By LARRY VAUGHT
Dagen Rash is a dreamer, but he’s also realistic.
That’s why the Belfry offensive lineman knew there would not be a scholarship offer from from Kentucky, the school he grew up following. He also knew that getting scholarship offers from the military academies was a big deal, so he verbally committed to Army.
But the 6-2, 280-pound Rash couldn’t turn down the opportunity to be a preferred walk-on at Kentucky and have a chance to play for the Wildcats. He’s seen the way former walk-on players like Cole Mosier, Charles Walker and David Bouvier not only have earned scholarships but also have played key roles for winning Kentucky teams.
“Distance was a big thing for me, too,” Rash said. “I have been a UK fan most of my life and I am also really close to my family. It will be a lot better on them to see me play at Kentucky than at Army.”
He has a little bit of that eastern Kentucky swagger that UK junior linebacker Kash Daniel has shown to endear himself to UK fans.
“I know I am eventually going to get to play,” Rash said. “I will represent the mountains and be that walk-on story Kentucky fans like. Count on that. I have what it takes to play at Kentucky. I just know it will take time for me to get my chance because coach (Mark) Stoops has shown he will give walk-ons a fair change.
“I know I have what it takes to play. Being from eastern Kentucky, we don’t get a lot of looks from big-time schools. I think my Army offer opened some doors for me because a lot of schools did not know about me until then.”
Rash was a two-star recruit. One reason might have been that as successful as Belfry is, the team seldom passes the ball. It depends on running the ball 95 percent of the time — or more.
However, Rash said in an all-star game earlier this month he gave up no sacks while Glasgow offensive lineman Tanner Bowles, an Alabama signee, gave up three. He also points out that he’s about the same size that UK starting center Drake Jackson of Woodford County was when he got to Kentucky. Offensive line coach John Schlarman has already told Rash he’ll be moving to center.
“I know it is not going to be a size thing. I just have to work. If I work hard enough, I can get on scholarship and play,” Rash said.
Former Belfry teammate Austin Dotson signed with UK last year and was redshirted this season. Rash said Dotson was “definitely a big part” of his decision to walk on at UK.
“He said when I committed to Army that they need to get me down to UK,” Rash said. “He talked to the coaches about me and then they checked my film. I played beside him at Belfry. I am going to live with him next year. It will be nice having someone I know on that team. He knew when he got to Kentucky what it would take for him to get to play and he feels like next year he will have a great opportunity to play, and I think he’s right.”
Rash believes enough in his ability to pay to play at UK rather than take the scholarship offer at Army or Navy where both teams run the triple option, a running attack like what Belfry uses. He also uses what Josh Allen, the year’s national defensive player of the year, has done at UK.
“It was hard not to go to the academies because those are very prestigious offers,” Rash said. “But I believe my film speaks for itself. I can absolutely dominate people. I feel like I am a lot better than a lot of three-star and four-star (players). What Josh Allen (a two-star recruit) has done motivates me a lot. It shows stars do not mean much. If you can play, you can play. I just have to adapt my game now and show people what I know I can do.”