By LARRY VAUGHT
Did I expect junior Kash Daniel to be an impact player for the Kentucky defense this year? Yes.
Did I expect Daniel to be leading the Southeastern Conference in tackles with 22 after two games, both Kentucky wins? No.
The starting middle linebacker had 11 tackles in UK’s opening win over Central Michigan and then came back with 11 more Saturday when Kentucky beat Florida.
Daniel not only is a playmaker, but he’s an emotional playmaker. He’s from Paintsville and playing at Kentucky means something extra to him like it did Jacob Tamme, Freddie Maggard and many more in past years and also does to players like Drake Jackson, David Bouvier and more this season.
“I will ride and die for this man. Love you coach!,” Daniel posted on Twitter with a photo of him embracing UK head coach Mark Stoops after the Florida win.
Stoops said Monday he didn’t want Daniel or any player to worry about him.
“I’ve been through thick and thin, that’s what I get paid for. But, the moment itself, the authenticity of that feeling of all of us together is something that you can’t measure what that means to you because that’s what you do it for, for them,” Stoops said. “That’s why we work hard for our whole football family and that is special and authentic and I appreciate Kash and our whole team. I’ll never flinch so they don’t have to worry about me.”
Daniel maybe enjoyed the postgame celebration at Florida as much, more more, than any other player. He did his own impersonation of wrestler Stone Cold Steve Austin with a video he posted on Twitter and even tagged the former wrestling star on.
Daniel didn’t mince words with media members, either, after the win. He called the feeling “unreal” and said he was “shocked” that UK finally won.
“I was telling people on the field, ‘Could you imagine when we were kids we’d be out here doing this?’ I couldn’t imagine it either, but I’m here,” Daniel said.
Daniel knows the doubters won’t go away. He even encouraged them to “keep running your mouth” because the Cats still believe they can get to the SEC title game.
Stoops said he never viewed Daniel as a first-year starter because of the way he prepared for this season. He also uses Daniel as an example for other young players about how to play a role on special teams as Daniel did for two years, study film, get stronger and be ready when the chance to play does come along. Daniel played behind Courtney Love, watched and learned.
“Kash is a guy that’s hard not to root for,” Stoops said. “He’s a Kentucky guy. He cares about this program. He’s passionate. He plays extremely hard. Very unselfish. For those years he was sitting there behind Courtney, didn’t say a word. Just what can I do to help, how can I help on special teams and just learn his position. The young guys have to understand that and learn that.”
Former Kentucky running back Anthony White is from Cleveland. He had in-state teammates at UK like Tim Couch, Dennis Johnson and Craig Yeast. They all had Kentucky pride but White says they were good players because of their talent.
“I really didn’t know how good Kash was because I really had not seen him play,” White said. “I heard him talk about being a Kentucky guy and having Kentucky pride. But pride does not win games. You can play with pride and still get your tail whipped. But these first two games, he has earned my respect.
“His first year as starting middle linebacker, he goes out and helps beat Florida. Nobody can ever take that from him. The more I watch I’m, the more I see his passion. There is more to him than just Kentucky pride. He makes plays and plays hard.
“He can have all the Kentucky pride he wants and still get whipped on the field, but he can play and that makes a huge difference when you combine that with that extra Kentucky pride he definitely has.”
Stoops appreciates the passion Daniel has on the field.
“It’s not so much he’s worried about how Kash plays. It’s a matter of how much our team plays when Kash is in there. If we have that mentality with all of our players, then good things are going to happen because it’s a mentality,” Stoops said.
“It’s very unselfish, and it’s important for him for us to be successful, for the team to be successful. That’s what you’re looking for.”