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Singleton eager to coach Kentucky's running backs

The return of Chris Rodriguez would give new running backs coach Jemal Singleton one of the most productive backs in the nation.
The return of Chris Rodriguez would give new running backs coach Jemal Singleton one of the most productive backs in the nation. (UK Athletics)

Making the move from an NFL franchise to a college program was a lot easier for Jemal Singleton than one might expect.

Kentucky's new running backs coach and special teams coordinator was introduced to the media on Thursday and explained why making the move from the Cincinnati Bengals staff made sense for him.

"Two years ago, I came down to a Pro Day," Singleton said. "I think Benny Snell was working out that Pro Day. Came down and worked him out, and I remember walking through these facilities and didn't realize Kentucky had what they had going on here."

Singleton was familiar with the strong recruiting work that Mark Stoops was doing prior to his arrival in Lexington. That reputation only got stronger the last five years at UK as wins and bowl games stacked up, more NFL prospects emerged, and the facilities were being hailed as some of the best in the game at any level.

He also had a ringing endorsement from UK defensive coordinator Brad White, who had worked with Singleton on the Indianapolis Colts' staff from 2016-17.

"So there's just a lot of really good things that made me want to come down here," Singleton said. "It's going to be the easiest move I've ever made in coaching."

“We are excited to welcome Jemal Singleton to our program,” Stoops said. “He came highly recommended from Brad White, who I highly respect, as they worked together in the NFL. After I did the research on him, saw his background, and visited with him, it was a no-brainer. He has also worked in the same system as (new offensive coordinator) Liam Coen, and he will be a great fit.”

Singleton, 45, takes over the running backs position previously held by Eddie Gran. He will also lead the Cats' special teams in 2021 after the position remained vacant this season.

He will inherit a talented backfield that includes sophomore Chris Rodriguez (785 yards, 11 touchdowns, 6.6 yards per carry in 2020), sophomore Kavosiey Smoke, and freshmen JuTahn McClain and Travis Tisdale.

"“I know that guys that are in the room and I got a chance to watch them play in a bowl game and in some other games as well," Singleton said. "That was an intriguing part of it, knowing that the room is pretty solid. I've been fortunate in my career to be in some pretty good running back rooms both in college and the NFL and seeing the traits that this room has here was exciting and I can’t wait to work with these guys."

He will also have his backs working behind what is expected to be another outstanding UK offensive line. The Cats learned earlier this week that junior tackle Darian Kinnard would return for one more year despite being projected as a solid NFL Draft pick. He'll be joined by senior guard Luke Fortner, who will take advantage of the NCAA's extra year of eligibility granted to all players due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The first six players in the line rotation for 2021 have all played significant snaps in their college careers.

"One thing will never change, those guys up front are the most important piece of the run game," Singleton said. "No ifs, ands, or buts about it. You can have some great backs that can do some really good things, but when you've got a great O-Line that's up in front of him, it hands down makes the run game go. Obviously, my excitement level with that, watching those guys move around and seeing them move guys off the ball, it is huge."

The son of a Louisiana military father and a British mother, Singleton was born in Incirlik, Turkey, and spent his high school years in San Antonio, Texas. His father was an Air Force sergeant, so that led Singleton to a college career at the Air Force Academy, where he was a two-time team captain.

Singleton broke into the coaching profession at Air Force and later worked at Arkansas and Oklahoma State before moving on to the NFL's Indianapolis Colts, Oakland Raiders, and Cincinnati Bengals.

He labeled himself a "college coach at heart" but thinks his broad experience will help him as a recruiter on Stoops' staff.

“I’m a better recruiter by trade now," Singleton said. "The fact of the matter is a lot of these young men, that's what they aspire to do. They aspire to go to the NFL, and now I have that understanding and that knowledge of the entire process. I've sat in the draft room, I've sat in the official interview rooms with guys, I've sat at the train station and talked to them, I've been on the field during the drills at the combine multiple times, so I know all those steps in this process."

Singleton and his wife, Jennifer, have two daughters, Morgan and Mallory.