The Big Blue Caravan rolled into Paintsville Wednesday morning.
The caravan delivered the Citrus Bowl trophy and four University of Kentucky football players, including Paintsville’s own Kash Daniel.
“It means a lot to me because I get to bring three of my best friends back here with me to see my hometown,” Kash Daniel said. “They get to hear about it a bunch. I talk about it so much. Being in Lexington and me from Kentucky, they get to hear about me a lot. They get to see wild west Paintsville, I guess. It’s pretty fun. To see all of these kids come out here, I got to talk to a bunch of Little League and Cal Ripken kids and see them and their parents and talk to them about having fun playing baseball and whatever sport they’re playing to cherish it because it goes by so fast. To see these kids come in here and have a smile on their face and for us four to come here and give back to Paintsville and the people of Paintsville, it really means a lot to me and I couldn’t be happier to be back.”
Kash Daniel will be entering his senior season at UK.
Kash Daniel had a big junior season for the Wildcats. The starting linebacker had 84 total tackles including 42 solo tackles and a sack last season. The Wildcats finished with a 10-3 record and won the Citrus Bowl with a 27-24 win over Penn State on New Year’s Day.
For an hour and 1/2, the residents of Johnson County and Paintsville came out to show support of Kash Daniel and his teammates.
“It goes hand-in-hand,” Kash Daniel said. “Just like I tell everybody when I come back, wherever you go you always see a UK T-shirt, a UK flag, a UK bumpersticker, it’s bleed Big Blue country down here. The people of Eastern Kentucky have done an unbelievable job of supporting UK athletics, of supporting me and my teammates over the last couple of years. To come down here and be able to give back and say, ‘UK is coming to you guys instead of you guys coming to UK,’ is really special and means a lot to us and we are really glad we were able to do it.”
Daniel was joined by teammates Jamin Davis, Terry Wilson and Deandre Square.
“It was wonderful,” Terry Wilson said. “It’s just a great feeling to be out here with Kash (Daniel) and see his hometown and see how much it means to him. When we were walking up here he was just going on about the baseball field and about all of the memories he had on that field. It’s cool to see that and I’ve never been out here, so it was a good ride out here to get some good support.”
Daniel’s father Scott Daniel and his nanna Paige Daniel were there to support Kash as well.
“I’m extremely proud of Kash and I’m extremely proud of the entire Kentucky football team because it’s a team effort,” Paige Daniel said. “He grew up around a ball. A baseball, a basketball, a football, it was always a ball. I’m just really proud of Kash, he’s done so well. Hopefully his health will continue and they won’t kill him. I always told him, ‘Kash, they’re trying to kill you.’ He’s done well.”
Kash Daniel only had one place in mind to go eat while back in his hometown — his nanny’s kitchen.
“My nanna’s kitchen,” Daniel said. “I don’t usually eat out when I’m back home. I usually eat breakfast, lunch and dinner there. I eat a lot when I’m in Lex, but when I’m back here, I like a good home cooked meal.”
There were plenty of other familiar faces there to see Kash Daniel and his teammates.
“This is a big honor for the city of Paintsville,” Paintsville mayor and legendary basketball coach Bill Mike Runyon said. “For a small town like us to have a kid like Kash Daniel who’s made it as big as he has, it’s a real good thing for the city of Paintsville, but more than that, it’s a big thing for the kids of the city of Paintsville. You can tell by what’s going on in there that they’re having a great time.”
A lot of the Paintsville and Johnson County Little League and Cal Ripken All-Stars stopped by to see Kash Daniel and the Wildcats as well.
Kash Daniel spoke to the kids and also had a message about playing multiples sports. Kash Daniel was a standout three-sport athlete during his time at Paintsville.
“It’s just not Eastern Kentucky, it’s kids in general,” Daniel said. “I was watching the College World Series and listening to one of the analyst say one of the coaches wouldn’t sign a guy if he just specialized in one sport. I think if you specialize it cheats you in life because it cheats you out of experiences you can have in other areas of sports with people who don’t play your other sport. It creates more bonds I believe. It helps you become a better athlete because you basically use all of the same tools in baseball, basketball and football, it’s just different motions and different times you use it. Maybe the speed in basketball can help someone with the speed on the football field or the twitchiness of the baseball field can help somebody with the twitchiness on the basketball court. Everything really goes hand-in-hand, so you can’t specialize on one thing and say hey, ‘I’m going to focus on this,’ and expect yourself to get better. Obviously you can if you go hard at it and dial into it, but I believe in playing all three or four or how many sports you want to play. Just don’t cheat yourself. Go out there and experience some things that if you didn’t play all three sports you wouldn’t get to experience.”
“Let’s talk about the kind of athlete he was,” Runyon said. “He was a really good three-sport athlete. He’s probably as good of a three-sport athlete that’s ever come out of Paintsville High School. He chose football and that’s fine, but he was a kid who could play everything. I’ve coached a lot of kids in my lifetime and I’ve coached a lot of competitive kids, but I don’t think there’s one ever been as competitive as Kash Daniel.”
Kash Daniel was excited to show his teammates his hometown.
“Half of the drive I was asleep,” Wilson said. “Kash (Daniel) woke me up to tell me everything. He was like, ‘Here’s the jail, here’s my high school,’ and all types of stuff, so I was like, ‘Wow, wow, wow,’ looking everywhere. It was cool, though. It’s a small town, but I’m kind of used to a small town, so it’s cool to be out here and see where he’s from.”
Kash Daniel and the rest of the UK players are in the middle of summer workouts, but as the season nears, he had a message for high school kids getting ready to start the season.
“Message for high school kids in general, go out enjoy Friday nights,” Daniel said. “There is noting like playing underneath the lights on Friday nights with your buddies. There’s not that much pressure, you’re not on national TV or anything, just go out there and have fun and cut loose and hit some people.”
Kash Daniel is in the spotlight and was able to shine a light on the talent in Eastern Kentucky, but he was quick to point out that he wasn’t the first player from Eastern Kentucky to play at a high level.
“For me, it was I just wanted to do something that I knew would get me to college and something I love to do,” Daniel said. “I’m really glad that when colleges came in to look at me, they got to see some glimpses of some other kids and brought a lot of attention here. I don’t pride myself on saying, ‘I did this or I did that,’ because ultimately there were a lot of guys who got offers before me, but to be mentioned in that category really means a lot to me. Hopefully, a lot more mountain kids get attention since I’ve been recruited which is great. You know we’e hitting them, so for these kids to get some of that exposure and get some coaches looking at them, means a lot to this area.”
“We’ve had a lot of kids go to big time schools and then come right back home,” Runyon said. “Kash (Daniel) is one of those kids who when he sets his mind to do something, he’s going to do it. That’s going to help kids in Eastern Kentucky. If they can just realize how hard he worked throughout his high school career to get where he is today, then they will be better off.”
The Big Blue Caravan visit was good for the team and it was good for the city of Paintsville.
“I’m just extremely proud of Johnson County and Paintsville,” Paige Daniel said. “I thank the Rec Center for hosting this. It’s a nice facility and it’s hard to find a facility that would do this, so we’re proud and I don’t know what else to say except thank you for coming for everybody that came out today.”
“I’m just proud of him,” Runyon said.