK sophomore).
As of Saturday, Snell is eighth on the Cats’ career rushing list with 2,409 yards. Last year he broke six school rushing records and in 2017 several more have fallen. Already, the sophomore holds:
▪ The school record for rushing touchdowns with 31.
▪ The school record for rushing touchdowns in a season with 18.
▪ The school record for points in a season with 110, putting him eighth on the Cats’ all-time scoring list. He already broke the record for points in a season, previously held by teammate and kicker Austin MacGinnis (104 points in 2014).
There are other UK records on which he’s gaining ground, including: Most rushing touchdowns in a game. At present, Snell is tied with Artose Pinner, Moe Williams, Collins and Rodger Bird, who all have four.
Already Snell has 12 games of 100 rushing yards or more. He needs seven more to best Collins, who had 18 from 1972 to 1975. Snell needs just one more 100-yard game to catch two players tied for second place in Williams and Rafael Little.
At 31 total touchdowns, Snell needs just two more career scores to get past Craig Yeast for second all time. Green Bay Packers star Randall Cobb is atop UK’s record books in career touchdowns with 37.
And while Snell likely will never catch some of the league’s best of the best, his name could end up comfortably on several top 10 lists in the SEC.
Gran, who has coached a few top running backs who went on to play professionally, was asked if Snell could be among the best.
“I don’t think there’s any question,” he said. “It just depends on how he grows. It’s hard when everybody is telling you you’re great. So, it’s my job to help him stay humbled, and he does that.”
That humble part is tougher in this era of social media, Gran said.
“But that’s part of it,” the coach continued. “He’s got to handle it. He’s got a chance to be as good as he wants to be.”
Already, Snell is among rarefied air as a sophomore. Only two other players in SEC history had at least 2,409 yards and at least 31 career rushing touchdowns before their junior seasons: Georgia’s Herschel Walker and LSU’s Leonard Fournette.
If he gets 924 more yards in a UK uniform, he’ll be top 20 in the SEC in career rushing yardage, passing Williams. If he passes Collins as the Cats’ leading rusher, that will be good enough to get in the top 10 in the league.
There’s still much to run for, much to play for as Snell continues to quietly mow those records down.
It’s an attitude his coaches love.
“He wants to win, he’s competitive, he wants to do well,” Gran said of the sophomore from Westerville, Ohio. “He’s all about the team and he’s got his individual goals, he wants to achieve those. I think that’s great, but he is about winning and helping this football team in any capacity possible.”
College Football Playoff Selection Show
What: Pairings for national semifinals and all other bowl games to be announced.
When: Noon Sunday
UK’s career rushing leaders
1. Sonny Collins
2. Moe Williams
3. Rafael Little
4. Mark Higgs
5. George Adams
6. Derrick Locke
7. Boom Williams
8. Benny Snell
9. Artose Pinner
10. Marc Logan
11. Derrick Ramsey
12. Anthony White
13. Jojo Kemp
14. Rodger Bird
15. Derek Homer