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All-American Darian Kinnard returning for senior season

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MASSIVE news for Kentucky football.

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Darian Kinnard is returning to the Kentucky Wildcats for the 2021 season, he announced Monday. Kinnard also revealed fellow starting lineman Luke Fortner is coming back for another season.

This is all huge news for Mark Stoops’ program, as well as an offensive line set to replace several starters in 2021.

Kinnard was the first offensive lineman to commit to Kentucky for the 2018 class. As a four-star player, picking Kentucky as the No. 16 tackle in the class was huge for the Wildcats. He came in contributing almost immediately.

Kinnard played in nine games as a freshman, starting two of them. In 2019, he started all 14 games and was a leader of the Big Blue Wall that set single-season school records with 3,624 rushing yards, 36 rushing touchdowns, and 6.3 yards per carry. He was named Second-Team All-SEC by PFF.

In his third year, and against an All-SEC season schedule, Kinnard received All-American honors from various outlets after starting every game and playing a key role in leading Kentucky to a third straight bowl victory. He was a vital piece of an offensive line that has proven to be one of the best in the country year after year, honoring his coach John Schlarman with his effort and leadership.

For his efforts, Kinnard was named a Fist-Team All-America, by PFF, Second-Team by Sporting News, and Third-Team by the AP.

While Kentucky is losing several veteran players to graduation and the NFL, getting a guy as good as Kinnard is huge for the 2021 Cats. And after the career Kinnard has had to this point, another All-American campaign would establish himself as one of the best offensive lineman to ever play in Lexington.

With Kinnard and Fortner set to return, that means Kentucky will only have two starters to replace on the offensive line when it looked like there was a good chance they’d be replacing four.

Kinnard will likely stick to right tackle, though he may get some looks at left tackle depending on how that position looks with Landon Young off to the NFL (he confirmed this Monday). Fortner and Kenneth Horsey likely have the guard spots locked up. That means Kentucky also needs to figure out who will start at center with Drake Jackson also departing.

Even so, having Fortner, Horsey and Kinnard back will ensure this offensive line remains a big strength that this offense leans on heavily next season, especially as it’s breaking in a new offensive coordinator (Liam Coen) and offensive line coach (Eric Wolford).

The last few days have provided a lot of optimism for what the Cats can accomplish in 2021. Hopefully, things are getting back to normal by then and we get to see what Kentucky can do with a normal 12-game schedule.