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August 6, 2013

Freshman Kemp hoping to produce immediately

On Jojo Kemp's right bicep, a muscle he loves to flex and show off, he has a tattoo that says "To whom much has been given, much is expected."

His entire right arm is tatted, along with the majority of his left. Every tattoo is a reminder for Kemp " of how far he's come, how far he still has to go, and to never give up.

Kemp, a running back from DeLand Fla., was one of Kentucky's prized 2013 recruits, with the Wildcats landing him just days before National Signing Day. He was promised an opportunity to compete from day one, and like the tattoo says, much is expected from him.

"I had big expectations going to high school so I'm used to it," Kemp said. "I just stay humble and when it's my time to produce I just go give it my all and give it my best."

And he's already produced off the field. Kemp has added 10 pounds, and he was quick to point out it was muscle. He flexed for reporters at Monday's Media Day to show the new and improved strength and conditioning program is working.

"I'm getting these guns," Kemp said. "I am getting these guns."

Kemp is going to get some serious minutes this season, running backs coach Chad Scott. He's already impressed the coaches over the summer and Scott wasn't surprised based on what he saw from Kemp in high school.

Kemp rushed for 1,469 yards and 23 touchdowns his senior season and was rated as Rivals' No.10 multipurpose back in the country.

He's expecting a smooth transition into UK's pass-heavy offense.

"It's just like how we were in high school," Kemp said. "We were a passing offense, but when everyone was biting on the pass, everybody would spread out there and they would hand it to me underneath. I would do what I do and make those six points."

But a year ago, eight months ago, did Kemp imagine he'd be doing what he does for Kentucky? Would be on Commonwealth Stadium's field, fielding questions from reporters on Media Day?

"No way, no way, no way," Kemp said with a smile.

The Wildcats weren't on Kemp's radar until the new coaching staff took over after last season's 2-10 record, and even then Kemp almost ended up elsewhere.

Kemp's recruitment was marked by plethora of negative recruiting. Nearly every school UK was competing against to land Kemp had negative things to say about the Wildcats.

Kemp heard it all: That he wouldn't be on a winning team; that he'd be a running back in a pass-heavy offense. But the negative recruiting actually had a negative effect.

"It wasn't all the coaches that were doing negative recruiting, but once some of the guys started doing negative recruiting I knew it wasn't guys I wanted to be around," Kemp said. "I don't like to speak negative about nobody, I like speaking positive about everybody. So once the negative recruiting started going around I knew it wasn't the place for me. I wanted to be around a place of people that are respectful, that will stay positive and keep me going."

Scott has seen negative recruiting impact some recruits. Not Kemp.

"There's no need to," Scott said. "That's one thing we face out on the road is the negative road. We have so much to sell here, from an athletic standpoint and an academic standpoint. I just figure the time you waste to negative recruit, I take that time to talk about everything we have to offer.

"Jojo is a mature kid, a smart enough kid that was raised by a great family. He understands that these guys here are taking the time to tell you what we can do for him, opposed what other programs are telling them what we can't."

And what could and will UK offer Kemp? A chance to succeed right away.

"We told him there is an opportunity for him to come in and play early," Scott said. "The two guys that played a lot for us last year are going to be seniors this year. He has an opportunity to come in and get an education. We're not that deep at the running back position so he can come in, compete and play early."

That opportunity is even greater now with the loss of Josh Clemons, who suffered an Achilles tendon injury and will miss the entire 2013 season.

But it may speak volumes about the kind of person and teammate that Kemp is when he says he'd rather be competing against Clemons, even if it would have meant less playing time.

"I wish Josh Clemons was still here," Kemp said. "He was one of those guys that would help me out, teaching me the offense and I learned it quick. Josh Clemons is a great guy and it was sad to see him go down."

Kemp expects Clemons still will help him out from the sidelines, but Scott said Clemons wasn't the only running back that has given him a hand. Raymond Sanders and Jonathan George have welcomed the 5-foot-10, 195-pound Kemp to the Big Blue Nation.

That trio of running backs is expected to get the bulk of the carries this season, and Scott was impressed the older two helped and cared from Kemp the way they did.

"Those two did a great job with Jojo this summer, taking him under their wing and showing him the ropes," Scott said. "It made me feel really good because when you have guys that are confident in their ability, and they know they have a guy that's going to challenge them when they come in, and they're still taking them in and showing them the ropes. It shows how confident they are in their ability."

Scott said Sanders is "penciled" in to start the team's first game in Nashville on Aug. 31, but he'll get a better of idea over the next two weeks.

No matter who gets the starts, the second- and third-string guys will get plenty of carries. In UK's new "Air Raid" offense, many forget about the importance of a strong running game.

And the Cats plan to surprise some people with their rushing attack.

"I think that running the football is always going to be a part of what we do," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "There's no question it's important, especially in this league. We have got to be able to establish it."

Scott's goal is to have the Southeastern Conference's best rushing attack and if that comes to fruition Kemp will likely need to make a big impact.

Kemp is known for his speed and making guys miss, but he wants to defenders to know he'll run over them if he gets a chance.

"I'd probably give them that shoulder," Kemp said. "I run through them, I want to run through them. I think it's more exciting when you run through them and keep going than when you run around them."


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