LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky outside linebacker Denzil Ware was named preseason All-SEC second team. He’s started 24 of his 25 career games. And the junior ranked second on the team in sacks and tackles for loss in 2016.
But Ware is openly shopping his starting gig to freshman outside linebacker Josh Paschal. That is, if Paschal can prove he earns it. Ware told Paschal that his job should be to steal Ware’s.
“I told him from Day 1, ‘If you’re not competing to take my job, if you’re not working hard, if you’re not giving it everything you got, then I can’t be your friend and I can’t call you my teammate,'” Ware said. “Because at the end of the day I only hang around people that give it everything they’ve got on this field ’cause that’s what I do. If I see him not trying to win my spot or take my job, I’m on him like white on rice.”
Ware said a lot of freshmen come in thinking they’ll redshirt. It turns out to be true for most, but it’s not likely Paschal will sit out his first season.
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said as much after the Wildcats’ open practice on Saturday: “He’s definitely gonna be a guy that plays,” Stoops said.
The Good Counsel High School graduate from Olney, Md., was Kentucky’s top defensive signee in the 2017 class. The brother of former UK player TraVaughn Paschal, Josh Paschal was ranked the No. 11 strongside defensive end in the class, according to 247Sports.
Paschal was easy to spot during the open practice. Even as a freshman, his 6-foot-3 and 270-pound frame stands out among his fellow linebackers. Paschal’s No. 4 white jersey was halfway rolled up his stomach. And while looking the part doesn’t always translate to on-field success, Stoops said it “absolutely” does with Paschal.
“Man, that kid is gonna be something special,” said Kentucky offensive lineman Naasir Watkins, who was a high school teammate of Paschal. “The athleticism, the power that he brings to the game, the way that he uses it. Y’all are gonna know the name Josh Paschal for a long time around here.”
Ware already knows the name, and it sounds as if he’s seen Paschal’s abilities. Ware said Paschal’s eyes got big when Ware challenged him to take the starting spot.
Ware laughed and backed off his challenge when asked if Paschal indeed could unseat him. That answer will have to wait until Sept. 2 when Kentucky opens the season at Southern Miss.
“If I gotta sit in the passenger seat and let him drive, it is what it is,” Ware said. “At the end of the day, as long as UK [is] winning, I don’t care.”