Looking To Replace Big Time Players
Hello everyone and welcome back to the latest in our series previewing the 2023 Kentucky Football team. With spring practice about to begin we’re going position by position through Mark Stoops’ 11th club in Lexington. In case you missed it, we began by looking at the quarterbacks. That of course features the addition of Devin Leary replacing Will Levis. In this installment, we’ll look at the guys who must step up with our 2023 Kentucky Spring Preview: Running Backs.
Big Shoes To Fill
Heading into this year UK must replace one of the best to wear the uniform for the Wildcats. Chris Rodriguez left Lexington after finishing third on the school’s all-time rushing list with 3,643. That put him behind only Benny Snell’s 3,873 and Sonny Collins with 3,835.
C-Rod more than likely would have broken the school record had he not been suspended for the first four games of 2022 and skipped the Music City Bowl. In addition, his 32 touchdowns are second only to Snell’s 48.
Not only do the Cats have to replace their leading rusher but the third leading as well. Kavosiey Smoke also departed Lexington after running for 1,583 yards and 13 touchdowns. Smoke hit the transfer portal and wound up at Colorado playing for Deion Sanders.
Another running back, Michael Drennen, entered the portal but has not yet chosen a new school.
Now that we’ve talked about the guys who are gone as we continue our 2023 Kentucky Spring Preview: Running Backs let’s look at players returning including a big pickup through the portal.
Keeping It In The League
With Rodriguez gone, Kentucky went looking to the portal to get a new running back. They found their guy about three hours southwest of Lexington. Ray Davis, formerly of Vanderbilt, announced he was heading to Kentucky.
Last season Davis ran for 1,042 yards for the Commodores, putting him fourth in the SEC. In addition, he hauled in 29 passes and scored eight touchdowns. Davis started his career at Temple where he rushed for 1,259 yards and nine touchdowns during his two years with the Owls.
Of course, the Big Blue Nation remembers Davis helped lead Vandy to a 24-21 upset win over the Cats. In the process, they broke a 25-game SEC league losing streak. The running back gained 129 yards and scored a touchdown in the win.
Plenty Of Help Returning
While Davis likely starts 2023 as the top back the Cats have several players who should see lots of playing time. That list starts with JuThan McClain. As a junior McClain passed Smoke on the depth chart and was the primary backup down the stretch in 2022. The Fairfield, Ohio native finished second on the team with 278 yards. He also was fourth in receptions with 18 for 100 yards and a touchdown. The combination of Davis and McClain is a good one. However the Cats need depth, and they have it.
Sophomore La’Vell Wright appeared in all 13 games last season rushing for 120 yards. In addition, he caught six passes for 28 yards. Tennessee transfer Dee Beckwith ran for 21 yards in limited playing time. However, he also spent time at wide receiver and tight end so it’s unclear whether he’ll remain in the backfield.
Ramon Jefferson came in last year to provide depth when Rodriguez was suspended. Unfortunately, he tore his ACL during the season-opening win over Miami (Ohio). The former All-American at Sam Houston State applied for an extra year of eligibility and the NCAA granted his request.
Everything’s a go 💫 pic.twitter.com/CdnSKoiuXo
— Ramon Jefferson (@Jefferson1Ramon) February 14, 2023
He’s another guy who’ll provide depth in Liam Coen’s offense for 2023. As we wrap up our 2023 Kentucky Spring Preview: Running Backs let’s look at an incoming player who pays instant dividends.
Back Of The Future?
Shortly after the end of the early signing period Jamarion Wilcox announced he was coming to Kentucky. The 5-10, 195-pound running back chose the Cats over some heavy hitters. His final list included Auburn, Clemson, and Ohio State.
Wilcox ranks as the 40th-best running back in the nation and 57th best player in the state of Georgia. Playing at South Paulding High School in Douglasville he rushed for 2,059 yards and 29 touchdowns on 229 carries. He also caught 18 passes for 287 yards and another score. Wilcox helped lead his club to an 8-4 record in Georgia’s Class 6A. As a junior, he ran for 1,534 yards and 23 touchdowns.
The Cats held off a late push from Auburn to get the player they really coveted. Wilcox may not be a contributor at the beginning of the year but should definitely push for some carries as a true freshman.
Thanks for checking out our 2023 Kentucky Spring Preview: Running Backs here at Last Word On College Football. Next time out we’re looking at two of the strongest positions on Stoops’ squad, wide receivers, and tight ends.
Photo courtesy: Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports