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By LARRY VAUGHT
If there is one thing Kentucky freshman running back JoJo Kemp does not lack it would be confidence. Kentucky is 1-2 after last week’s loss to Louisville and faces Florida, South Carolina and Alabama in its next three games after this week’s open date. The Wildcats will be a decided underdog in all three games, but that doesn’t bother Kemp.
“We are a sleeping beast. We are going to open some people’s eyes as the season goes on. I am telling you. I feel it and I know I believe it. We are definitely going to open some eyes. They won’t even know what hit them,” said Kemp.
The freshman has provided some of those type moments for UK in his limited play so far this season. He led the team in rushing against Louisville with 80 yards, including a 47-yard sprint he almost broke for a score. He now has a team-high 167 yards on 21 carries, an average of 7.9 yards per attempt.
“He gave us a big-time spark. The thing that he has to do is, and these young guys — that’s the best he’s looked since he’s been here, in any scrimmage, practice, that’s by far the best he’s looked,” offensive coordinator Neal Brown said after the game. “And he’s got to do that in practice. Now I’ve seen it in a game, so I understand that he has that in him, and I’ve got more confidence in him than I ever have, but he’s got to continue to do that in practice. He hasn’t shown that in practice.”
Kemp has also been trying to show Brown and the UK staff that he’s more than a speedster/receiver. He takes pride in his inside running, too.
“I wanted to actually show coach Brown that because I know I made a lot of plays, especially at the beginning of the game, when I was doing the outside running and had a very nice run. He’s seen that but I wanted to show him I can run inside and I think he saw it for himself,” Kemp said. “From now on I am just going to keep on doing it and every time I get the opportunity to get in the game, I am going to make the best of it like I have. They gave me an opportunity, so I had to do what I had to do.”
Kemp thinks it’s hard to appreciate his explosiveness and all-around ability until you have seen him play in person.
“If you watch my highlight and see how fast I am, you don’t really get a chance to see how physical I am as well. I think of myself as a very physical kid, more than people probably realize. Now I just want to get the blocking game right and keep moving forward. Every time I get that chance, that is what I am going to do,” he said.
His roommate is Florida freshman receiver Jeff Badet. They are from the same area and basically decided to come to UK together. Like Kemp, Badet does not lack for confidence and has also shown big-play ability.
“Everybody is confident, but me and Jeff both decided to come here together. We always have had that connection, that chemistry together. He is like my brother. I look out for him and he looks out for me,” Kemp said. “There is that whole Florida thing with us. Everybody on the team has their own state swag coming in, but we all have to get that swagger together. But me and Jeff do think we can back it up.”
Just don’t think he is stat-driven because he values winning over individual yards.
“I’m not that type of person to be happy if we lose. I’m still down. I’d rather rush for, like, one yard and get a W than anything,” Kemp said. “I don’t really (care) about the yardage I got. It was good that I did a little something when I got in, but I’d rather get the win than anything.”
He came to Kentucky because of Brown’s offensive reputation and says the offense has been “all I thought” if not more.
“I know from me running the ball that I still left some yards out there on the field. Other guys probably left some yards, too,” Kemp said. “But yes, this offense is very explosive. We can do better and we will. I am very excited to see what happens as the season goes.
“We didn’t really play like ourselves that first game against Western Kentucky. Everybody was a little timid and had thoughts that they were not playing for the next play at times,” Kemp said. “Coach (Mark) Stoops told us not think about the future, don’t think about the next play. Just worry about the play going on and that’s what everybody did against Miami.
“But we have to do better than we did against Louisville. We just can’t have those mental mistakes and like fumbling, jump offside. We cannot have those, because you’re not going to win off those. Every chance and every opportunity I get, I just want to make the best of it. So if they’re going to give me one carry, I want to make sure that one carry I give it all I got. And if they put me in on a fake, I’m going to make sure that’s the best fake in the country. Whatever I can do to help this team out, I’m going to do it. That’s how we all are. I know we have a lot of stuff still to work on, but we are going to keep turning it up.”