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By ASHLEY SCOBY
Kentucky’s freshmen class isn’t exactly a troop of knights in shining armor yet, but they are showing a little bit of promising sparkle.
Jojo Kemp, after breaking off a long run against Miami (Ohio), came through again versus Louisville Saturday as the top offensive contributor on the team. He rushed five times for 80 yards, accounting for at least 20 more yards than any other Kentucky skill player.
The top three receivers Saturday were all newcomers as well: Javess Blue (a junior college transfer) caught 6 passes for 58 yards, Ryan Timmons (freshman) had 3 for 72 and Jeff Badet caught 3 balls for 44 yards. Alex Montgomery also scored his first touchdown as a Cat in the fourth quarter of the losing effort.
“He (Montgomery) kept getting on me about my first touchdown last week so I was telling him, ‘Wait ‘til you get your first touchdown,’” said Badet, who had his first collegiate touchdown last week against Miami. “Then he went out there, and Coach Brown called a real great play and he went out there and executed real well. We’re all just happy for each other. Somehow I was the first one to score a touchdown and then Alex. We’re waiting on Timmons and Jojo to get their first touchdown so we can all celebrate together.”
It’s the kind of thing that isn’t expected from many SEC programs’ freshmen classes, but what is necessary at Kentucky: newcomers contributing as much, if not more, than the vets. And they recognize that kind of responsibility and potential.
“We can be real good. We’ve just got to stay humble and keep pushing other guys that surround us and hopefully when the next class comes up, they’ve got the same mindset as us so we can get this program to the top,” Kemp said. “We’ve got a good fanbase to back us up and I just want to see great things happen here.”
For now, though, the freshmen are still getting their feet wet at the collegiate level. Both Badet and Kemp cited the speed of the game as the biggest difference between high school and college football – a popular observation. But for Badet, the receiver, the size of his competitors is what stands out to him the most.
“That’s the big difference, just the size of the people I’ve got to go at,” he said. “Blocking is a big aspect in this offense. Coach Mainord – he’s always telling us we’ve got to be a gnat to these DBs. You know that one fly that’s always in your way, and it always comes back to bother you. If we want to be good in this offense, we’ve got to have good perimeter blocking. So we just go out there and try to block our tails off so we can get the running backs a way to run and open up big plays.”
One of those running backs being Kemp, who Coach Mark Stoops said “needs to get the ball more.”
“I guess that means I need to get the ball more,” Kemp said when told about his coach’s comments. He is behind two veteran backs in Raymond Sanders and Jonathan George, but has performed well in the time he has gotten on the field.
“I’ve got faith in these coaches. If they want me to go sit on the sideline and warm the benches up, I’ll do it,” Kemp said. “Every chance and every opportunity I get, I just want to make the best of it. If they’re going to give me one carry, I’m going to make sure that one carry, I give it all I got. If they put me in on a fake, I’m going to make sure that’s the best fake in the country. Whatever I’ve got to do to help this team, I’m going to do it.”
Badet has that same mindset to do anything humanly possible to help the team.
“As soon as I touch the ball, I’m looking to score a touchdown or make the big play,” he said. “I just want to be a playmaker – catch the ball, drop my foot and just go.”
And that is exactly what Kentucky needs to build a program – dynamic, fearless playmakers with a team-first attitude. That’s what this class of freshmen brings.
“On our official visit, we decided to come here as a unit,” Kemp said. “So we are always pushing each other to do our best out there so we can get time on the field and help this team out a lot more.”