Several Kentucky Running Backs Prepared to Contribute

Several Kentucky Running Backs Prepared to Contribute

by Tim Letcher

For the past few years, there has been little doubt as to who would be the featured running back at Kentucky.

It started with Stanley “Boom” Williams, who led the Cats in rushing from 2014-16. Then came Benny Snell, who would end his UK career by setting school records for rushing yards (3,873) and total touchdowns (48).

When Snell departed UK for the NFL, Lynn Bowden led the Cats in rushing for one season before Chris Rodriguez took over and led the Cats in rushing for three consecutive campaigns.

Rodriguez has now also moved on to the pro ranks, leaving the featured back position open for the 2023 season.

There does not appear to be a clear starter, like UK had had over the last few years. But that doesn’t mean that the Cats will be lacking in the backfield this season.

After Saturday’s intrasquad scrimmage, UK head coach Mark Stoops spoke about his running backs and their performance.

“There weren’t many explosive runs,” Stoops said. “But we’re definitely trying to get that mentality back. Being able to run the ball when everybody knows you’re going to run it. That’s going to set up our play action.”

Stoops knows that there won’t be that one guy in that position this year, but he’s comfortable with that room as a whole.

“They all got a bunch of reps,” Stoops said. “Ray (Davis) was in there quite a bit, he’s played a lot of snaps. So, we were able to get some other guys in there. It’s going to be by committee, and we have some guys with some versatility.”

Kentucky starting quarterback Devin Leary went into a bit more depth about UK’s backfield options following Saturday’s scrimmage.

“Very competitive. And each one of them bring their own aspect to the game, which is really cool to see,” Leary said. “Obviously, Ray, having great success in his past, he’s coming in with his head down, ready to work.  A guy like JuTahn (McClain) has a ton of snaps under his belt, being able to play in Coach (Liam) Coen’s offense in ’21. La’Vell (Wright) did really good things today. He keeps getting better, more of a power back. Even seeing guys like Ramon Jefferson, battling through some injuries and now he looks as good as new, which is really cool to see. Then you’ve got Demi Sumo (Karngbaye) coming in, kind of bringing that versatile attack in the passing game. I think it’s cool to see how they all collaborate with each other and make each other better. They definitely each have their own aspects of the game that are going to help us.”

Leary and Sumo-Karngbaye played together at N.C. State and Leary is happy to be reunited with him in Lexington.

“It’s pretty cool. Just seeing him take the game in a serious approach, not only at N.C. State, being able to play as a redshirt freshman, but transferring in and doing everything he can to help this offense,” Leary said. “Being out there on the field, it makes me realize how much I appreciate the work he has put into his game as well.”

While the 2023 Cats won’t have a workhorse back like they have had in the past, there are a lot of solid options at the running back spot.

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