By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky defensive coordinator Brad White challenged senior lineman Josaih Hayes to do more in the 2023 season and likes the way that Hayes did not back down from the challenge.
“I expect a guy that’s been in the program this long to be clean, to know their assignments, to know what to do, to play with great effort to strain every down. Like that is understood and quite frankly, Jo (Hayes) hadn’t done that,” White said.
“So there was a big challenge for him this offseason. He understood that and he has responded in spring in a way that’s exciting.
Hayes was a four-star prospect when he signed with UK in December of 2019 when almost everyone expected him to stay home and play for Ole Miss. He played in five games in 2020 and all 13 games in 2021 when the most guard had 14 tackles. However, last year he had just eight tackles in 11 games.
White wants Hayes to understand just playing well in spring practice is not enough because that is not equal to a 12-game season.
Now, the 6-foot-3, 317-pounder who will sport No. 97 instead of No. 99, which he wore in his first three seasons at Kentucky, is being counted on to take a major step forward this fall.
“I want to see it from that guy the entire spring through summer, and he knows that and we’re gonna keep the pressure on him,” White said about the 6-3, 315-pound Hayes. “He has responded and he’s a guy that we need to be in there and a guy that we need to help us because he’s got size and twitch and experience.
“He just needs to keep pushing but proud of how he’s reacted.”
Kentucky lost 2022 starting nose guard to the transfer portal. Hayes is competing with Jamarius Jenkins and North Carolina State transfer Keeshawn Silver for the starting job next season.
Silver, who seems to have the edge at No. 1 now, said the competition is good for all of them.
“If he does good, I’m gonna try to do better than him and the guy behind me is gonna try to double what we both do. So you have to keep getting better,” Silver said.
Kentucky was 12th best in the nation in total defense last season but only 49th nationally in run defense.