Mark Story

The Top 10: Allen and Snell power UK football to one more piece of history

The top 10 finishers in voting for the 2018 Lexington Herald-Leader Kentucky Sports Figure of the Year award:

1. Josh Allen

Did you know? The 17 quarterback sacks Allen recorded for Kentucky in 2018 were more than 13 FBS teams had this past season, including UCLA (15) and Louisville (11).

What the voters said

1. “One of the most inspiring stories of the 2018 college football season: From a player nobody wanted to a multi-award-winning national defensive player of the year.” — Darrell Bird, The Cats’ Pause

2. “Best UK football player in my lifetime.” — Kenzie Winstead, Courier Journal (retired)

Sports Figure factoid: In the 38-year history of the award, Allen is the ninth football player to win — but the first defensive player.

2. Benny Snell

Did you know? Leaving UK following his junior season to turn pro after becoming Kentucky’s all-time leading rusher (3,873 yards), Snell and Georgia legend Herschel Walker are the only two running backs in SEC history to amass at least 1,000 yards rushing and 12 rushing touchdowns in each of their first three college seasons.

What the voters said

1. “(Snell) carried UK football on his back. He helped make it relevant again.” — Fred Cowgill, WLKY-TV, Louisville

2. “Benny Snell was the face of the change of the (UK) program. His voice is the reason I chose Snell over Josh Allen. … Snell was more front and center of the culture change.” — Evan Dennison, The Ledger Independent, Maysville

Sports Figure factoid: Having finished fourth in the voting in 2017, Snell is the fourth UK football player to finish in the top five in back-to-back years. The others: Tim Couch (first in 1997; second in 1998); Derek Abney (second in 2002; fifth in 2003); and Andre Woodson (fifth in 2006; second in 2007).

3. Justify

Did you know? The Kentucky bred (Glennwood Farm in Woodford County) took his place among horse racing legends in a career that lasted all of 112 days. Justify first ran as a 3-year-old on Feb. 18, 2018, at Santa Anita. His final race before ankle inflammation ended his career came in the 2018 Belmont Stakes on June 9.

In that brief time, Justify became the first horse since Apollo in 1882 to win the Kentucky Derby without racing as a 2-year-old and only the second horse (Seattle Slew in 1977) out of the 13 Triple Crown winners to win the Derby, Preakness and Belmont while unbeaten.

What the voters said

1. “Doesn’t get much better than an undefeated Triple Crown winner. Only been two of those.” — Art Lander,, Lexington

2. “(Justify) made the Triple Crown look easy.” — Drew Deener, WHBE-AM 680, Louisville

Sports Figure factoid: Justify’s third-place finish in the voting is the second-highest ever for an equine athlete. American Pharoah, first in 2015, is the only horse to fare better.

Justify, with Mike Smith up, center, outran Good Magic (6) and Audible (5) to win the Kentucky Derby, becoming the first horse to win the Derby without racing as a 2-year-old since Apollo in 1882. Alex Slitz

4. Mark Stoops

Did you know? After leading Kentucky (10-3, 5-3 SEC) to its best football season in 41 years, Stoops has coached UK to a combined 13 SEC victories in the past three seasons (13-11). It is the first time since Fran Curci’s Wildcats went 13-5 from 1976-78 (which includes a forfeit from Mississippi State of a game Kentucky lost on the field in 1976) that the Cats have won 13 league contests in a three-year span.

What the voters said

1. “(Stoops) did something special: He snatched UK football off the hamster wheel of mediocrity.” — Ron Bailey, The Ledger Independent, Maysville

2. “Mark Stoops should be number one based on ending the streak (of 31 straight losses) against Florida alone.” — Will Osborne, WNJK-FM 105.9, Nicholasville

Sports figure factoid: Stoops’ fourth-place finish is the highest by a UK football coach since Hal Mumme was third in 1998.

Mark Stoops celebrating
Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops celebrated with his players after UK recorded its first New Year’s Day bowl victory since 1952 with a 27-24 win over Penn State in the VRBO Citrus Bowl. Alex Slitz

5. Asia Durr

Did you know? In earning ACC Player of the Year honors and consensus First Team All-America status while leading Louisville (36-3) to the 2018 women’s NCAA Tournament Final Four, Durr, a 5-foot-10 guard from Douglasville, Ga., was at her best against the best. In 12 games against teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 in 2017-18, Durr averaged 21.8 points a game.

What the voters said

1. “Durr is an electrifying superstar.” — Jamie Vaught,

2. “(Durr) became one of college basketball’s most notable players in Louisville’s return to the Final Four.” — Sam Draut, The Oldham Era, La Grange

Sports figure factoid: Durr is the first U of L women’s hoopster to finish in the top 10 since Shoni Schimmel was sixth in 2014.

Asia Durr
Last season, star guard Asia Durr (25) led Louisville to its third all-time appearance in the NCAA women’s basketball Final Four. Chuck Burton AP

6. Sydney McLaughlin

Did you know? In the New Jersey product’s one season running track at the University of Kentucky, she clocked the fastest times in the world for an under-20 athlete in six events: indoor 200 meters (22.68 seconds); outdoor 200 meters (22.39); indoor 300 meters (36.12); indoor 400 meters (50.36); outdoors 400 meters (50.07); and the outdoors 400-meter hurdles (52.75).

McLaughlin also won the NCAA Outdoors championship in the 400-meter hurdles.

What the voters said

1. “It was a no-brainer to (vote McLaughlin) number one. She has to be one of the all-time greatest athletes at Kentucky.” — Lyndsey Gough, formerly of Spectrum TV sports in Louisville

2. “(McLaughlin was) our Anthony Davis of track and field.” — Lee Cruse, WLEX-TV, Lexington

Sports Figure factoid: McLaughlin’s sixth place is the best for a female track performer since another former UK hurdles star, Kendra Harrison, was fifth in 2016.

Sydney McLaughlin again
In her one season at the University of Kentucky, Sydney McLaughlin won the NCAA Outdoors Championship in the 400-meter hurdles and clocked the fastest times in the world for an under-20 athlete in six different events. Chet White UK Athletics

7. Rachael Denhollander

Did you know? A Louisville attorney, married mother of four and former Michigan youth gymnast, Denhollander, in August 2016, became the first woman to publicly accuse longtime USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar of sexual abuse. In January of this year, after 156 women spoke in court of what Nassar had done to them, he was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison.

Recognizing her bravery, Sports Illustrated named Denhollander its 2018 “Inspiration of the Year.”

What the voters said

1. “There was no shortage of impressive on-field accomplishments in Kentucky in 2018, but none were as important as Denhollander’s courage.” — Jon Hale, Courier Journal

2. “The ultimate whistle blower who helped stop a predator and saved countless lives from being ruined.” — Mike Mathison, The News-Enterprise, Elizabethtown

Sports Figure factoid: Denhollander’s percentage of first-place votes in ratio to the total number of ballots she was on was 44.7 percent, the highest among the top 10 in this year’s voting.

Rachael Denhollander.JPG
Rachael Denhollander addressed the media after the final phase of sentencing of former Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar in Eaton County Circuit Court on Feb. 5, 2018, in Charlotte, Mich. RENA LAVERTY TNS

8. Rondale Moore

Did you know? As a Purdue freshman, the former Trinity High School star led all NCAA FBS wide receivers with 114 receptions, which went for 1,258 yards and 12 touchdown catches. The 5-foot-9, 175-pound wideout was named First Team All-America as an all-purpose player by the Associated Press and won the Paul Hornung Award, signifying the country’s most versatile player.

What the voters said

1. “(Moore is) one of the most exciting players to watch in college football.” — Terry Boehmker,

2. “The former Trinity star was one of the very best wide receivers in all of college football — as a freshman.” — Jody Demling,, Louisville

Sports figure factoid: Moore is the first college football player playing for an out-of-state school to finish in the top 10 since Troy quarterback Corey Robinson, a Lone Oak High School product, was ninth in 2007.

Rondale Moore
Purdue freshman wideout Rondale Moore, the former Trinity High School star, led the FBS in 2018 with 114 receptions. John Terhune Journal & Courier via AP

9. Walker Buehler

Did you know? As a Los Angeles Dodgers rookie pitcher (8-5, 2.62 ERA), the ex-Henry Clay star worked the first six innings of a combined no-hitter vs. San Diego on May 5; threw 6 2/3 innings of one-hit baseball to beat Colorado in a one-game playoff to decide the National League West Division title; and fired seven scoreless innings of two-hit baseball vs. Boston in Game 3 of the World Series.

What the voters said

1. “Six years after graduating from Henry Clay, pitched a combined no-hitter, supplanted a future Hall of Famer (Clayton Kershaw) as the Dodgers’ ace and had one of the greatest starts in recent World Series history.” — Mark Sonka, The Blood Horse, Lexington

2. “Even this Red Sox fan will tip his cap to a kid from Henry Clay making that (Boston) lineup look weak in Game 3 of the World Series.” — Kal Oakes, The News-Graphic, Georgetown

Sports Figure factoid: This is the second time in the past three years that a product of Kentucky high school baseball playing in the big leagues has cracked the top 10. Former Butler High School star Adam Duvall, then with the Cincinnati Reds, was 10th in 2016.

Los Angeles pitcher Walker Buehler, a Henry Clay High School product, was a break-out star for the Dodgers in 2018 as a rookie. Wally Skalij Los Angeles Times/TNS

10. Donovan Mitchell

Did you know? As a Utah Jazz rookie in 2017-18, the former Louisville Cardinals star averaged 20.5 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game and finished second in NBA Rookie of the Year voting. The 6-3 guard also won the NBA Slam Dunk Contest.

What the voters said

1. “(Mitchell was the NBA) Slam Dunk champion and finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting to second-year player Ben Simmons.” — Mark Blankenbaker,, Louisville

2. “(Mitchell) was a good player at Louisville but he has taken it to another level since turning pro. “Spida” is going to have a great career.” — Keith Farmer, WLEX-TV, Lexington

Sports Figure factoid: This is the second time in the past three years that an NBA player has made the top 10. Ex-UK star Karl-Anthony Towns of the Minnesota Timberwolves was fourth in 2016.


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Mark Story has worked in the Lexington Herald-Leader sports department since Aug. 27, 1990, and has been a Herald-Leader sports columnist since 2001. I have covered every Kentucky-Louisville football game since 1994, every UK-U of L basketball game but three since 1996-97 and every Kentucky Derby since 1994.