Damien Harris was the local kid many Kentucky fans hoped would be the next star to take Kroger Field on fall Saturdays.
The Madison Central standout was one of the nation’s top-recruits, the top-overall running back and was coveted by the University of Alabama, but also the University of Kentucky in the Class of 2015.
After Harris ultimately signed with the Crimson Tide, the Wildcats looked in another direction a year later. Head coach Mark Stoops looked up north to Westerville, Ohio in the direction of Benny Snell Jr.
As the 56th running back in the country (a 3-star recruit) in 2016, Snell was nowhere near as hyped up as Harris.
The acquisition was merely an afterthought, as Snell was simply overlooked in a recruiting class that included 4-stars Drake Jackson, Kash Daniel and Landon Young. The class also included 3-star JUCO transfer quarterback Stephen Johnson.
However, three years later, Snell stands as tall as anyone in the country by leading his team to their first 4-0 start under Stoops and their first national ranking in the Top-25 since 2007.
Breaking Randall Cobb’s school record for touchdowns is one of Snell’s latest accomplishments on his way to making a case for the Heisman Trophy.
After Kentucky started 0-2 in 2016, Snell was inserted into the mix as a true freshman. Snell immediately won the home crowd in his debut, carrying the rock 17 times but running for 136 yards and four scores in Kentucky’s first victory of the season.
He then eventually took the reigns of the backfield, totaling more than 70 rushing yards in seven of the final nine games that season (including four of which he posted 114, 128, 152 & 192 yards). Snell also reached the end zone nine more times to finish the season, logging one of the best seasons ever for a true freshman.
As a sophomore, Snell logged an even more successful season as a Wildcat. Starting all 12 games for Kentucky, the young star carried the ball 262 times for 1,333 yards and 19 scores.
Snell’s monster season led to Kentucky’s second straight bowl appearance under Stoops and heavily complemented the veteran quarterback play of Stephen Johnson. The year was nearly unblemished, aside from Snell’s one disappointing performance against the Mississippi St. Bulldogs.
In a 45-7 defeat, Snell received just seven touches and only totaled 18 yards.
However, his revenge wouldn’t be far away.
Snell’s junior (and likely final) season at Kentucky has started better than anyone could even imagine. The SEC is known for their bell-cow running backs and Snell looks to be the best of the bunch.
A third of the way through the year, he’s on pace for 1-less touch than last season but is on pace for 1,620 yards and 21 scores.
In three competitive games, Snell has logged 125 yards (Central Michigan), 16 yards (Mississippi State) & 175 (Florida) yards rushing. When he played just a half in a blowout win over Murray State, Snell rushed for 75 yards.
His team has also defeated the likes of Florida (after a 31-year drought) and 14th-ranked Mississippi State, in large part due to Snell’s ability to run over defenders.
Snell has asserted his name not only into the Heisman Trophy race but also as a cornerstone in the history of Kentucky football.
From a 3-star recruit to Heisman Trophy candidate, only Benny Snell could have seen this coming. As they watch the best running back in the SEC, Kentucky fans will never be able to show enough appreciation for the way Snell has brought Kentucky football back to life.
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