Kash Daniel said people used to laugh at him as a young boy when he told them he was going to become one of the rare players from Paintsville, Ky., to play major college football.
“Who’s laughing now?” Daniel said.
The four-star linebacker and Mr. Football candidate from Paintsville High School will make his childhood goal a reality at 1 p.m. Saturday when he announces a college commitment to Kentucky, Louisville or South Carolina.
It’ll be a Fourth of July announcement that will give fans of the winning school an extra reason to celebrate the day. And it’ll be a happy day as well for Daniel, who emerged as a national recruit over a matter of weeks this spring.
Daniel expects his announcement ceremony in the Paintsville High gym “will be pretty crazy” and a “big deal” in his town with many in attendance.
He’s set to become the first Paintsville football player to play at a power conference school since Joey Couch went to UK in 1987, and he has already earned an invitation to next January’s prestigious U.S. Army All-American Bowl – achieving another longtime goal.
“It’s one of those thing where everybody doubts you and nobody gives you the credit you deserve,” Daniel said of his early skeptics. “Growing up nobody believes you. Then you turn out to be 6-3, 250 pounds and can run 4.5 (40-yard dash) and start dominating high school football, it just happens. It’s unreal.”
Daniel figures to be a top Mr. Football contender in 2015 after a dominant two-way performance as a junior. He racked up 180 tackles (110 solo) and four interceptions on defense, and as a quarterback, he both rushed and threw for more than 1,000 yards.
Ideally sized for a middle linebacker, he’s rated four-stars and the nation’s No. 2 inside linebacker and the No. 96 senior overall by 247Sports.com. Rivals.com, whose camp in Charlotte in April was where Daniel made a national name for himself, rates him a high three-star prospect.
UK is widely seen as the team to beat in his recruitment. On the 247Sports Crystal Ball, the Wildcats are the choice of all 19 media members who have made predictions.
Daniel said he actually made his final decision a few weeks ago after returning from a June 11 trip to South Carolina. At that point, he’d visited all three of his finalists and felt he knew what he needed to know.
In 2015, Daniel has visited UK and U of L twice each, and he’s been to South Carolina the one time.
In what could be seen as evidence of the Cardinals’ long-shot status, he said he talks to UK defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot and USC linebackers coach Kirk Botkin every day, but as of Thursday, it had been two weeks since he’d spoken with U of L offensive line coach Chris Klenakis.
However, when asked specifically if the Cards should still have optimism that they may land Daniel, he said, “Louisville’s got a really damn good shot.”
Daniel summarized what he likes about each of his three finalists:
• Kentucky: “First off, it’s in the SEC. It’s close to home. It’s far enough (away) where I can grow up, but close enough where I can say, ‘OK, if I need anything, they’re two hours away. It’s a young program with coach (Mark) Stoops and that staff, and I see the program only going forward and taking no steps back.”
• Louisville: “I like Louisville because of the rich history it’s got with winning and the coaching staff that coach (Bobby) Petrino has. Also Coach Petrino’s history of winning and the bowl games Louisville has won the past couple years.”
• South Carolina: “Obviously Steve Spurrier is one of the greatest coaches that’s ever come through college football. He’s built a great coaching staff that’s stuck with him for years. It’s in South Carolina. It’s hot, and I like that a lot. I really like the weather.”
Daniel said the past several days, lots of people around town have been trying to “squeeze out” of him where he’s going to college. But as of Thursday afternoon, his parents were the only people other than himself who actually know the answer, and he had not informed any coaches.