Competitiveness to Be the Hallmark of Fall Camp
Matt House doesn’t have the pleasure of coaching Benny Snell, Jr. – not directly anyway – but Kentucky’s defensive coordinator still benefits from his presence.
So too does the entire UK team.
“Obviously we all know he’s talented, but his approach and his competitive spirit,” House said at Media Day on Friday. “I remember one day this past spring, he might not have had the practice he wanted to. I walk in the building and he’s irritated. I think that’s what Benny brings. You can’t help but improve around him because you better bring it, ’cause he’s going to bring it in practice.”
Don’t think Snell doesn’t notice that.
Even as a freshman, Snell knew his fire had an effect on his teammates. Now that he’s a junior coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and with a few UK records and preseason honors to his name, he knows the example he sets is even more powerful.
“Everything I do, I know I’m watched,” Snell said. “I’m always watched. The younger guys are watching me. My teammates are always watching me. They pay attention to the little things and when they make a mistake I’m on them. I harp on them. I’m heavy on them. It’s a team. We’re a team. We’re a brotherhood.”
The interesting thing about fall camp, which began on Friday, is that those brothers will be competing against one another tooth and nail. The Wildcats still have four weeks to wait before they take on an actual opponent, so offense vs. defense will have to do for now.
“I think it’s extremely competitive,” tight end C.J. Conrad said. “I think Coach (Mark) Stoops does a good job of making sure that we all understand that we’re all on the same team here, but during practice and during this fall camp we do have to treat them like they’re an opponent. Obviously you gotta be careful. You don’t want to ever hurt one of your teammates, but we’re competing against each other and we’re competing at a high level.”
With returning talent from teams that reached bowls each of the last two years all over the field, that competition has never been stronger in Stoops’ tenure as head coach.
“We compete every day,” Snell said. “I’m glad to go against these guys because they give us the best look. We give them the best look on our reps. It’s exciting. I’m very happy for the defense. The defense, I’m more comfortable. From my freshman year to coming how things were, I can tell when I’m not comfortable with things. This is the most I’ve been comfortable with this team.”
When you consider that the defense figures to start nine players with extensive experience as starters, it’s easy to see why Snell feels that way. That feeling was also reinforced during spring practice, when the offense and defense traded the upper hand on a nearly daily basis. That led to some public back-and-forth between the two units. Though the trash talk was generally good-natured, the Wildcats have committed to cut it out this fall.
That doesn’t mean they’re going to quit competing though.
“We’re not out here trying to hurt anybody,” linebacker Josh Allen said. “We’re just trying to get better. We want to play against the best and especially at my position I want to play against the best tackles. I feel like we have two of the best tackles in the SEC (in Landon Young and George Asafo-Adjei). Just competing with them every day, going 100 percent and them going 100 percent with me, I feel like we’re both going to get better.”
For Allen, that also happens with Conrad.
The two seniors both bypassed opportunities to enter the NFL Draft this spring, but since they go head to head so often, they still will face a professional-level player every day.
“It’s going to be some battles in the trenches because that’s where it starts,” Allen said. “Since I’m in the boundary now, I see a lot more C.J. I’ve been in his ear telling him to get his weight because I got my weight up. We’re going to see. It’s fun. We compete at everything we do. It’s just going to be fun to compete with him and I want 100-percent C.J., and that’s what I have this year. I can’t wait to get after him.”
Conrad is healthy after offseason shoulder and ankle surgeries, while Allen is significantly bigger than when the pair last faced off.
“I go against Josh Allen every single day,” Conrad said. “That’s fun. Me and him have been going against each other for the last three years. He’s been talking to me all summer about how he’s put on 20 pounds or something like that. I don’t really care. He knows what’s coming.”
OK, so maybe the public trash talk won’t completely go away.
“I’m not going to say I’m going to lose,” Allen said. “I’m going to win. I have no choice. That’s my mindset. I want to win every one. I don’t want to lose.”
With so many individuals thinking that way, UK figures to have the same approach as a team come Sept. 1.
Cats rallying around Paschal, Schlarman
Stoops began Media Day by announcing that two members of the UK football program are working through health issues. Sophomore defensive end Josh Paschal has been diagnosed with malignant melanoma, while offensive line coach John Schlarman is undergoing testing to determine the exact nature of his issue.
“John and Josh are very strong, very good people, two of the best people we have in our program,” Stoops said. “Our team will be supportive of them as they continue to battle through these health issues. It’s been a tough couple days in our program leading up to the beginning of camp here, but we — again, our hearts and prayers are with Josh and John as they battle this issue.”
Paschal had skin lesions removed from the bottom of his right foot recently, which tested positive for malignant melanoma. He had another procedure this week and is awaiting further results.
“Josh wanted to be upfront with this,” Stoops said. “Josh and his family are handling it well. They wanted to be open about this so there was no speculation. They also want this to be a reminder for people to pay close attention to any changes in their skin, and if so, have those evaluated.”
Stoops said he would provide further updates as they are available and appropriate.
“Of course we’re very close to both of those families,” Stoops said. “Spent time with the families this week and we’ll continue to do that. We will be supportive and be a family, just much like you would, you know, and we will be there for them any way we can, but we’ll continue to do the work that we have to do. And they both want it that way.”