Snell provides spark for surging Cats

Published 10:30 am Monday, September 24, 2018

LEXINGTON (KT) — If there’s a better running back in college football than Benny Snell, be more informative and get the word out. If not, there’s no need to provide proof.

The University of Kentucky running back continues to show time and time again he’s one of the top rushers in the Southeastern Conference, if not in the nation. He’s the backbone of a Kentucky team that has won its first two league games for the first time since 1977 and made its first appearance in the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time since 2007. After opening with four consecutive victories, the Wildcats are ranked No. 17 going into Saturday’s home contest against South Carolina.

The Wildcats haven’t been perfect by no means this season but are a team that has used big second-half performances to win their first four games by double digits. The Wildcats outscored Mississippi State 21-0 in the second half for its largest margin of victory over an opponent ranked in the Top 15 since a 34-7 victory over Tulane in 1973.

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“I can definitely say that we learn how to win,” Snell said. “… I don’t want to say we’re a second-half team because I don’t like that. I like when we come out with that fire. But, we’re great in the second half and finishing those games. This team’s got that finish. This team’s got that fight and I’m proud of my guys for that.”

Kentucky’s success this season starts with Snell, who is poised to end his career as the school’s all-time leading rusher. Snell is on the verge of breaking the mark set by Sonny Collins during the school’s glory days of the mid-1970s.

“He’s amazing,” Kentucky senior tight end C.J. Conrad said. “He’s the best player and best teammate I’ve ever played with in my life. The guy gives it his all, all of the time and he’s got a good head on his shoulders. He backs up his talk, he is a MEAN dude on that football field and we love it. I love every bit of it and playing with him has made my time here well worth it.”

Snell already is the program’s all-time career touchdown leader with 39 scores, breaking the previous mark of 37 set by Randall Cobb. He has 2.964 rushing yards and is fourth on the all-time list. He needs 32 yards to tie Rafael Little for third place and 872 yards to shatter the all-time mark set by Collins.

“He’s just a really good back,” Gran said. “Is he a great one? I don’t know, but he was great (against Mississippi State). He started that when he got here as a freshman and he’s still doing it. It’s not surprising to me. The way he played as a freshman, he was a 1,000-yard rusher. I love him and he plays the game the way it’s supposed to be played.”

If you think Snell is already looking ahead to the NFL Draft, think again. Although Snell likely will forgo his senior season and enter the draft once the season ends, he’s staying in the moment and soaked in Saturday night’s 28-7 victory over Mississippi State at Kroger Field.

“I’m living my dream right now and I couldn’t be happier with the support and the crowd was amazing,” he said. “It was the best feeling ever, for real.”

In terms of ranking crowd experiences, Snell said the 60,000-plus who cheered the Wildcats on Saturday reminded him of the crowd that provided much-needed vocal support in a win over South Carolina two years ago.

“I think this one might have topped it,” he said. “This might be one of the best ones.”

Snell also produced one of his best performances at Kentucky, rushing for 125 yards and four touchdowns against the Bulldogs, more than making up for last year’s 18-yard performance in a 45-7 beatdown in Starkville. In the days leading up to the contest, Snell promised a better outing and he delivered, although the Bulldogs were convinced they could stop him two years in a row.

“Benny, he’ll use anything to motivate him,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. “And that’s a good thing. He’s always ready, that’s the beautiful thing about Benny, he may get a little fired up — and he’s fun for you guys because he might get talking a little bit, but that’s OK, y’all need to get some sound bites as well, I realize that. But that’s just Benny. He’s going to play hard no matter what. He really is. I think his high school coach or whoever said that best, he would run over his mother and that’s probably true, whoever gets in front of him he’s going to run hard.”

Snell wasn’t in the conversation for the Heisman Trophy last week, but the Kentucky running back wasn’t concerned. Expect that to change as long as the Wildcats keep winning and Benny just keeps on being Benny.

“I’m going to let that just be in the air,” he said. “It is what it is. My play speaks for itself, that’s all I can say.”

As Snell has proven numerous times during his collegiate career, actions speak louder than words.