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Kentucky's Daniel, Brown not settling for second best

By Jennifer Smith Lexington Herald-Leader

In between one-liners about his new flowing locks -- "I'm trying to let it grow out, have some come out of my helmet so all the pretty girls can play with it sometimes" -- and jokes about why he won't settle for benching only 395 pounds -- "It's pretty impressive to put four plates on there; 395 is just enough to make a man mad, just 5 pounds, put a cookie on that thing, do that thing" -- there's a Kash Daniel who is quietly setting goals.

Each night, Daniel stares at the list hanging on the wall of his apartment, striving to be more than just a special teams or role player, as he was in his first season at Kentucky.

Among the goals the sophomore rattled off Thursday after practice: A 3.0 grade point average, squat 550 pounds, bench press 405, become stronger and faster.

And "start at (middle) linebacker and make a national name for myself."

It has become a recurring theme for Kentucky's backup middle linebackers.

Most outsiders might go ahead and write in returning starters Courtney Love and Jordan Jones at the inside linebacker spots, but in-state backups Daniel and Eli Brown are making their argument for a rewrite.

"Like I tell everybody, I'm not here to be a two," said Brown, a former Warren East standout. "I'm trying to be a one. The thing is, me and Jordan, it's no bad blood. We both know we want to work together. We want to make the team win, so whoever is gonna be on the field got to contribute and make the team win."

It's the same for Daniel, who played in all 13 games last season as a true freshman, with 19 tackles, most coming on special teams.

"You didn't sign a letter of intent to come here and be a backup for four years. That's a mentality you have to have."

That will mean beating out two guys who were first (Jones) and third (Love) on the team in tackles last season.

Daniel and Brown know those are tall tasks, but they're setting higher goals than being a solid backup. The competition is making everyone better, defensive coordinator Matt House said Thursday.

"It takes more than just your ones in this league," said House, who coaches the inside linebackers. "You're only as good as the second-team guys because they have to play in this league because of how physical it is. And on top of that, as I said before, competition brings the best out of all of us."

Players like Daniel, a former Paintsville star, are straining to get more playing time, working hard behind the scenes.

The goals on his apartment wall -- an idea he stole from a documentary he saw on NFL wide receiver Randy Moss -- remind him to do the little things to get better.

Extra bowl practices in December and spring practices have helped him improve.

"It's night and day just being here a full year, this being my second spring," Daniel said. "Being from fall to now, I can tell that difference a lot, and it shows on tape. I'm really looking forward to finishing out this spring and heading into fall camp."

Daniel goes back and watches film of himself at various stages. He has been studying scrimmage tape with fellow linebackers and taking notes of the changes he has seen in himself.

The game has slowed down for the middle linebacker. His lateral speed has improved, the way he takes on a block, his discipline with his eyes and his body.

All of this has led to compliments from coaches and teammates this spring about Daniel's growth.

"I know this sounds cliché, but he's playing the game," House said. "He's not just worried about running the defensive call."

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