3 freshmen who need to be key contributors for Kentucky football in 2024

Mark Stoops has a veteran-heavy team in Lexington this season and if he got the quarterback position right in the portal, his team can compete. Still, Kentucky will need a boost on offense from the 2024 freshman class.
Hardley Gilmore (2)
Hardley Gilmore (2) / Jim Rassol / USA TODAY NETWORK

For a moment this offseason, Mark Stoops was heading to College Station to take over Texas A&M. Instead, he’s back in Lexington for his 12th season at the helm and will be looking to take the Wildcats to a bowl game for the eighth consecutive year. 

The fight for bowl eligibility won’t be easy with the addition of Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC. Kentucky will have a trip to Austin for the penultimate game of the 2024 season, and even with a veteran-laden roster that was bolstered by veteran transfer additions like Jamon Dumas-Johnson and Brock Vandagriff from Georgia, Gerald Mincey from Tennessee, and Ja’Mori Maclin from North Texas, Stoops will need significant contributions from his 2023 and 2024 freshman classes. 

One of the key takeaways for many coming out of Kentucky’s “spring game” which was more of an organized 11-on-11 workout, was the talent of the freshman skill players and two of them could find their way into key positions this year. 

528. Koby Keenum. 3. . Redshirt Freshman. 2023 3-star. Koby Keenum, OL. player. . Koby Keenum, OL

The Wildcats have sixth-year center Eli Cox returning, but the team has questionable depth on the interior of the offensive line. Cox will almost certainly be flanked by the team’s two returning starters at guard, Dylan Ray and Jager Burton, but behind that interior trio are some real question marks. 

Tanner Bowles and Paul Rodriguez were the only two other players outside of Cox, Burton, and Ray to play any snaps on the interior and that duo only combined to play 59 of them all year. If Kentucky stays healthy, then the O-line will be fine, but if there is an injury, it will become a question of who can step in. With Bowles gone, Rodriguez and sophomore Jalen Farmer are two other candidates, but Keenum, a 2023 tackle prospect will be in the mix. 

The odds of the entire offensive line playing 12 games aren’t great, so expect Keenum to see playing time as a reserve on the interior. 

528. . Freshman. Jason Patterson, RB. player. Jason Patterson, RB. 2024 3-star. 2. Jason Patterson.

It’s hard to get a good look at what a running game is going to look like in spring football without full tackling, but that didn’t stop Patterson from impressing those in attendance including Nick Roush and Adam Luckett of Kentucky Sports Radio. The 5-foot-10 203-pound back has real burst and was one of the more dominant running backs in Florida high school football last fall. 

Patterson’s emergence may have actually compelled junior La’Vell Wright to transfer to Austin Peay in the spring portal window. It’s likely that the freshman will now battle with redshirt freshman Jamarion Wilcox for the third-most backfield touches behind presumed starter Chip Traynum and veteran backup Demie Sumo-Karngbaye. 

Hardley Gilmore. Hardley Gilmore IV, WR. player. 528. . Hardley Gilmore IV, WR. 1. 2024 3-star. . Freshman

Wide receiver could be the deepest position on Kentucky’s roster. The Wildcats return Barion Brown and Dane Key along with Maclin, who dominated at North Texas a year ago. Last season, Brown led the team with 43 catches while Key hauled in 42 balls for a team-high 636 yards. 

Those three will gobble up nearly all of the snaps and targets on the outside in Bush Hamdan’s offense. However, the Cats will want to work in a young speed threat and Gilmore was another standout this spring. In the spring portal window, Kentucky lost Raymond Cottrell, who previously transferred to Lexington from Texas A&M this offseason, Ardell Banks, and 2023 four-star Shamar Porter who is off to UConn. 

Those departures aren’t soley indicative of the stronghold that Key, Brown, and Maclin have on their starting roles, but the growth of young players like Gilmore in a short amount of time on campus. The biggest question about the 6-foot-1 3-star receiver is his weight. He is listed at 165 pounds on Kentucky’s roster. As a deep-ball receiver, that lack of size is fine if he can get separation, but Hamdan will need to be creative with stacks and bunch formations to get his freshman burner a free release off the line of scrimmage.

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