By LARRY VAUGHT
He’s heard the talk about him being a potential Southeastern Conference freshman of the year candidate, but that doesn’t bother Florida running back JoJo Kemp.
Instead, he’s embracing the lofty ambitions others have him for him as he prepares for his career at the University of Kentucky.
“I set high goals for myself. The only thing I can do is work hard and believe in God and the rest will take care of itself,” said Kemp, who was ranked as the nation’s No. 10 multipurpose back by Rivals.com and No. 28 overall running back by ESPN.com. “I am not worried about the expectations fans have for me. I just have to continue to bust my behind to lift my teammates around me. What happens, happens.”
Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown said he does expect Kemp “to push for playing time early” because of his various skills. However, he doesn’t want the SEC freshman of the year talk to get out of hand.
“I think that is a little much. Let’s get him a carry over two before we start anointing him, but he is a good player,” Brown said. “I thought he was a kid that was a little under recruited. He is a kid when we came here that we knew we needed to sign another running back and he was our No. 1 target from the get-go. For (running backs coach) Chad (Scott) to pull that off was huge. To identify who we wanted in mid-December and go out and get him locked in was huge for our program.”
Kemp believe he is a “complete back” because of all he can do.
“I can catch, run, stay in to block for the quarterback. That is what makes a complete back,” Kemp said.
He rushed for 1,469 yards and 23 touchdowns on 255 carries in 2012 and ran for 1,163 yards and 14 scores on 178 attempts in 2011.
Brian Linder of the Daytona Beach News Journal thinks Kentucky got a special player in Kemp.
“The first time I saw Jojo play was the ESPN2 game against Jacksonville Sandalwood. Sandalwood had a handful of big-time Division 1 guys on its defense — including DeMarcus Walker and Kain Daub — and Kemp rushed for 210 yards and two touchdowns. And, I think, he showed that he is a complete back,” Linder said. “He is not a burner, but he has good burst — when he sees the open field he hits another gear — and decent speed.
“He keeps his feet moving and had great balance. He is deceptively strong and does a good job of bouncing off tacklers. He is not afraid to run between the tackles. He just has all the tools to be a very good player at the next level.”
Linder expected Kemp to go to either West Virginia or Pittsburgh.
“I believe he had two SEC offers — Kentucky and Tennessee. I think he is driven by the fact that he feels he was a bit overlooked early. In that case, it makes sense that he would want to prove himself in the SEC,” Lincer said. “He could be an impact player next season. I don’t think there’s any doubt. It won’t be easy in the SEC, but he seems like the type of kid that will keep battling until he earns playing time.”
Kemp actually had interest in Kentucky even before Brown arrived with his productive offense and had been recruited by former UK assistant coach Greg Nord.
“I had an interest in Kentucky because I wanted a chance to go to school out of Florida and make a name for myself,” Kemp said. “That’s what I always wanted to do. When coach (Mark) Stoops got there and then coach Brown and coach Scott came, I really got interested. Coach Scott talked to me about how he did as a freshman (at Kentucky) and I built a good relationship with him.
“It helped a lot knowing coach Scott had played in this offense. He reminded me of my high school coach. We built a connection. He will help me grow and mature and make be a better person outside football. He will push me on and off the field.”