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Kavosiey Smoke Tabbed as Kentucky's Starting Running Back to Begin 2022 Season

The senior will takeover starting duties amidst Chris Rodriguez's absence

After hardly being mentioned throughout fall camp, senior Kavosiey Smoke has earned the starting running back spot for Kentucky on Sept. 3 against Miami (Ohio). 

Kentucky released its depth chart on Monday, featuring the Wetumpka, Alabama native as the top option, in front of Sam Houston State transfer Ramon Jefferson and Junior JuTahn McClain. 

Smoke takes over starting duties for Chris Rodriguez Jr, who was not listed on the depth chart and has been ruled out for Saturday's matchup, stemming back to a DUI charge and alleged "off-the-field" issue. Head coach Mark Stoops declined to announce Rodriguez as suspended, just acknowledging the star back as "unavailable to play." 

While the focus will be on the absence of Rodriguez, the news is significant for Smoke, a veteran who had become lost in the pack amongst multiple high-level running backs. It was expected that Jefferson may be labeled as the starter to begin the year, but Stoops saw undeniable progression and consistency from Smoke, ultimately giving him the nod. 

"I have a good feeling about what he'll do, because I've seen him play through the years, I've seen his preparation. I liked the way he's responded this camp," Stoops said of Smoke. "I think the coaches put pressure on him because we expect a lot out of him, and we want to see that consistency." 

Throughout fall camp, it seemed as though Jefferson and even McClain were earning more and more reps, leaving Smoke in limbo, fighting for snaps. It's not how you start, it's how you finish, and Smoke's veteran prowess has to be commended for landing him a starting gig that was of the toughest position battles amidst the preseason. 

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"I'm proud of the way he's responded in the past couple of weeks because he didn't start out there. You know, he didn't start out in the number one spot whether Chris was there or not," Stoops said. "He's responded the right way. He's taken the coaching and he's taken the criticism in the proper way to make him better." 

Offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello commended Smoke's maturity and drive as a competitor last week during a post-practice media scrum, acknowledging that the senior has approached the end of fall camp in a great way: 

“He’s maturing as an individual, and I think that’s what it takes to be successful and count on a guy," Scangarello said. "You add that with some real dynamic ability I think he can really help us this year."

When asked last week if he felt like he had something to prove this year, Smoke brought up a much bigger goal—The SEC and National Championship.

"I feel like I ain't got nothing to prove," Smoke said. "For me, it's just staying healthy. Me proving what I got to do is making it to ATL (Atlanta) and winning a natty (national championship). I ain't got nothing else to prove."

The road to Atlanta begins on Saturday, and Smoke will now play a much bigger role in making sure the Cats stay on that path to greatness to begin the season.