Jojo Kemp emerges as leader for Kentucky Wildcats' deep stable of running backs

When Kentucky takes the field Saturday in the season opener against Southern Miss, some may be surprised by who lines up for the Wildcats' first offensive snaps at running back.

Senior Jojo Kemp was slotted above the more highly touted Stanley "Boom" Williams on UK's first depth chart of the season, a position he earned with his approach and work ethic since practice began this summer, as well as taking advantage as Williams' reps were limited coming off elbow surgery. 

"He's been probably the most consistent back throughout this camp," new UK offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said following Tuesday's practice. "He's doing everything we ask him to do."

That includes the DeLand (Fla.) native knowing when to dial back his charismatic personality at times when a more serious approach is prudent. Not an easy task for the player UK head coach Mark Stoops once labeled a "pit bull" and joked during his freshman year that Kemp was so ready to mix it up with the defense on any given snap that he kept a knife tucked in his sock. 

"He's understanding when to turn it on and turn it off," Gran said. "That's one thing I asked him to do, and he's doing it."

"Coach Gran, I love him. He's a great coach," Kemp said. "He's got a great sense of humor himself. He's gotta act hard a little bit, but he's good."

Kemp's UK career to date has been sprinkled with a few highlights, but not enough to make him a household name in the SEC. He led the Cats in rushing as a freshman, albeit with a modest 482 yards. As a sophomore, he had a memorable 17-carry, 131-yard performance and scored three touchdowns in the Cats' come-from-behind win over South Carolina. Last season, he rushed for 555 yards and matched Williams for a team-high six touchdowns via the ground.

Since joining the UK staff earlier this year, Gran likes what he's seen of the 5-foot-10, 200-pound Kemp's running style.

"He's a little deceiving," he said. "Sometimes you look at Jojo and it looks like he's a little hurt, like he's an old man. (But) he does have some burst to him, and I like his toughness. If you're an offensive lineman and you know you've got a guy who's going to go and get those tough yards for you, that's what you're looking for.

"You know you're going to get everything from him."

The Cats may use as many as five running backs in the first game. In addition to Kemp and Williams, UK also has plans to use junior Mikel Horton, sophomore Sihiem King and freshman Benny Snell. 

"If we get enough plays, maybe we see all five of them," said Gran, noting that his backfield should be fresh into the fourth quarter.

Williams, who has picked up some preseason All-SEC accolades, led UK with 855 yards rushing last season and set a new single-season school record with a 7.1 yards per carry average. 

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