No one grows up wanting to be an offensive lineman.
Kentucky junior Darian Kinnard is confident any offensive lineman would agree with him because the more glamorous positions are what every youngster envisions he will be playing.
“But once you accept you are going to be a lineman, you take more pride in being a lineman because there are not a lot of people that can do it and be as big as I am and move the way I do,” said the 6-5, 345-pound tackle.
“I take a lot of pride in doing my job right. When you ball down between the lines, you go to work and make sure your team is winning and getting yards or you are pancaking a defensive lineman.”
Kinnard did all that and more when he helped UK go 8-5 with a rushing attack that was almost unstoppable at the end of the season because of the offensive line. He had 32 knockdown (pancake) blocks while starting all 13 games and committed just one penalty in 706 snaps.
Even though Kentucky didn’t throw the ball often the final eight games, he also gave up just one quarterback sack and says that came on a mistake against Florida in game three.
“I didn’t see the call from the sideline. I asked the guard what it was and didn’t understand what he meant and I gave up a free sack,” Kinnard said. “My one penalty was against Florida, too, when I grabbed a guy just enough to get the call.
“A good lineman is one who is not noticed. If I am doing everything right, then you just basically say that guy is good and doing his job. That is what being a lineman is all about.”
Kinnard is going noticed a lot lately but for the right reasons. He was ranked by SEC Network analyst Cole Cubelic as the SEC’s second best returning offensive line. He was named to the all-SEC first team in Phil Steele’s College Football Preview along with a preseason All-American. He’s on the potential 2021 NFL draft list of many football analysts.
None of that is going to change his focus.
“ There are plenty of small things that need work. I can get away with some of them now but at next level you will not get away with it,” Kinnard said. “I am not looking just to stay the same.
“If I want to go in the first round, I have to keep improving. If I want to go to the Hall of Fame, I want to improve. If I set a goal I want to get it done. When I was a little kid I had a dream of getting college paid for. Now I want a lot more.
Kinnard verbally committed to Kentucky early in the recruiting process and was the first offensive lineman in the 2018 recruiting class. He joked he went from “no stars to four stars” in the recruiting rankings before his senior season at powerhouse St. Ignatius in Cleveland, Ohio. At times he said he was almost overwhelmed by recruiting but he didn’t bail on his commitment to Kentucky despite having what he called some “buyer’s remorse” during the recruiting process as Penn State, Tennessee, UCLA and others made a big push to sign him.
“No matter where I went, I was expecting to do great and then leave early (for the NFL). This is a great opportunity I got from Kentucky,” Kinnard, a Knoxville native, said. “I love my family here. I stayed committed to Kentucky. I just had to sit back and re-evaluate when so many big schools started coming after me. I stuck with Kentucky and that’s the best life decision I could have ever made.
“I am not a cocky person, but I believe in myself. I had full faith I could come here and overcome anything thrown at me. I had to hit the ground running and go to work.”
He played in nine games his first year but started two of the final three, including Louisville where his blocks helped spring touchdown runs by Benny Snell (24 yards), A.J. Rose (75 yards) and Kavosiey Smoke (37 yards).
“At times I wish I could have started more games as a freshman but people do not want to put faith in a true freshman,” Kinnard said. “I get you trust the older guy more. It is a coach’s job if you have a bad game and put him on the chopping block. I understood that.
“I got my name out there and next year (2019) was my time and I took over and did what I knew I could do. I kept my nose to the grindstone. That’s how I am because I know I can always be better.”
During the quarantine time when he was not allowed on campus to work out he improvised. He lives in a house with his mother, a nurse, and found a way to use “big logs” in the back of the yard for his workouts.
“I would throw them around to get my muscles moving. I took a week off when we had finals but I did it every other day the whole summer until we got back,” Kinnard said. “Two days I would go to the park and jog. I just kept myself busy. Nothing can prepare you like a weight room but I tried to stay as ready as I could.”
The Kentucky High School Athletic Association will have to make a decision soon on when or if fall sports will be played. But even if games are played, will there be fans allowed, especially at football games?
“We are not going to start with the premise of no fans,” said KHSAA commissioner Julian Tackett. “We think there is a (attendance) cap that can be managed. We also know there are some schools that have very large stadiums. You might be able to take it down to 30 percent (of full capacity).”
Tackett says if high schools can play football and generate money for the athletics department, sacrifices are going to have to be made.
“There is not an ice cube’s chance on a hot road at having full attendance at football games. I just don’t think there’s any chance of that,” Tackett said. “But when you talk about attendance, you also have to talk about how you manage the game. You have got to incorporate something about concessions even if it is just to go by the current restaurant guidance.
“We don’t anticipate at this point in time a decision coming out that there will be no fans at games unless that comes from someone other than us.”
That could happen if a local health department mandated no fans at games in a county or city.
Tackett said schools could have decisions to make also if there was a confrontation with a fan or fans who are denied access to games.
“Fans will be there in masks. Plan on that now,” Tackett said. “If you don’t wear a mask, you will get it shut down for everybody. That could be a tough thing for some schools.”
Tackett understands the importance of high school sports for athletes and communities. He knows suggestions have been made to switch seasons for some sports, something he says is easier said than done.
“Which programs do you sacrifice (and not let play)? We have to try to go this fall and then see what adaptations we have to make,” Tackett said.
The commissioner said he was most worried about fall volleyball because he’s not been able to get answer about airflow issues in closed spaces. He’s also been “irritated” by social media photos of football players working out not wearing shirts.
“If you think youth can transmit the virus, why let them out there without shirts? We have to be smarter than that,” Tackett said.
Tackett said there will not be an “all or nothing” plan for fall sports as the KHSAA understands it must remain flexible. He feels good about the start and finish of golf season provided there are no big awards ceremonies or gatherings. He says suggestions have already come his way about no doubles play during tennis season in the spring or making some changes for track.
Out-of-state competitions are another area that will be addressed by the KHSAA.
“A lot don’t see that as a big issues but we have 42 counties that touch another state,” Tackett said. “So for a lot of schools, that’s a big issue we have to address.”
Tackett also stressed that the KHSAA will not automatically make the same decisions about fall sports that the Southeastern Conference or Atlantic Coast Conference do.
“We will be informed by what colleges do but we will not be controlled by what they do because our situations are different. The SEC and ACC have teams in South Carolina, Florida, Louisiana and other states. They have got hot spots, crowds and travel we don’t have. Our bubble is not anything like their bubble.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari was not allowed to be back on campus even though his players had returned in late June until this week. However, don’t think the coach was overly stressed. In fact, he took great pride in a recent Zoom call with media members about how long hair.
“Hey, my wife said it’s business in the front, party in the back. I don’t know. I mean, I’m like, I just don’t want to get it cut until everything is underway,” Calipari said.
“The beard, the beard was looking—I trimmed it down. But you know, I just said, I may keep the hair going for a while. I don’t know. I’m in shorts and a T-shirt, flip-flops and my hair’s everywhere. I got holes in my jeans. I don’t know what it means. I really don’t know what it means.”
John Herndon is the former sports editor of the Anderson News in Lawrenceburg who recently retired. He covered Anderson County sports for years and certainly heard plenty of stories about former UK basketball standout Jimmy Dan Conner, including this one I had never heard before.
“When he was a senior at Anderson County, everyone thought he was going to UK but that wasn’t really a given he later told me,” Herndon said. “North Carolina, Duke and Florida were really on him.
“(North Carolina coach) Dean Smith sent one of his assistants to visit. Jimmy Dan had a new Jeep and he wanted the coach to go for a ride with him. They went out in the country and there is a place in Anderson County where the road just goes into the Salt River.
“The water was up that day and Jimmy Dan’s Jeep stalled in the river. He had to go get some help and left the coach sitting there. The legend around Lawrenceburg always was it was Dean Smith, but Jimmy Dan told me it was his assistant.”
Conner, Kentucky’s 1971 Mr. Basketball, scored 1,009 points in three seasons from 1972-75 and also had 344 rebounds and 264 assists. He was a career 50 percent shooter from the field. He was also an academic All-American.
Former All-American Kenny Walker has the UK record for most career free throws made with 550 and most in a season with 218.
“I didn’t come in being a great free throw shooter but I put the time in. We had to make 25 free throws before we could leave practice every day. Practice makes perfect,” Walker said. “About two years ago some guy came up and told me I had that record and I didn’t know.
“After we lost Sam Bowie and Melvin Turpin (to graduation) in 1984 I became the featured guy in coach (Joe) Hall’s last year. Probably one of the most unglamorous records at UK, but I am proud of it.”
He also finished as UK’s second all-time leading scorer with 2,080 points when he graduated in 1986— just 58 points behind Dan Issel. No one has challenged either one as Jack Givens remains third with 1,923 while Keith Bogans is in fourth at 1,923 and Tony Belk 1,890. Issel got his points in only 83 games while Walker played 132, Givens 123, Bogans 135 and Delk 133.
“I jokingly say this to coach Hall and he is my guy, the most under appreciated coach that we have had here and he’s like a father figure to us still. The things I learned from him in basketball and away from basketball you can’t put a price on,” Walker said. “But I always joke and tell him, ‘Coach I only came up 58 points shy of passing Dan Issel to being all-time leading scorer. If you had not retired and came back (for my senior season) I think I would have got it and broke all kind of records.’ He did let me shoot.”
Walker’s senior season he played for Eddie Sutton after Hall retired. Sutton was a more defensive minded coach who preferred a slower pace with his UK team.
“If you have to put the blame on anybody put it on Eddie Sutton because I didn’t get a chance to shoot as much but we did play better and win more, so it all worked out,” Walker, one of 38 players to have his jersey retired at UK, said.
Quote of the Week: “They may take more time but I don’t think it’s like they’re treated any different. No, I know they don’t treat it any different than any other case, but it is a more high-profile case, so they’ll look at it closer,” Kentucky coach John Calipari on the NCAA process for Olivier Sarr’s eligibility waiver.