His first two years at Kentucky he played in all 26 games, but linebacker Kash Daniel really was not much more than just a special teams player.
He admits it took some soul-searching to lead to the performance he had last season where he was third on the team with 84 tackles and ranked 24th in the SEC with 6.3 tackles per game.
“After my freshman and sophomore years I was kind of thinking beyond football at that point because I was just a special teams guy and didn’t have priorities straight in my life about what I wanted to do,” said Daniel, a U.S. Army All-American coming out of Paintsville in eastern Kentucky. “I was falling behind in school and a lot of things like that.
“It took a personal kick in the tail for me to say, ‘Hey, you’ve got a lot of people counting on you and wanting you to succeed. You have got to want it more than what other people do.’ I changed my lifestyle; I changed my mindset of how I think.”
Going into winter workouts after the 2017 season, Daniel told UK trainers he wanted to change and become an all-SEC linebacker — a very ambitious goal based on his first two years at UK.
Not everyone can kick himself in the tail to change. Sometimes a coach can inspire an athlete to do that, but not every athlete has the discipline or drive to undertake the type of change Daniel did.
“I had a decision to make. Do I want to be an all-SEC beer drinker or do I want to be an all-SEC linebacker? That’s basically what it boiled down to,” Daniel said.
Obviously, one of those is a lot easier to do than the other one. However, Daniel was recently named a preseason all-SEC linebacker and plans to show he is that type of player.
“You have the path of least resistance (beer drinker) or the hard path (linebacker). I definitely chose the hard path and I am very thankful and grateful that I did that,” Daniel, who had 11 tackles in last season’s historic win at Florida, said. “Not only has it helped me on the football field but it will ultimately help me off the field as well.
“I went to work from there. It’s all about keeping a healthy body, mind and spirit. Just going through that and being where I am now, it is pretty surreal but I did definitely envision it (being all-SEC and a team leader) after I made that switch (mentally).”
Marrow the recruiter
What makes Vince Marrow such a dynamic recruiter for Kentucky football?
“I have four kids of my own and a son who played at Alabama and won a national title,” Marrow, UK's recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach, said. “You have to find out what kids’ interest are and what their parents are interested in. Who are the decision makers in the kid’s life? What ups and downs has he been through?
“The way I relate is the same way I relate to my own kids. Kids can tell you what their generation is like. I ask kids who is that singing that song. Stuff like that. I am like a kid really. I love kids, I really do.
“My main thing is most kids we recruit are from inner cities, single mom, live with grandmother. I want to help change the direction of their life. Everybody is not going to play pro ball. but I can help them get a degree and change their life.”
He also doesn’t bash a player who doesn’t pick UK and tells fans not to, either. He points to Florida State transfer linebacker Xavier Peters, a one-time UK commit, as why he never burns bridges.
“I never talked to the kid again after he signed with Florida State, but when he wanted to leave to get back closer to home he knew he wanted to go to Kentucky. You just never know what might go full circle in recruiting,” Marrow said. “If fans bash a kid after he goes somewhere else it can be a negative experience and he won’t consider coming back.
“I didn’t really know what this fan base was like when I came here. The majority is really good. There is serious football support here. This is a very unique place. That’s one I reason I have never left (for a another job) along with just loving the guys here. I want to be part of winning and get this place really going. We’re heading that way, but there’s still more we are going to do.”
Darin Hinshaw didn’t know a lot about the Kentucky football program before he joined coach Mark Stoops’ staff, but during coaching stops at Middle Tennessee, Tennessee and Cincinnati he had formed certain perceptions about the UK program.
That’s why he wasn’t overly thrilled when Cincinnati offensive coordinator Eddie Gran told him that Stoops wanted him to join the UK program and he would like to have Hinshaw come with him if he made the move.
“When Eddie brought that to my attention, I went, ‘Wait a minute. It's Kentucky. If they can win six games they are going to be lucky. We are going to the SEC, Eddie. Every week will be a war,’” Hinshaw, UK’s co-offensive coordinator, said. “That was my perception.
“Then I talked to Mark and we saw what money had been spent on football. I was lucky to come in at the right time. Mark sold us on believing we would be a really good team and it has happened. I am so glad that I came and now I am going into my fourth year.”
Hinshaw had lost his job at Tennessee and was set to go to Arkansas when he decided to call Gran, who had just got the job as offensive coordinator at Cincinnati under head coach Tommy Tuberville, to ask him what kind of offense he was going to use.
“He said he was not sure and I told him I was looking for job and would like to present the offense we ran at Tennessee and also see what you want to do,” Hinshaw said. “I wanted to be part of something special and build an offense rather than just a quarterback coach or receivers coach at SEC. I was very blessed to get hired.”
The two have now been together for seven years and Hinshaw says they are “very close” on and off the field.
Hinshaw said he’s glad Stoops and his staff not only started recruiting heavily in Ohio but have continued to do so.
“When I was at Cincinnati you never used to see Kentucky up north. They always recruited the South,” Hinshaw said. “Mark’s impact recruiting Ohio has been terrific and is only going to keep getting better the more we can win.”
Chris Fisher, recruiting analyst for The CatsPause and 247Sports Network, believes it weighed heavily on guard Brandon Boston Jr. when he visited UK during the season and the Cats thumped Auburn. That perception didn’t change even after Auburn beat UK in the Elite Eight.
Boston, a top 10 player, was UK’s first verbal commitment in the 2020 recruiting class.
“Kentucky really did a good job wrestling momentum away from Auburn and then Duke,” Fisher said. “It’s really a significant move to the get the No. 2 shooting guard and No. 10 overall player in the class committed.
“I think he’s just scratching the surface of what he can do, too. He’s one of the most versatile players and smoothest scorers you will see. His arsenal will only develop as he adds strength. He’s a huge first piece of what could be a dynamic recruiting class.”
Fisher says Boston fits perfectly in the John Calipari recruit mode — a player who will sacrifice playing time/individual numbers to play with other great players.
“He also knows not a lot of McDonald’s All-Americans stay at Kentucky for their junior seasons,” Fisher said. “Kentucky could well lose Tyrese Maxey, Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickley and Johnny Juzang all off this team (to the NBA). That’s what makes him such an important building block for your next team.”
Allison Tamme’s take
Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart’s decision not to have general alcohol sales at UK sporting events this year — or in the near future — certainly touched off a controversy with Kentucky fans.
Those who wanted alcohol sales at Kroger Field for football games thought it was unfair that alcohol will continue to be available in elite seating areas but not for the general public. Those against alcohol consumption were glad Barnhart didn’t have UK join a few other schools that have decided to have alcohol available for fans this football season.
Allison Tamme’s husband, former UK all-SEC tight end Jacob Tamme, played nine years in the NFL. He’s in the UK Athletics Hall of Fame and is a Barnhart supporter.
“I respect Mitch and this decision. After taking my babies to dozens of NFL games and having beer spilled on them, on me, on our coats, bags, etc., it’s a welcome change of atmosphere (at Kroger Field) and something I don’t have to worry about as a parent,” Allison Tamme said.
“Not to mention the language, arguments and rowdy and/or dangerous behavior that ensued for being over-served at games.”
Others obviously have different opinions but considering the number of games Allison Tamme has attended with her children in various stadiums (and her husband played for three teams that made the Super Bowl), I thought her opinion was worth sharing.
Hinshaw, co-offensive coordinator, created a little bit of a buzz when he said quarterback Terry Wilson might throw 40 times per game — twice his average from last year — this season.
Stoops didn't totally embrace that thought at UK's Media Day but also said he would do “whatever it takes to win” and did not rule out passing more with all-time leading rusher Benny Snell Jr. gone on offense and All-American Josh Allen and five secondary players gone off defense.
However, don't forget that Wilson is also a nifty runner and could run more if needed as well.
“All our quarterbacks have to run. Are we going to run them to death? No. Most of the time when Terry runs it, it will be because the defense allows him to,” Hinshaw said.
“He ran really good on Florida (in a win last year) but they didn’t know exactly who he was. People learned and defenses did a great job not letting him run later in the season but then his passing numbers went up.”
Hinshaw expects teams, especially in the SEC, to make UK throw the football with no proven receiver returning except Lynn Bowden.
“Most improvement needed for us will be passing the football,” Hinshaw said.
Hinshaw, Stoops and offensive coordinator Eddie Gran met with NFL coaches during the offseason to find ways to improve Wilson's passing.
“We have changed a lot of things he was doing with his steps, a lot of things with his shoulder, being on target more. He was over striding, so we shortened his stride. Very excited about where he is at now and where he is going,” Hinshaw said.
Quotes of the Week
No. 1: “I would like to think Kentucky can close the deal on in-state guys like him. Kentucky has been really strong in Louisville the last couple of years with the Cards taking a step back. But he would be a fantastic addition at a position they need help,” Jeff Drummond, Cats Illustrated managing editor, on UK getting a commitment from Bowling Green safety Vito Tisdale.
No. 2: “If you're one of the best 11, you know what to do in that situation, in that package, you're going to be on the field. If you don't, if you're a 50/50 guy, if you know it sometimes, don't know it others, for me knowledge is power. The guys that know it are going to be the guys that play,” UK defensive coordinator Brad White on playing true freshmen.
No. 3: “I try to find their weakness and see where you are weak and expose that and make you feel embarrassed. Playing on the offensive line is a double whammy. You’ve got to (tear them down), play with their mind and beat them physically,” UK senior Logan Stenberg, a preseason All-American, on the mentality it takes to play in the offensive line.