UK running back commitment has speed to burn

Published 3:55 pm Monday, July 3, 2023


Contributing columnist

How would 6-0, 205-pound Florida running back Tovani Mizell, a recent Kentucky commit, describe himself to those who have not seen him play?

Email newsletter signup

“I am very versatile. I have played a little receiver and have done that my whole life,” said Mizell. “I think I am hard to tackle. I have good hands and run good routes in the pass game. I run track, so I have good speed.”

Mizell, a one-time Georgia commit, ran a 4.39-second 40-yard dash at the University of Alabama last year. He was timed in 4.37 seconds in the 40 at a Rivals camp. His fastest 100-meter dash was 10.8 seconds — and he was battling an injury then. He believes he can run a 10.5 100.

He had 31 scholarship offers including Alabama, Tennessee, Oklahoma, USC, Georgia, Virginia Tech, Texas A&M, Penn State, Oregon, Michigan State, Florida, Arkansas and Arizona.

The return of offensive coordinator Liam Coen made Kentucky even more attractive to the Ft. Lauderdale product.

“The way Liam Coen uses the passing game is what made my decision easier. I wanted to see how a program used running backs in the passing game. That’s what the league (NFL) is changing into. The more versatile you are, the higher you get drafted,” he said.

Recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow and head coach Mark Stoops both compared Mizell to Benny Snell, UK’s all-time leading rusher who has played the last four years with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“I had not watched him too much at Kentucky but I had seen him in the NFL,” Mizell said about Snell. “The coaches said I had the same (body) frame as him but the difference was I have a little more speed.

“I have always been kind of fast. I have been running track since I was 7 or 8. Once I started putting on weight and filling out, I never lost my speed even as I was gaining weight and strength.”

Like many players, he’s dreamed of playing in the NFL since he started playing football at age 8. His parents told him football was a “dangerous” sport.

“They said if I wanted to be the best, I had to invest time,” Mizell said. “I have had Hall of Fame dreams and still do. Coach Coen obviously coached in the NFL with the Rams, a top team, and knows a pro style offense that will make it easier to eventually transition to the NFL. (Running backs) Coach (Jay) Boulware also has experience at the highest level. To have an OC (offensive coordinator) and running backs coach who have been at the highest level sold me. And you cannot go wrong playing in the SEC.”

Mizell didn’t intend to commit to Kentucky or any school this early.

“They just offered due back in April. I really didn’t know much about Kentucky football but I did my research,” the Florida running back said. “I intended to actually commit late in my season. But Kentucky is just a perfect fit for me. My mom definitely was not expecting me to commit but we sat down and talked about it as a family and I just decided to go on and commit.”

Dillingham is a shifty playmaker

Hillcrest Prep coach Nick Weaver had the leading scorer Overtime Elite play this year is Jordan Burks, a recent Kentucky signee. However, Weaver also got to see plenty of another UK signee — guard Rob Dillingham — during Overtime Elite play.

“Rob is super shifty. We played them several times and when we played at our place he had like 26 or 28 (points) on us,” Weaver said.

Dillingham is known for his scoring ability but Weaver was impressed by his playmaking ability — something that could really help Kentucky next season.

“He’s hard to keep in front of you. He’s so quick. He can get where he wants on the floor,” Weaver said. “He raises up and has a beautiful jump shot. But he can also be going one way and then go the other way before you know it. He’s impossible to trap.”

Dillingham will have big-time talent on the floor with him next season at Kentucky and Weaver knows those players will be glad to play with Dillingham.

“He can bring a lot of flair to the offense because of what he can create,” Weaver said. “I watched him set guys up I did not think were very good and they would have 18 points when the game ended.

“He is the guy who just gets people involved and it is hard to stay in front of him. He is really going to be a dynamic player at Kentucky.”

Football has checklist to assess talent

How important are measurables when it comes to football recruiting? What if a player does not have the size UK thinks is necessary to play in the SEC but yet is a terrific player?

“We definitely have a checklist. Defensively we have ideal linemen we are looking for,” UK defensive line coach Anwar Stewart said. “We are looking for a guy who is 6-4, tall, athletic and has a certain wingspan. You don’t want to have short armed 6-2 guys that are not very explosive and powerful. That does not spell success in the SEC.

“Offensively I am sure they have what they are looking for. It’s not about the recruiting stars (in a player’s ranking), but how they look on film. Do they play with passion, finish blocks,? Are they driving off guys?”

Stewart says not every five-star player fits what Kentucky wants in a player.

“We don’t get excited about five stars. We get excited about guys who can make plays for us,” Stewart said.

There are exceptions, though. Stewart says former UK defensive standout Josh Paschal was about 6-2 3/4 and didn’t have a long wingspan.

“But he was very powerful and had a great twitch. Those guys are the exception,” Stewart said. “If a guy does not meet certain criteria, he’s got to have an exceptional skills set. You want to have those types of guys but they have got to pop on film and Josh did and also had an exceptional work ethic. He didn’t meet all the measurables but his work ethic and passion made up for a lot of things and he was also a great leader.”

Welch likes what he sees in returnees

New Kentucky assistant basketball coach John Welch has not seen a lot of sophomores Adou Thiero and Ugonna Onyenso since joining John Calipari’s staff but the former NBA assistant coach has liked what he has seen.

“I find a lot of players in the NBA, it’s from their rookie to their sophomore season that they really improve. It’s hard to get them the first year and I think it’s the same thing with freshmen. But if they stay that second year, you have the whole spring and summer, that’s where they make that big jump,” Welch said on WLEX-TV’s Big Blue Tonight.

“And I think from what they’ve done this offseason with the coaches and the strength coach, you’re going to see a big improvement from those two players.”

Thiero averaged 2.3 points, 1.9 rebounds and 9.7 minutes in 20 games last season. He had seven points, five rebounds and two assists in 24 minutes in a win at Arkansas in his best game.

Onyenso barely played once Southeastern Conference play started and averaged 2.5 points, 2.6 rebounds, 1.0 blocks and 6.9 minutes per game in 16 games.

Onyenso could be UK’s starting center even though he’s still only 18 years old.

“I told him, I’ve worked with NBA players and there’s not many at 18 that are as talented as he is. He’s going to improve a lot,” Welch said on BBN Tonight.

Both Thiero and Onyenso have added strength due to offseason workouts.

“(Onyenso) has gotten so much stronger in the weight room, him and Adou have gained weight, gotten stronger, and that’s carried over to the court. The strength coach, Brady (Welsh), has done a great job with them since last season,” Welch said.

The new UK assistant coach told Tom Leach on The Leach Report that Onyenso’s overall skill level surprised him.

“He has good instincts when it comes to blocking shots. He knows a big part of his responsibility is to protect the rim in pick and roll. That will be a key to our defense,” Welch said. “He shoots the ball better than I expected.

“He also has a quickness advantage on most guys he will match up with. He’s been very good in our rim attack. I think he will score in a variety of ways.”

Leach asked him if Onyenso’s shooting range could extend to 15 feet.

“Even out to 3-point (range),” Welch said. “He can shoot. I was pleasantly surprised.”