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By LARRY VAUGHT
Big expectations don’t bother Kentucky freshman running back JoJo Kemp. “I had big expectations going to high school, so I am kind of used to it. I stay humble and then when it is my time to produce, I go give it my all and give it my best,” said Kemp.
His best at Deland (Fla.) High School was impressive. The 5-10, 188-pound Kemp ran 255 times for 1,469 yards and 23 scores as a senior and 178 times for 1,163 yards and 14 touchdowns as junior. He garnered national attention when he rushed for 210 yards and two scores in a game shown on ESPN2 his senior season.
Rivals.com ranked him as the nation’s 10th best multipurpose back in the 2013 recruiting class and one college football analyst predicted he would be the Southeastern Conference Offensive Freshman of the Year, something he admits he liked and didn’t like at the same time.
“When it is my time, I will make the best of it and hopefully not let people down. I am just going to give my best. That’s all I can do,” Kemp said. “This offense fits me very well. I am one of those guys who just does what the coach asks me to do. If it was pro-style, I would fit well in that offense, too. It really don’t matter. I am very coachable.”
He also believes he’s more than just a versatile back as most believe.
“I am a physical player. People don’t realize it because I am always making them miss, but I am a physical player as well,” he said.
In fact, given a choice of running over or around an opponent, he would prefer to run over the would-be tackler.
“I would probably give them that shoulder. I want to run through them. I think it is more exciting when you run through and keep going than running around them,” he said. “The conditioning program here in the summer really helped me. I came in at 178 and now I am 188. I gained 10 pounds. I am getting these guns (bicep muscles). It has been good for my running style, which is make people miss and catch the ball out of the backfield. This is what Kentucky needs with the Air Raid offense and what I can do.”
He was not being recruited by Kentucky until coach Mark Stoops arrived in December and hired offensive coordinator Neal Brown and running backs coach Chad Scott.
“I want to be around people that are respectful, positive and just keep me going. That’s what Kentucky did. Kentucky could have been negative recruiting all the other guys, but they didn’t,” Kemp said. “They stayed on their program and how they were going to change this program around. Once they started doing that, I knew I wanted to be there and what type guys I wanted to be around.”
How can he help change the program?
“Just to play my role and do what the coaches ask me to do and when it is my time to produce on the field I am just going to make the most of it,” he said.
He won’t predict how much he might play since UK has returning running backs Raymond Sanders, Jonathan George and Dyshawn Mobley.
“Hopefully I am what they were looking for all along,” Kemp said. “The offense is like in high school. We were a passing offense, but when everybody was biting on the pass and spreading out, they would hand it to me underneath and I would do what I would do and make six points.”
He’s not happy his chance to play increased when running back Josh Clemons went down with a season-ending knee injury before practice even started.
“It is a good opportunity for me, but I wish Josh was still here. When Josh Clemons was here, he was one of those guys helping me out and teaching me the offense. Josh Clemons is a great guy. It was sad to see him go down,” Kemp said. “I think he will still help me. I hope he will keep doing that.”