DALLAS, Tx. — Kentucky senior defensive lineman Josh Paschal has been named the Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Award, it was announced Thursday night at The Star in Frisco, Texas. He was selected among three finalists, including Grant Morgan of Arkansas and Patrick Fields of Oklahoma, who all demonstrated a record of leadership by exhibiting exceptional courage, integrity and sportsmanship both on and off the field.
Paschal, a native of Prince George's County, Maryland, had a remarkable and inspiring career at Kentucky. The five-year letter winner played in 52 career games with 37 starts and totaled 139 career tackles, 37 tackles for loss, 13.5 sacks, 12 quarterback hurries, three forced fumbles and three blocked kicks. His 37 tackles for loss in his career, ranks tied for third in UK history.
He became the only three-time full-season team captain in Kentucky football history and was revered by his teammates for his leadership. Since learning he had cancer in the summer of 2018, Paschal has made a significant impact on those of us in the Kentucky Football program and thousands of others.
He was diagnosed with malignant melanoma that appeared on the bottom of his foot just before training camp was to open in July of 2018. After undergoing three surgeries and monthly immunotherapy treatments for more than a year, he was cleared to play in the final three games of UK's historic 10-win season. Even on the day of his final treatment, most patients ring the bell to mark the end of treatments and UK wanted to send cameras and photographers to document the moment. "No way," Paschal said. He never wanted the attention to be on himself because so many patients around him were far worse and he "didn't want to rub it in that he was finished already."
Paschal never used cancer as an excuse not to attend practice, a media session, or a community service event, but instead he used it as a platform to talk to people about his faith and how going through cancer has helped him become stronger as both a person and a player. He spoke to countless churches, school groups, cancer groups and media entities on his faith and how he beat cancer. He kept his grades up through it all, earning a spot on the Dean's List and the SEC Fall Academic Honor Roll. He also appeared on NBC's Today Show! in May 2019 as a guest on a panel discussing the seriousness of melanoma. He continues to be deeply involved in the community as an advocate for cancer awareness, as well as social justice.
In 2021, he led the team and ranked second in the Southeastern Conference with 15.5 tackles for loss. He also had 53 tackles, 5.5 sacks, a team-high eight quarterback hurries, a forced fumble and a blocked field goal that a teammate returned for a touchdown. He earned second-team All-America honors by CBS/247Sports and he was named to the All-SEC first team by the Associated Press and Phil Steele.
Off the field, he graduated in May of 2021 with a degree in family science and a minor in health promotion and earned second-team Academic All-America honors by the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA).
In 2020, he was elected one of three representatives for UK Football on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) and the SEC Football Leadership Council. He took the lead on social justice initiatives over the summer of 2020, helping lead a peaceful walk for racial and social justice in the city of Lexington, as well as a players' movement during training camp to raise awareness for those issues. Each time he was one of only a few players selected to speak on behalf of the team. He also recorded videos encouraging fellow students and fans to wear their masks during Covid-19 pandemic, #MaskUpCats.
In 2019, he once again excelled in the classroom and for the second straight season was named to the Dean's List and the SEC Fall Academic Honor Roll. Because of his tenacity on and off the field, he was a nominee for the FWAA-Orange Bowl Courage Award, was one of six named honorable mention for CoSIDA's 2019 Mayo Clinic Comeback Player of the Year Award, and he was named to the inaugural 2019 Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion Team.
The Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Award, presented by Albertsons and Tom Thumb, is the first college football honor to focus primarily on a player's leadership, both on and off the field. Leadership is a term synonymous with Jason Witten, who, in addition to becoming one of the best tight ends in the history of the sport, served as one of football's most prominent role models during his 16-year pro career. In addition to winning the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award in 2012, Witten also received the Bart Starr Award, Pro Football Weekly's Humanitarian of the Year Award, Home Depot NFL Neighborhood MVP and the Bob Lilly Award, among many others. Each of those honors recognized his work in the community, achievements on the field and dedication to his teammates and family.
Paschal will receive a $10,000 contribution in his name to his school's athletic scholarship fund. The contribution will be made by Jason Witten's SCORE Foundation, the official charity of Jason and his wife Michelle. The SCORE Foundation, founded in 2007, has positively impacted tens of thousands of children and families in Texas and Tennessee over the last 14 years. The foundation operates its nationally recognized SCOREkeepers program, which places trained male mentors on staff to work with children at nine family violence shelters in the two states.
The inaugural Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year award was presented to UCF's Shaquem Griffin. Wisconsin's D'Cota Dixon earned the honor in 2018, Tennessee's Trey Smith won in 2019 and Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger was the Man of the Year in 2020.
The 2021 season marked the fifth straight year that at least one Kentucky football player has received a national honor that is primarily for leadership, perseverance, community service and/or academics, in addition to performance on the field.