As Benny Snell continues to pile up accolades for the University of Kentucky football team, he hasn't forgotten where his development as a running back started.
The former Westerville Central High School star has helped lead the Wildcats to their second consecutive winning season and bowl appearance. They will play Northwestern in the Music City Bowl on Friday, Dec. 29, in Nashville, Tennessee.
Snell has shattered numerous rushing records in his first two seasons with Kentucky after becoming a standout player for the Warhawks.
"I'll never forget Westerville Central," said Snell, who stays in contact with former teammates and coaches. "There are so many memories there. I learned a lot from all my high school coaches coming up and playing alongside Cedric (Frierson) and Gavin (Lyon) in high school. Those guys kept me level-headed and made me better as we practiced together and played together."
As a freshman at Kentucky, Snell rushed for 1,091 yards and 13 touchdowns on 186 carries despite sharing time in the backfield with Stanley Williams, who finished with 1,170 yards and seven touchdowns. Snell established six freshman records for the Wildcats.
With the graduation of Williams, Snell took on a more prominent role this season and has rushed for 1,318 yards and 18 touchdowns on 256 carries. His touchdown total is a program record, and his rushing total is a program record for sophomores.
Snell was named first-team all-Southeastern Conference by the Associated Press and was a second-team selection by SEC coaches.
He already has established a program record for career rushing touchdowns with 31, eclipsing the previous mark of 26. Snell also is the ninth player in program history to rush for 2,000 yards for his career, and he's the first Kentucky player to have consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons.
After finishing 7-6 last season with a 33-18 loss to Georgia Tech in the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida, the Wildcats are 7-5 entering the Music City Bowl.
"I'm surprised at times," Snell said of his success. "I always try to stay ahead of the game in school and on the field."
For John Magistro, who coached Snell at Central, he said the key to Snell's success is his intensity.
"I always said he was the most intense football player I've ever coached," Magistro said. "Practice, game, whatever, he's very intense. We're always texting each other and I tell him don't let anybody outwork you."
Snell prefers a more punishing style of running the football; he'd rather run through defenders than try to avoid them. He also said he won't be outworked in practice.
"That's never going to change," he said. "I try to go hard in practice. It comes easy in the games, so I bring intensity to practice and in games."
As a senior at Central, Snell was named first-team all-state and district Offensive Player of the Year in Division I. He also shared OCC-Cardinal Division Player of the Year honors with Dublin Jerome quarterback Zack Hazlett.
During that season, Snell rushed for 1,826 yards and 26 touchdowns on 247 carries, capped by 241 yards and three touchdowns in a 49-24 loss to Euclid in a second-round playoff game as the Warhawks finished 10-2.
As a junior, Snell rushed for 2,077 yards and 26 touchdowns on 295 carries. He was named first-team all-state, all-district and all-league and helped lead the Warhawks to the playoffs.
"He's a good one (and) he knows how to stay humble. That's what I like about him," said Magistro, who stepped down after this past season, his ninth leading the Warhawks. "I've been down to some games (at Kentucky) and they love him."
Like most elite players at the collegiate level, Snell's ultimate goal is to play in the NFL. His uncle, Matt Snell, enjoyed a nine-year career with the New York Jets and helped them win Super Bowl III by upsetting the Baltimore Colts 16-7.
Matt Snell, who graduated from Ohio State in 1964, played fullback and defensive end during his collegiate career.
Benny's father, Benjamin Sr., played at Ohio Northern and spent time on the Baltimore Ravens practice squad before playing in NFL Europe and the XFL, a short-lived professional league.
"It's definitely always been a dream of mine to play at the next level, but I'm letting things ride right now and I'm living my dream already right now," Benny said.