UK Football

Q&A with Kash Daniel: ‘Kentucky is a very special place to me’

UK signee Kash Daniel earned Mr. Football honors as a senior at Paintsville High School this past season. Daniel is regarded as a four-star linebacker in the class of 2016.
UK signee Kash Daniel earned Mr. Football honors as a senior at Paintsville High School this past season. Daniel is regarded as a four-star linebacker in the class of 2016.

Former Paintsville High School linebacker Kash Daniel met with reporters Thursday morning as an early enrollee at the University of Kentucky, where he is already taking classes and will participate in spring practice with the Wildcats.

Daniel earned Mr. Football honors at Paintsville High School this past season and is expected to be an immediate contributor at middle linebacker as a freshman.

Here are some highlights from his interview Thursday:

On the reason UK was the right fit for him:

“It’s home. Home is everything to me, and it felt like a family atmosphere right when I walked in the door. And I didn’t feel that at other places. When I walked through these doors, I had every coach come up to me and ask how I was doing, if my family was OK, how’s everything back at school. At other places, you had to walk up and introduce yourself and half the time they didn’t even know they’d offered you. Kentucky is a very special place to me. It’s my home state. To come here and help Coach Stoops get to where things should be — it’s a hometown pride thing for me. And I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

On UK’s recent troubles late in the season:

“It was tough on the coaches, and I know it was tough on the players and I know it was tough on the fans. But the thing that people didn’t see is how much talent there really is in this locker room, and how close Kentucky football is to being one of the top schools in the SEC. If you (take away) the little things that went wrong this year, we would be in a bowl game and we would have won a bowl game. I firmly believe that.”

On who the defensive leader is on this UK team:

“You’d have to say Courtney Love and (Jason) Hatcher. Those guys come to work every day. And they expect the best out of you. And if you mess up on something, Courtney Love and Hatch want it done right. And linebackers — we just got back from going outside and Courtney organized all of this. We’re meeting every day. We’re going over the playbook, watching film. We’re going to be out on the field doing drills. So Courtney has definitely stepped up as a leader. I’m really looking forward to playing with him.”

On his role as a freshman:

“I’m gonna do whatever I gotta do to contribute. Whatever Coach Stoops asks me to do, that’s what I’m here for. If they want me to play special teams, I’ll play special teams. If they want me to fill the water jug up, I’ll fill up the water jug up. It doesn’t matter what it is — I’m just out here to compete with my new teammates. And come to work and work hard every day.”

One being named a team captain at the Army All-American Bowl earlier this month:

“It meant a lot. I’ve always been a guy to make sure people are held accountable and people are ready to go to work every day. I guess that’s what the coach saw from me throughout practice. I’d come out focused, ready to go and let people know, ‘Hey, it’s time to go to work.’ We’re at an all-star game, we’re ready to have fun, but we’re also here to win. Winning’s the only thing. Whoever said, ‘Winning isn’t everything’ — I’d like to punch that guy in the face, because that’s the only thing there is. If you don’t win then you lose, and nobody wants to be a loser. So my job is to get out every day and make sure everybody is ready for practice, make sure everybody is 100 miles an hour for every drill. Get better every day, even at an all-star game. So, I guess that’s why they voted me captain.”

On the knee injury that kept him out of Paintsville’s state playoff loss:

“It was very scary for me. Thank God the MRI came back and said I just had a grade 2 MCL sprain, which is almost like a slight tear. ... It broke my heart when I couldn’t go out to play against Pikeville. I got people back in the hills saying, ‘Hey, he sat out because Stoops told him (to).’ Or, ‘He wants to wait for the All-American game.’ That’s not the case at all. I went out there and had a well-known sports surgeon test me out on the field. I could not cut. And I did not have stability in that right knee. And he said, ‘If I allow you to go out there and play in this game, and you make a wrong cut or somebody takes a helmet to that knee, not only your MCL, but your ACL, every ligament in your knee is in danger. You’re putting everything at risk that you worked your whole life for.’ And, yeah, it broke my heart. Because those guys that I played with — those are the guys I grew up with. We did everything together. We played baseball, football and basketball together. So we had that really tight bond. And to see the look on their faces — and the look on mine — when they told me I couldn’t play. And to know what we built that year was so special, the first time we’d gone undefeated since ’78, and playing in the state semifinals since 2001. And I firmly, honestly believe that if I was healthy enough to play in that game, I’d have a state championship ring on my finger.”

On the importance of the local guys to this recruiting class:

“It means a lot to us, because it’s our home state. We grew up watching Kentucky football. Watching Stevie Johnson, Andre Woodson, Tim Couch, the list goes on. So we want to step in and hopefully be on the wall (of NFL players) out there in the hallway someday. To help put Kentucky football back where it should be.”

On being a mountain kid coming to play UK football:

“Back home, everybody’s a big bleed-blue fan. I’ve got a lot of eyes watching me. I guarantee you on Saturdays, if I get a chance to start, half of eastern Kentucky’s going to be coming up the Mountain Parkway to pack Commonwealth. That’s a really special feeling to me, because — not only Paintsville — but eastern Kentucky is my home. And I’m proud of where I come from. And to put them on map and show ... On NBC, when I was at the Army game, when I made that tackle, it was ‘That’s Kash Daniel, from Paintsville, Kentucky!’ I bet everybody was like, ‘Where in the world is Painstville, Kentucky.’ So just to put Paintsville on the map and show them what I can do on the field on Saturdays, that really means a lot to me. That’s really a blessing.”

Ben Roberts: 859-231-3216, @NextCats