Photo | Keyli Chisesi
“How do you replace legends? You become one.”
Those were the words senior linebacker Kash Daniel used during Kentucky football’s 2019 Super Bowl commercial that aired last February.
While Daniel will be challenged with helping a defense replace first round NFL draft pick Josh Allen, most eyes will be on how Kentucky replaces Benny Snell, the schools all-time leader in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns.
What those eyes will see is redshirt junior A.J. Rose, who has patiently awaited his opportunity.
“I’ve been waiting for this, I’ve been waiting for this time,” said Rose. “I’ve been waiting for the time for them to say I’m starting now. I don’t have to worry about not playing or not getting the reps that I think I should get, all of that is behind me. I stayed patient.”
The 6-foot-1, 218-pound runner from Cleveland, OH., carried the ball 71 times for 442 yards and five touchdowns as a sophomore. His career day came in a 56-10 win at Louisville, where he totaled 112 yards on 10 carries, including a career-long 75-yard touchdown run.
When Rose arrived at Kentucky as a member of the Wildcats 2016 recruiting class, there wasn’t an immediate path to the field. Rose had no choice but to wait behind established runners Jojo Kemp and Boom Williams, as well as Snell, who emerged in game three of the 2016 season. While it was hard at the beginning, Rose knew he had a lot to learn while waiting his turn.
“At the beginning it was hard when I first got here because I didn’t know football. Coming from the high school I came from and then coming to college, football here was different. The game was much faster, the playbook was much more intense. I had to sit down and take a step back but I learned from the guys in front of me.
Boom was the speed guy when I got here and I learned to be patient with my runs. Jojo was the Wildcat bruiser type of guy, so I just learned how to take what they got in their game and put it into mine. Benny being here with me from the start helped me and him going out there and playing with the heart he did every game.”
Fast forward to 2019 and the roles have changed. Rose is no longer the back waiting for his turn. Instead, he’s the mentor and leader to younger running backs Chris Rodriguez and Kavosiey Smoke and plans to be the example he learned to be from those that came before him.
“I tell them everyday to stay patient, that their time is coming. It’s football and everyone is one injury away from it being their turn. I love my brothers to death and it’s not about individual effort. I’m a team guy and I can’t wait to see them succeed.”
While co-offensive coordinator Darin Hinshaw has mentioned Terry Wilson being prepared to throw the ball 35-40 times each game, Kentucky football built success around running the football the last three seasons and that’s not going to change. Opposing defenses will be challenged to deal with the speed of Wilson, Rose and Lynn Bowden on the field together.
“That’s a lot of speed and a lot of playmaking ability out there. We have guys that can blow by you in a hurry. Any of us in space is scary, so the goal is to get the ball to us in space. We’re going to run the football. People saying now that us throwing the ball is going to take away from the run game but if you know Kentucky football, you know we are going to run the football with the backs we got.”
Even with all the talent Mark Stoops has recruited and brought to Lexington, national media chooses to focus on what the Wildcats lost from last season’s 10-3 campaign. As for the ESPN FPI projections and others that predict Kentucky to win 5-6 games in 2019, Rose would rather have the doubters than the believers.
“I would much rather have everyone doubting us. Those doubters keep the chip on our shoulder and give us the extra fire to come out here and play to prove people wrong. You’re going to see that with every guy on this team, we all have that swagger. Coach Stoops has that great swagger about himself that if you want to doubt us, bring it on.”
Even though Rose had help from those in the program to prepare for 2019 and his turn to take the lead in the Kentucky backfield, it was his father, Asim Rose Sr. that he leaned on the most to get him to this point.
“My father is an unbelievable guy and my inspiration. When I’m down he gets me up. The tough times I’ve had, without him I feel like I wouldn’t be where I am today. I want to do it not just for me but for my family. They want to see me do well and I want to see myself do well. I feel good every time coming out here and seeing my family. It just makes me want to play harder.”
Rose and the Wildcats will get their first opportunity on Saturday, August 31st when Kentucky takes on Toledo at Kroger Field.