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By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky didn’t win a Southeastern Conference game, lost to in-state rivals Louisville and Western Kentucky, and finished the season just 2-10. Yet freshman running back JoJo Kemp said the year did not shake his confidence at all in the program or himself.
“I am one of those guys that will keep that humbleness and confidence in me and just try to get the job done,” said Kemp, who led UK with 482 yards rushing — 4.82 yards per carry. “There are a lot of great players on this team and a lot of great leaders. We had some seniors that led the team correctly and I was pleased to have them teaching me.
“I just want to keep building. I came here for a reason and I won’t lose focus of the task at hand. I am just going to keep grinding on and off the field and in the classroom, weight room and just get this ship moving.”
Offensive coordinator Neal Brown wants Kemp to be one of those that keeps the “ship moving” forward. He had a long run of 47 yards and caught nine 56 passes for 56 yards. His numbers likely would have been even better if he had not been hampered by ankle injuries.
“I think he learned a lot. I don’t really feel like our young guys ever questioned themselves,” Brown said. “I think they are disappointed and they got frustrated in the outcomes and how things were going, but I don’t think they lost confidence. He (Kemp) was banged up and had some ankle injuries that we didn’t make a big deal out of that are not long term, but he was not as explosive as he was early.
“It’s so hard to depend on freshmen because it is a 12-week grind. In high school they are not going against the same competition week in, week out and the level of contact and the load on them is so hard here. Their bodies get so wore down, and I think he did that. But he’s going to be a productive player. He’ll be much more explosive next year than he was this year.”
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops says because Kemp was not “100 percent healthy” late in the year it impacted his play.
“He needs to physically get bigger and continue to develop, and he will,” Stoops said.
Kemp said he plans to “get my ankles fixed, rehab, get in the weight room and get bigger and just keep fighting” to get better during the offseason.
“The amount of cuts I have to make, it (the ankle injury) kind of limited me a couple of times at the end of the year,” Kemp said after UK’s season ended. “I am fine. I am just one of those tough players that can fight through pain. I don’t make excuses for myself. I am just going to get better on and off the field and just trying to be the dominant player I know I can be.”