LEXINGTON, Ky. — Josh Paschal was the top-ranked defensive signee in Kentucky’s 2017 class, and nobody has a better idea of what kind of player he can be than Naasir Watkins.
Watkins is a former and current teammate. The freshmen duo prepped together at Good Counsel in Olney, Md. — just outside Washington, D.C. Watkins, a 3-star tackle coming out of high school, had the task of blocking Paschal, a 4-star defensive end, every practice in high school.
“Man, that kid is gonna be something special,” Watkins said. “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.”
The name Paschal isn’t a new one in Lexington. TraVaughn Paschal, Josh’s older brother, played for the Wildcats from 2012-14. But that was a different era of Kentucky football.
“When he first came out, we weren’t even in his top 10,” recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow said on National Signing Day. “Coach [Mark] Stoops came to me and told me he wanted me to go up there and recruit him. I think the problem was he had an older brother here who was part of not winning. His dad wasn’t trying to hear that so we had to go up there and sell the family first.”
The younger Paschal first remembers watching the Wildcats in sixth or seventh grade.
“To see it from when I started watching to now is just remarkable,” he said at Kentucky’s media day. “It’s crazy just to see the progress.”
Paschal was listed as a defensive end by most recruiting sites. He was ranked the No. 11 strongside defensive end in the 2017 class, according to the 247Sports composite rankings. But Paschal said he has the speed to stand up at an outside linebacker spot and the size and strength to play on the defensive front.
He’s listed as an outside linebacker on Kentucky’s roster — a linebacker with a 6-foot-3 and 270-pound frame.
“You would think with all that size he wouldn’t be fast,” Watkins said. “No, he’s fast enough. Trust me.”
Penn State made a late run at Paschal, but Kentucky held onto the coveted recruit.
Bob Milloy, Paschal and Watkins’ coach at Good Counsel who recently retired, had as good of things to say about Paschal off the field as he did on it.
“Josh is a wonderful, wonderful man,” Milloy told SEC Country in February. “I call him a take-home kid, where if something were to happen, I’d let him live with me. He’s just a gentleman. I don’t think I’ve ever coached a nicer kid.”
Watkins and Paschal are not only teammates, but also roommates. Watkins was the first to commit to Kentucky. Paschal’s commitment came soon after.
“That really eased my mind to know that I have somebody that I trust, have somebody that I’m close with,” Watkins said. “Being around a friend all the time is a really good thing.”
As for all those high school practice battles between Paschal and Watkins?
“Who won most?” Watkins paused to think about the question. “I’d say it was about a 50/50 split.”