UK Football

Kentucky’s ‘old’ man ready for his new beginning. Kash Daniel stepping into key role for Cats.

Kentucky linebacker Kash Daniel was 2015 Mr. Football at Paintsville High School but has played mostly on special teams since his arrival at UK.
Kentucky linebacker Kash Daniel was 2015 Mr. Football at Paintsville High School but has played mostly on special teams since his arrival at UK.

An old, familiar face was hanging around the Kentucky football complex a couple of weeks ago.

Running back Jojo Kemp, who graduated two seasons ago, was busy ribbing linebacker Kash Daniel a little bit.

“Is this your third spring here?” Kemp asked the former Paintsville High School star. “Man, you’re old.”

Daniel isn’t necessarily disputing that assessment.

“Honestly I feel old, man, because it seems like yesterday I just came in,” the junior said. “It’s a weird feeling.”

After waiting patiently behind two-year starter Courtney Love to seize his spot at middle linebacker, Daniel is living a double life this spring both as program veteran trying to help out the younger players as well as relative youngster in the center of a defense that returns all but one starter.

And that spot is Daniel’s spot to fill.

He’s doing that well so far.

“Kash is gaining a lot of confidence,” Coach Mark Stoops said of Kentucky’s 2015 Mr. Football. “I like the way he’s playing. It’s his time and he’s feeling very comfortable out there. … I like the presence Kash has out there. He’s confident. He’s taking charge.”

Daniel isn’t a “big rah, rah type guy as a leader,” the linebacker said. But the middle linebacker helps set the Kentucky defense and the junior knows he has to lead the best way he can.

“I let my pads show how I lead and I will be vocal as well, but you’ve got to have 11 leaders out there to have a successful defense,” he said recently.

Kentucky linebacker Kash Daniel, right, “is gaining a lot of confidence,” Coach Mark Stoops said. “I like the way he’s playing.” Charles Bertram

While the 6-foot-1, 242-pound Daniel is still learning the nuances of a position he’s been waiting to play since he arrived on campus in January 2016, he’s also having to help along a group of less-than-veteran inside linebackers.

It looked like a strong group of returners after the final game last season with senior Jordan Jones and his backup, Eli Brown, returning.

But Brown transferred, and now Jones is out until at least August with a shoulder injury, which leaves Daniel to advise some young players inside as well.

“If they ever need help, they’ve always got my number and I always tell them, ‘Hey, if you guys want to watch extra film, I’ll be here at this and this time,’” Daniel said.

“It’s what I’m here for is to help these guys and anybody else on the team needs help, that’s what I’m here for.”

It’s that kind of selfless leadership that Stoops has seen both on and off the field from Daniel.

“He’s got some years under his belt,” Stoops said at the start of UK’s spring practice. “He’s played some football. He was behind a guy last year that was hard to take off the field in Courtney, but I do believe that Kash can give us much of those same things that we got from Courtney and that’s a guy with great passion, great leadership qualities.”

Going to Kroger Field on Friday night get a sneak peek at the 2018 University of Kentucky football team? Here are five things to watch for during the Wildcats' annual Blue-White Spring Game.

Daniel, who has 26 career tackles in two seasons mostly on special teams, will be replacing Love, who recorded 92 tackles last season, second most on the team.

But coaches are hopeful it will be a seamless transition.

Football “is important to him,” Stoops said of Daniel. “That’s super important to us. …

“He puts in the time. He watches extra film, he’s always in here stretching, working out and lifting, doing the little things. He’s really doing some good things.”

When the Blue-White Spring Game kicks off on Friday at Kroger Field, Daniel will be in with the starters on defense.

The old man is ready for his new beginning.

“My time’s here,” Daniel said, “I’m not going to let it slip through my fingers.”

Jennifer Smith: 859-231-3241, @jenheraldleader

Blue-White Spring Game

When: 6:30 p.m. Friday

TV: SEC Network

Tickets: Free