By LARRY VAUGHT
He’s known Kash Daniel for about seven years now and even though they played for rival high schools, Cody Estep is not the least bit surprised that Daniel has been so successful at Kentucky.
“He is one of those guys who has worked so hard. His work ethic separates him from others. That’s just his mentality,” said Estep. “He grinds in the weight room and you can tell that. But even if he was not that big and strong, his mentality would take him a long way because he has that mentality of, ‘You are going to have to kill me to beat me.’ That’s something a lot of kids don’t have and is what makes him special.”
Estep was a sophomore at Pikeville High School and Daniel a freshman at Paintsville when they first met.
“I actually thought for a while he was going to go to Pikeville and play quarterback for us but that didn’t work out and he ended up at Paintsville,” Estep, a receiver who had 24 touchdown catches the last three seasons at Division III Centre College, said. “He was so connected to Paintsville and that was his home. He couldn’t leave. He helped really turn that program around and now they are still playing well even without him.”
Daniel, a high school All-American, has helped with the same kind of resurgence at Kentucky. He started at linebacker for the time in 2018 and helped Kentucky win 10 games — something the Cats had done only two other times in school history. Daniel had 54 tackles despite playing part of the season with a cast on after breaking his hand.
“The way he plays is all or nothing. He’s always been like that,” Estep said. “There are not a lot of players like that. He gives everything he has every game and has for a long time. People are finally starting to notice what (Kentucky coach) Mark Stoops saw to give him a chance and he’s really played well. He’ll be even better next year.
“He’s really a great athlete. I thought he was actually a better baseball player in high school than football. He is just a true athlete. I stopped playing basketball in 8th grade but I watched him play and he broke a backboard just because of his size and athleticism. He had a lot of power on a basketball court just like he does in football.
“He will do anything to get that jump on the next person. He is up working when others are sleeping. He is a special guy and is super personable. There just are not a lot of guys like Kash out there.”
He doesn’t see Daniel as often now — “He is a leader on that UK football team and has to pretty much be there,” Estep said.
The last time he saw Couch was a little over a year ago at the funeral of former UK football player Joey Couch, a Paintsville native.
“You could tell Kash was tore up because that was someone he looked up to because Joey was one of those eastern Kentucky boys that went to UK and flourished,” Estep said. “That is what Kash is doing now and that really hit home with him.”
Those eastern Kentucky roots likely will always resonate with Daniel. He’s proud of where he’s from and never misses a chance to let everyone know that.
“Everyone knows him. All the kids love him. That has to be a humbling experience for him. As much as he seems like a guy who is just for himself, he is really a pretty humble guy,” Estep said. “He really cares about eastern Kentucky and the people there. With him getting big like he has at Kentucky, some people might forget where they come from. But not him. That’s one thing I admire about him. He’s proud of where he’s from and always will be. That’s why folks love him.”