While Benny Snell was putting up the best season ever for a Kentucky freshman running back last year, he got nearly universal public acclaim.
The 5-foot-11, 223-pound back was praised as a main reason Mark Stoops and Co. broke through with a bowl season in year four of the UK head coach’s tenure.
However, when the Westerville, Ohio, product posted a rap music video online in June, he suddenly found himself dealing with less glowing reviews.
“I for real got a lot of negativity and a lot of hate,” Snell said Sunday at UK football media day.
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“(People) just saying the music is bad and I should be focusing on football and all that,” Snell related. “I’m like, ‘Why are you worried about me? I’m living my life. This is fun. Why are you mad?’”
At times, we put college athletes in no-win corners. On the one hand, we want them to be well-rounded, to be aware there is more to life than their sport.
Yet, if they publicly embrace an activity not directly related to the daily grind of athletic improvement, the “loss of focus” sirens start to wail.
For some, those sirens went off like a tornado warning after Snell’s video went up.
The music video featured a shirtless Snell, some UK game highlights and some flashes of big money, among other things. It was all set to a song not all of whose lyrics were family friendly.
Personally, my realm of informed opinion does not extend to the quality of rap music videos. UK did not appear to give Snell’s work two thumbs up, however. The video disappeared from the Internet almost as quickly as it went up.
“For real, the coaches say they don’t like it,” Snell says of the video. “They love it. They love it.”
During Snell’s freshman season at UK, he utilized a relentless, punishing running style to produce 1,091 yards and 13 touchdowns — both Kentucky records for a freshman running back. His ample production came in spite of Snell not carrying the ball from scrimmage in the season’s first two games.
Yet, after the video, people started to worry Snell had — wait on it — “lost focus.”
“I don’t even take the music serious,” Snell said. “It’s just a fun thing — and people just give me flak. I’m like, ‘C’mon.’”
Stoops notes that one of the things that made Snell successful as a freshman was a work ethic that saw him treat every snap in practice like it was the fourth quarter of the Kentucky-Louisville game.
“If he keeps that mentality, he'll continue to be successful like he has (been),” Stoops said.
A year ago, as a relatively unheralded recruit entering college football, Snell flew beneath the radar of opposing teams as they prepared for the season. This year, he figures to be the player that defensive coordinators who will face Kentucky have spent their summers scheming against.
“They are definitely going to be preparing for me,” Snell said. “But I’ve got the best offensive line in the country returning. The fire we are bringing, (foes) are just going to have to prepare for that.”
After catching only two passes last season, Snell anticipates being more of a factor in the UK passing game in 2017. He says he will be a better all-around player in other ways as a sophomore, too.
“I’ve definitely matured mindset-wise,” he said. “Say, for instance, when I am getting the ball, stepping out of bounds rather than taking that hit. Or, where there is a pass play and my lineman is lost, I’ll go over and help them on a block.”
Ultimately, Snell’s music video may end up being a net motivational positive for Kentucky football. The running back knows if he does not have a strong on-the-field encore to his stellar debut, some will use his extracurricular interest in rap music against him.
“They could,” Snell says. “But that’s not going to happen. We are going to have a better season than we did last year. And I’m ready.”