LEXINGTON, Ky. — It’s students, people on the bus and even professors.
Benny Snell has gone from seldom recognized to a sensation in weeks. The Kentucky freshman running back is already a top-15 rusher in the SEC in yards and touchdowns despite not recording a carry in his first two collegiate games.
Snell, coupled with backfield partner Boom Williams, has given Kentucky one of the league’s finest backfields — a combination of Williams’ speed and Snell’s strength.
The freshman back bowls through opposing defenses with the mentality to always fall forward. He’s trucked through tackles, into end zones and now to the embracing arms of the Kentucky faithful.
— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) September 17, 2016
Snell ran for 94 yards two weeks ago against Vanderbilt and 128 last week against Mississippi State. Success has been immediate for the freshman, something Snell says he’s used to from high school. And now it’s leading to stardom.
“I really don’t pay it no attention,” the soft-spoken Snell said. “I take a picture, move on about my day.”
And while Snell’s name is growing ever popular, his offensive coordinator, Eddie Gran, is doing his best to keep the 220-pound bruiser levelheaded. The two had a “heart-to-heart conversation,” as Snell called it, earlier this week.
“There’s times where I got to kick him in the rear end because you can imagine people patting him on the back,” Gran said. “You can only imagine him being a true freshman and everybody patting him on the back and saying great job, Freshman of the Week and all that.”
So, Gran is combating the potential for overconfidence — even though Snell is the first to point out his success wouldn’t be possible without his offensive line.
“I have been crushing him and bringing him right back down to reality,” Gran said. “And we laugh about it and joke about it, but you got to be careful. You can’t ever get bigger than this football team. Ever. Nobody can. He’s not. I’m just reminding him.”
Gran presses his players off the field to stay composed and successful in the classroom. The message especially settles with Snell. And at noon Saturday, he’ll run opposite an opponent in the same situation: Missouri’s Damarea Crockett.
— Mark Kim (@MarkJKim_) October 23, 2016
The similarities are striking between the two — both freshmen, both listed at 5-foot-11 and 220 pounds. Crockett has 7 touchdowns to Snell’s 6, 83 attempts to Snell’s 80 and 546 yards to Snell’s 469.
Both quickly have become top options for their respective offenses.
“If you watch them both run, side by side, you do see some similarities,” Missouri coach Barry Odom said. “Both are, you know, it seems to me as the year has gone on they’ve gotten better each week.”
Both figure to be near the top of league rushing charts for years.
Stephen Johnson has the luxury of handing the ball to Snell and Williams. As a junior-college transfer and in his first year of SEC play, like Snell, the quarterback hardly can believe how young his power back is.
“It’s really hard to fathom that he’s a freshman coming out with all that strength to be able to run people over and get first downs like that,” Johnson said. “But I really look forward to seeing what he has to offer this team the next few years.”
— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) October 8, 2016
And Snell is only getting stronger.
He’s getting used to the 5 a.m. workouts as his body continues to develop. It’s a change from his high school regimen. He said he’s learning from the more mature teammates around him, and, of course, learning from Gran.
“You’re in Game 7, 8, 9 and all that,” Gran said. “You’re a freshman, you got all the academics and the tutors and those responsibilities and football. It can get overwhelming.”
The Wildcats are two wins from their first bowl game since 2010. Coach Mark Stoops said none of it would’ve been possible without the run game.
Kentucky knew it had a good tandem of running backs in Williams and Jojo Kemp.
But then came Benny.
“I wasn’t expecting, I wasn’t surprised, either,” Snell said of his success. “I’m just here to play football. Whether I play bad, or whether I get a lot of success, it’s just the way things are. I prepared for this.”