Kentucky’s running backs group can catch the football
More from the series
Scouting the Cats
University of Kentucky football beat writer Josh Moore and columnist Mark Story are examining the 2019 Wildcats position by position through a series of nine stories leading up to the start of their season on Aug. 31 against Toledo. Click below to read previous installments in the series.
Kavosiey Smoke is faster than he was last season, but he’s still not fast enough to outrun a first name that’s caused him trouble his whole life.
The redshirt freshman, one of three running backs expected to figure heavily into the University of Kentucky’s offense in 2019, pronounces it essentially as it looks: “kah-VAH-see-ay,” per UK’s media guide. Other people, though ...
“The weirdest way is when people will be like “Ka-vo-see,” Smoke said after a practice last week. “... That’s why I tell people to call me Smoke, cause I don’t like when people call my name wrong.”
And don’t get him started on the spelling.
“I think everybody thinks it’s spelled like the beverage, the liquor (Courvoisier),” Smoke said. “Everybody tries to spell it like that, but it’s way different.”
What’s worst is when people know how to say it and insist on messing with him. “That makes me kind of mad.”
If he has his way, Smoke won’t have to put up with people mispronouncing or misspelling his name much longer. The former three-star recruit as a redshirt last season played in UK’s final two games of the season and carried four times against Louisville for 45 yards, a day that included a 37-yard touchdown run.
He lost about 10 pounds in the offseason — “All body fat,” he says — and feels more nimble than a year ago.
“I’m light on my feet,” Smoke said after crediting UK’s strength and conditioning coaches for his offseason gains. “I can move better, I can get north and south easier. I’m ready to ball, man.”
Junior A.J. Rose, the immediate backup to Benny Snell last season, has established himself as the Wildcats’ starter at running back, but Smoke and fellow redshirt freshman Chris Rodriguez each should be deployed as part of the offense.
More will be expected off all three in the passing game.
“The great ones in the NFL do it all the time,” UK co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach Eddie Gran said at UK’s media day. “The Patriots’ running backs catch a lot of footballs, and that’s because the guy that’s behind the center, he understands that rush is coming. He doesn’t want to get hit and he understands what a 3-yard gain, a 4-yard gain is. Our guys caught more balls this spring than they ever have. That’s understanding the whole package for them, too. There should be times in six-man protection where they get out so fast ‘cause they understand what’s going on defensively.”
Smoke in high school was used frequently as a slot receiver, which could have led to why Gran now thinks him to be the best route runner of the group. This summer he and the other UK running backs spent ample time with a passing machine; Smoke has “unbelievable hands,” Gran said.
“Whenever they get a chance to make a catch or get out in the open field, they all contribute and make the play that they need to make,” Rose said of his teammates in the backfield. “This group is doing a great job and the quarterback’s doing a great job of finding us, so this year’s gonna be something to see.”
Smoke thinks so, too. But unlike most players who bust a big run or catch a long pass, he wants folks to forget his name.
Part of it, at least.
“Everybody’s gonna be calling me Smoke then,” Smoke said. “They ain’t even gonna be thinking about Kavosiey.”
Scouting the Cats
This is the eighth of nine stories looking at the 2019 Kentucky football team position-by-position.
Running backs outlook
Leading man: A.J. Rose last year was the Cats’ third-leading rusher (behind record-smasher Benny Snell and quarterback Terry Wilson) but should move to the top of that list in 2019. He wants no less than a 1,000-yard rushing season and if his conditioning is up to par, he ought to reach that mark; 2015 was the last time UK didn’t produce a 1,000-yard rusher (Boom Williams topped out at 855 that year before reaching it in 2016, along with Benny Snell). Rose went for 442 yards and scored five times on only 71 rushes, a third of what Snell received in 2018.
Supporting cast: While Rose is officially the only returning letterman at the position, backups Chris Rodriguez and Kavosiey Smoke saw the field briefly as true freshmen last season but took redshirts. The trio refers to itself as a “Three-Headed Snake,” and each of its heads brings a little something different to the table. Rose (6-1, 218 pounds) is experienced, speedy and versatile; Rodriguez (5-11, 224) is a brute who’s not afraid to knock folks over; and Smoke (5-9, 220) blends a little bit of both together for a quick, powerful combination. True freshman Travis Tisdale could get on the field, too; the Georgia native was a four-star prospect and is laser quick.
Synopsis: Benny Snell ain’t walking through that door, and that’s gonna be OK. Snell’s personality and competitive spirit will be missed as much as his production, and those are areas in which the returning backs will have to prove themselves this year and going forward. It sounds like Snell’s success left them hungrier for their own; as long as they don’t succumb to his shadow, there’s potential for their names to be well-regarded for the foreseeable future, too.