Might as well be honest at the start: This list used to have a lot more names to consider. Not that long ago, Kentucky football was so deprived of talented depth that the top signees of any given signing class would play. Early. And often. Those days are gone.

Kentucky hasn’t started a true freshman during the past 5 seasons. That’s right, not a single name on this list started more than 5 games during his true freshman season. But as UK fans ponder the future of 2021 freshman stars like lineman Jager Burton, linebacker Trevin Wallace, or standout receivers Dekel Crowdus and Christian Lewis, here’s the (recent) gold standard. These are the 10 best true freshmen in the past 5 seasons of UK football.

10. Kash Daniel, 2016

Daniel was a 4-star linebacker who didn’t start as a true freshman in 2016, but he did help on special teams and flash his potential as a middle backer. Daniel had 19 tackles in that 2016 season, playing in all 13 games. Two years later, he was a star.

9. Vito Tisdale, 2020

Tisdale played more than any other freshman last season, earning increased snaps even in the crowded UK secondary. A 3-star recruit, Tisdale played in 10 games, ending up with 20 tackles and being in on a tackle for loss. He had 6 stops in the Gator Bowl win over NC State, and should see plenty of time for the Wildcats in 2021 and beyond.

8. Darian Kinnard, 2018

A 4-star tackle from Ohio, Kinnard was good enough to see the field immediately. He played in 9 games for the team that went 10-3, even getting a pair of starts at left tackle. The big man is one of the most highly regarded linemen in the SEC and played a key role even as a true freshman in helping UK post its best season since 1977.

7. Landon Young, 2016

A national top-100 recruit from Lexington, Young was a must-sign for Kentucky coach Mark Stoops, who had not gotten to a bowl with Kentucky in the 3 years before Young. Of course, Kentucky went to bowls in each season of Young’s 5-year career in Lexington. As a true freshman, he played in 11 games at tackle and managed a total of 27 knockdown blocks.

6. Lynn Bowden, 2017

Bowden’s career would rank even higher on this list. But as a 4-star athlete back in 2017, he arrived late on campus and had to work his way into increased playing time. Bowden caught 17 passes for 210 yards, but he gave a sustained preview of his elusive running style as a kick returner, bringing back 37 kicks for 869 yards, including a 93-yard return against Vandy. He also completed 3-of-4 passes for 92 yards as a frosh, giving a preview of his remarkable stint at QB in 2019.

5. Josh Paschal, 2017

Paschal is most notable for beating cancer, which did keep him out of most of the 2018 season. The year before, the 4-star defensive line standout from Maryland played in all 13 games, logging a single start for UK. Among his 17 tackles were 4.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.

4. Quinton Bohanna, 2017

Of all the players on this list, it was the massive Bohanna, who was ranked outside the nation’s top 1,000 players in his class by 247sports, who started the most games as a true freshman. The 300+ pound lane-clogger logged 5 starts of his 12 games played that season. Bohanna contributed 14 tackles, but also helped occupy opposing linemen and lead to even more big plays for teammates.

3. Chris Oats, 2018

As the poet John Greenleaf Whittier wrote, “For all sad words of tongue and pen/The saddest is these, ‘What might have been.'” A 4-star linebacker from Cincinnati, Oats played in all 13 games (with 1 start) for the 10-3 Kentucky team that won the Gator Bowl. He finished with 27 tackles, a pair of sacks, a forced fumble and a pair of fumble recoveries. Oats’ speed to the ball rendered him a significant defensive contributor from Day 1. Sadly, he missed the 2020 season due to a substantial health scare that will likely end his football career. His teammates honored him in 2020 by swapping up his No. 22 throughout the season as a tribute.

2. DeAndre Square, 2018

Square was ranked as a safety out of Michigan, but he ended up splitting time with Oats at linebacker. In 2018, he also played in all 13 games, with a single start. Square had 35 tackles, which included 3.5 tackles for loss. Solid against the run and pass, Square has been a perennial All-SEC candidate in Lexington.

1. Benny Snell, 2016

Of the players listed above, only Bohanna was ranked lower than Snell, the 3-star back whom 247sports called the 876th best player in the 2016 recruiting class. After seeing some special teams actions early in 2016, Snell saw significant snaps starting in Week 3, and immediately started bowling over and running through defenses. He played in all 13 games that season, starting 1, and finished with 1,091 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. From there, he would become the school’s career rushing and touchdown leader and earn a career with the Pittsburgh Steelers.