LEXINGTON, Ky. (UK Athletics) – Phil Steele’s College Football Preview has named eight Kentucky football players to its preseason All-Southeastern Conference teams, it announced this week.
Offensively, senior offensive tackle Darian Kinnardwas named to the first team, while junior all-purpose player Wan’Dale Robinson and junior running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. were named to the third team. On defense, senior safety Yusuf Corker earned second-team honors, senior nose guard Marquan McCall and senior inside linebacker DeAndre Square were on the third team and junior outside linebacker Jordan Wright was a fourth-team pick. Senior punt returnerJosh Ali was named a second-team specialist.
Kinnard, a 6-foot-5, 338-pound offensive lineman from Knoxville, Tennessee, continues to gain national accolades after he was graded by Pro Football Focus as college football’s top run-blocking tackle for 2021. The senior has played in 33 career games with 26 consecutive starts and in 2020, he graded at 88 percent in 10 regular season games with 40 knockdown blocks and 138 blocks at the point of attack. He also was a candidate for the Outland Trophy, give to college football’s best interior lineman.
He has also earned preseason first-team All-SEC honors from Athlon Sports this season. Additionally, he was named a preseason second-team All-American by Phil Steele.
Rodriguez, a 5-11, 224-pounder from McDonough, Georgia, led the Cats in rushing in 2020 with 785 yards and 11 touchdowns despite missing two games due to COVID-19 protocols. The power back had four 100-yard rushing games, including three of the final four games for which he was available, and was nearly impossible to bring down. He totaled 105 consecutive carries without being tackled behind the line of scrimmage and gained positive yardage on 116 of his 119 total attempts. He delivered a career-best 149 yards vs. Vanderbilt on Nov. 14 and led the SEC in yards per attempt at 6.6. Overall, he ranked fifth in the SEC in rushing yards per game (87.2). Rodriguez currently has 1,361 career rushing yards, good for 27th place in school history.
He also was recently named a preseason second-team All-SEC choice by Athlon Sports.
Robinson, a 5-10, 183-pound all-purpose player from Frankfort, Kentucky, transferred back to his home-state school in 2021 after playing two seasons at Nebraska. He will be eligible to play immediately after the new NCAA transfer legislation passed which allows athletes in all sports to transfer one time without having to sit out.
At Nebraska last season, Robinson led the Huskers with 51 catches and 461 receiving yards despite playing only eight games and splitting duties at running back. He was fourth on the team with 240 rushing yards and led Nebraska with 696 all-purpose yards. He was on the Paul Hornung Award Watch List and he earned honorable-mention All-Big Ten honors from the conference coaches. Robinson ranked fourth in the Big Ten and 23rd nationally with 6.4 receptions per game, the fourth-highest average in the country for an underclassman.
Robinson made a name for himself nationally as a freshman in 2019, catching 40 passes for 443 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 340 yards and three scores. The 40 catches and 443 receiving yards were the most by any true freshman in Nebraska history. He also totaled 1,029 all-purpose yards as a true freshman, which ranked second on the team and was the third-highest total ever by a Husker true freshman.
Because of his versatility and play-making ability, he was named a second-team freshman All-American, an honorable-mention All-Big Ten selection, and was a two-time Big Ten Freshman of the Week. He was also one of four national finalists for the Paul Hornung Award, given to the nation’s most versatile player.
Earlier in the spring, Robinson earned preseason All-SEC third-team honors by Athlon Sports.
Corker, a 6-0, 204-pounder from McDonough, Georgia, has played in 37 career games with 24 straight starting nods at safety. As a junior in 2020, he finished second on the team in tackles (77) behind NFL first-round draft pick Jamin Davis. He also added 2.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions, two pass breakups and a forced fumble, earning All-SEC Second Team honors by Pro Football Focus and Phil Steele.
Off the field, Corker was named to the Dean’s List and the SEC Fall Academic Honor Roll in 2020. Hegraduated in May with a degree in economics and is currently working on a second degree in communication.
McCall, 6-3, 357-pounder from Detroit, has played in 31 games in his career, including 10 last season at nose guard. He earned starting assignments vs. Missouri, Georgia and South Carolina and went on to total 22 tackles, a tackle for loss, a fumble recovery and a half-sack in his junior season.
Square, a 6-1, 221-pound inside linebacker also from Detroit, has played in 36 career games with 22 starting assignments, including 10 starts as a junior last season. The team captain in 2020 was third on the team in total tackles with 60, second on the team with four quarterback hurries and also charted 2.5 tackles for loss, a pass breakup and a fumble recovery.
The senior also earned preseason fourth-team All-SEC honors from Athlon.
Wright, a 6-5, 225-pound junior from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, has played in 33 career games, including all 11 games in 2020 at outside linebacker. He turned heads last season after totaling 45 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, four pass breakups, two quarterback hurries, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and an interception. He was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Week in helping UK post a 24-2 over Mississippi State after a pass interception returned for a touchdown; a career-high tying six tackles; a career-best two tackles for loss (-9 yards), including a quarterback sack; and a pass breakup.
Ali, a 6-0, 190-pound wide receiver and punt returner from Hollywood, Florida, is a “super senior” and four-year letter winner who is taking advantage of the NCAA’s extra year of eligibility due to COVID-19. He has played in 45 career games, starting 24 in a row. As a specialist, Ali has been UK’s top punt returner the last two seasons, combining for 20 punt returns for 150 yards.
Ali graduated in May with a degree in community and leadership development and is currently working on second degree in communication.
He was named a preseason fourth-team All-SEC specialist by Athlon.
Seven home games at Kroger Field highlight Kentucky’s 2021 football schedule. The Wildcats kick off the season on Sept. 4 against the ULM Warhawks, the first of three consecutive home games. Missouri arrives in Lexington on Sept. 11 for the first conference game of the year before Chattanooga wraps up the homestand on Sept. 18.