LEXINGTON, Ky. — A.J. Rose had long waited for his chance.
After redshirting last season, the Kentucky running back’s first career carry was a year in the making. It went down as a 2-yard gain on 1st and 15 late in the first half against Eastern Kentucky. A simple enough start to his career, but coach Mark Stoops said Monday that the run “couldn’t possibly be set up any better.” Stoops said it would’ve been a “huge gain” if Rose had flashed inside instead of bouncing outside.
Things didn’t get better two plays later. Kentucky quarterback Drew Barker was sacked after Rose was “blown up on a blitz,” Stoops said, without mentioning Rose by name.
“It wasn’t really missed assignments,” Rose said. “It was, ‘OK, I got the ball, I missed the hole.’ I got bull rushed. I wasn’t ready for that my first time in there.”
For a player who had the “freshman blues,” according to his father, Rose’s first snaps of his second season seemed to pile on the hill of frustration after sitting out his first.
Rose met with his father, Asim Rose Sr., and a few more family members after the game last Saturday. Rose Sr. had noticed during the game that his son’s body language wasn’t right. They played back the mistakes in their head. Rose Sr. called them “easy fixes.” A.J.’s father describes himself as his son’s biggest critic and biggest fan.
And there was plenty of criticism after the game.
“Sometimes you’ve gotta hear it,” Rose Sr. told SEC Country. “Not just from me as a parent, but you hear things from other people. And if everyone’s talking the same thing, something’s gotta make sense here. I see that he got it.”
While one freshman running back, Benny Snell, was setting six Kentucky freshman rushing records a season ago, Rose was redshirted. They both came to Lexington as 3-star prospects from Ohio, but Snell separated himself. The coaches deemed Rose not ready for action.
“As bad as he itched to want to play and be out there on the field, he had to understand first you have to be ready,” Rose Sr. said. “Coach is not going to put you on the field if he can’t trust you. Therefore, at the end of the day, he had to meet with his coach and accept flaws that he knows was going on within himself. He had to accept it.”
The losses of Boom Williams and Jojo Kemp seemed to pave the way for Rose’s chance this season. But after he was hyped during spring practice, it was junior running back Sihiem King who landed the second-team running back spot.
It was a practice on Tuesday, Aug. 22, when offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said of King: “He’s No. 2. There’s no doubt about that right now.”
Later that night came Rose’s response via Twitter: “Sleep on me if you want too!!”
Sleep on me if you want too!! 🔟
— Aj Rose (@asim_rose) August 22, 2017
“If people doubt me, that’s just what they do,” Rose said earlier this week. “I’m gonna work hard and not really pay attention to the doubters.”
Rose Sr. and Snell are preaching patience to Rose — both thinking his time will come.
Rose came to Kentucky after playing quarterback in high school. The Garfield Heights standout was labeled an “athlete” by 247Sports. He was the 50th-ranked player in Ohio.
“He had to accept that this next level is rebuilding your brand,” Rose Sr. said. “You’re starting from scratch. Anything you did in high school, that’s over with.”
Rose Sr. said his son has counteracted the “freshman blues” with harder work as a redshirt freshman. He’s staying at the facility later, watching more film and listening to his coaches. Rose and his father have a close relationship, but Rose Sr. tells his son that his coaches are his father figures away from home.
“Every day ain’t easy, and it’s not gonna be easy,” Rose Sr. tells A.J. “Everything here you have to earn. If the trust ain’t there, there’s no way that me as a coach could put my faith in you. He gets that.”
The Cleveland native has played on special teams, but he’s logged just one carry through Kentucky’s first two games. Snell has 39 carries and King has 17.
“Players in front of me, they’ve been doing their thing,” Rose said. “So I can’t hate on them, I can only root them on.”
Rose admitted that he’s still learning the speed of the college game. He’s in line to play his first SEC game at 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday at South Carolina. Gran said Tuesday that Rose opened the week with two “great” practices.
Rose’s one goal for now? Earning the trust from his coaches.
“I’m definitely looking forward to another shot,” he said. “Then when I get this shot, take full advantage of it and don’t look back.”