Saturday was a bit surreal for Kash Daniel.
A Kentucky native finally getting to start at middle linebacker for the UK team he grew up adoring.
But was there a moment on Saturday that had Daniel pinching himself?
“When I came out for captains and I was with C.J., George, Benny, Josh and all them,” he said of his fellow Cats captains this season: tight end C.J. Conrad, offensive lineman George Asafo-Adjei, running back Benny Snell, outside linebacker Josh Allen and safety Mike Edwards.
“Just hearing the crowd and I was like, ‘This is real. Let’s get after it,’” Daniel said smiling after Wednesday night’s practice.
Get after it he did. The 6-foot-1, 242-pound junior from Paintsville presently leads the Southeastern Conference in tackles with 11 and two quarterback hurries. His 11 tackles were four more than he recorded all of last season.
“He didn’t stick out like a first-time starter,” Coach Mark Stoops said of Daniel, who had played mostly on special teams in his previous two seasons.
“I haven’t looked at him that way because he’s been playing like that all spring, all camp. Really didn’t look at him as a first-time starter until you pointed that out to me right there. Because he’s just a guy that’s been around, been in our system and working hard.”
There’s still plenty that Daniel can improve, both the linebacker and his position coach said this week. Defensive coordinator Matt House pointed to one play where if Daniel had dipped his shoulders, he would’ve had a tackle for loss, but Central Michigan got 3 yards on a run play instead.
“Those are the plays, in order to be successful, you’ve got to make because it puts them in third-and-long instead of third-and-medium, which is huge,” House said.
But House was pleased with what he saw overall from the inside linebacker spots.
Getting the victory and being the team’s leading tackler were special, but being named a captain after a vote by his teammates made it extra special for Daniel on Saturday.
That’s the dream no matter where a player is born or what team he grew up rooting for.
“I’m forever thankful that my teammates think that highly of me,” Daniel said. “Every day I come in, my first goal is to try to be the best teammate I can possibly be. No matter if it’s in the locker room, on the field or off the field, these dudes are my brothers.
“For them to think of me as a captain as a junior going forward, I couldn’t be awarded a higher honor than that.”
Kentucky at No. 25 Florida
When: 7:30 p.m.
TV: SEC Network