By LARRY VAUGHT
He’s the focal point of every defense that Kentucky faces. He’s the player who has to produce big numbers for Kentucky to have a chance to win — not to mention to elevate his own NFL draft position when this season ends.
Yet if the pressure is bothering junior running back Benny Snell, it doesn’t show. He had 74 yards on Kentucky’s game-winning 80-yard drive against Vanderbilt Saturday in a 14-7 win. He rushed for 169 yards – his 16th 10o-yard game at UK – on 32 carries in the game.
“I think he is having a lot of fun,” said April Snell, Benny’s mother. “Just the other day I told him to do what he normally does in games but to have fun. When you see him dancing around on the field and shaking his hair and looking at the camera, you know he is having fun.
“He appreciates the way fans stay and wait for him after games. He tries to get through with media as quick as he can so he can shake hands and get pictures with fans. I appreciate that and it just makes this ride so much fun. Just tell fans he tries to get to them as quickly as he can.”
April Snell enjoys watching him as much as the Kentucky fans do. However, she admits she watches as a parent, not a fan.
“I want to see him run the ball and get up quickly and not be hurt running off to the sideline. I am concerned for his health. I want him to play the whole season,” she said.
She says her son’s success — he was named a mid-season All-American and is on pace to become UK’s all-time leading rusher — has made him a target for opponents in ways that fans don’t always see.
“This year there has been a lot of dirty plays from a lot of different teams. Twisted ankles, punches under the piles, slamming his head down. That’s why my heart is always pounding until I see him get back up,” she said.
She predicted in August that Kentucky would end its losing streak to Florida — and the Cats did. She had not particularly enjoyed the trip to Florida two years ago when she felt the Gator fans were “nasty” the entire game.
“We have been to every game. That game (at Florida) along with the wins over Louisville and Mississippi State when we kicked that field goal to win are the best wins yet,” April Snell said. “Florida knew we came in meaning business. It still puts a smile on my face now to think about that win.”
Kentucky is 6-1 after last week’s win over Vanderbilt going into Saturday afternoon’s game at Missouri . Then comes the SEC East showdown with Georgia Nov. 3 at Kroger Field – another game that could put a huge smile on her face if UK wins.
“They are going to take it home. I can’t predict it now, but if UK will wear all blue — everything blue, helmets, pants, jerseys — we will win that game. That’s my call,” April Snell said.
That’s a call Kentucky fans would take — and remember that SEC Network studio host Peter Burns also recently predicted that UK, not Georgia, would win the SEC East.
First, though, Kentucky needs to win at Missouri Saturday. April Snell says when she talks to her son, it’s more about “mom” things than football.
“I want to know how much homework he has, did he eat right. I can’t come at him all the time with football,” she said. “My main concern always is just that he’s okay. When we did talk football, it’s week to week. We do not look ahead. We know Missouri is nothing to play with.”
Just like opponents know Benny Snell is nothing to play with.