Michael Drennen was one of Kentucky’s most celebrated pass-catching recruiting signees. Now he’s moving to the Wildcats’ running back room.
When the Dublin, Oh. native picked Kentucky over USC to join the 2020 recruiting class, he became just the fifth four-star pass-catcher signed by Mark Stoops. Known by many simply as Donut, he played sparingly as a slot receiver in his true freshman season, catching three passes for 26 yards.
Listed as an all-purpose back, Drennen was recruited by Eddie Gran to play wide receiver at Kentucky. John Settle had different plans for Drennen when the running backs coach recruited him at Wisconsin.
“I recruited him when I was at Wisconsin and I always thought he was a running back,” Settle told KSR Tuesday. “If you talk to Mike, he’ll tell you that I’ve been joking about that ever since I got to campus,” Settle laughed.
Throughout spring practice Drennen heard that joke all too often from Settle, except Settle was not joking. He wanted to move Drennen to running back.
“We’d laugh about it, but I was really serious, even though we’d laugh like it was a joke. He really sees himself as a running back that can play some wide receiver, so I’m happy that I went to the receivers’ coach. We talked about it, mentioned it to Coach Coen, then we we got Coach Marrow involved and then eventually we got to the head coach. I really think he’s going to help us in what we’re doing with this offense. He gives us another weapon to put out there on the field on Saturdays.”
Drennen primarily lined up as a running back at Dublin Coffman High School. Limited by injuries in his final prep season, he rushed 801 yards on 162 carries as a junior, scoring 16 touchdowns to help his team win a state title.
The move has suited Drennen well. He wowed Vince Marrow to start the week of practice. Settle echoed that sentiment.
“I’m telling you, in the last two days he’s been with us he’s shown some of the same attributes — the ability to improvise adjust on the move and make things happen,” said Settle.
There’s one big question surrounding this move: Why? Aside from Settle’s motivations, Kentucky has a deep, talented group of running backs, while the wide receivers are searching for playmakers.
The new coaching regime has placed an emphasis on versatility in the running back room. Chris Rodriguez will obviously carry the heaviest load, but he will not be the only running back on the field. During Saturday’s open practice JuTahn McClain split out wide and caught multiple passes during team period, all while Kavosiey Smoke was sidelined (best described as “banged up,” a common theme throughout Smoke’s UK tenure). Drennen gives the UK running backs another option that can excel as a runner and a pass-catcher.
“In this scheme in the things we want to do, it’s really important to have a stable of guys. That’s what I think we have,” said Settle.
“I believe that Chris Rodriguez — a lot of people are just used to seeing him run between the tackles, inside runs and bounce off people, but now he has the experience to spread out and run routes, not just a go route, but different routes in the route tree. Then to have 4-5 guys that can back him up and do the same thing. Some guys may be a little quicker, twitchier, that type of thing, so I think it will help keep defenses honest.”
Kentucky will still utilize Donut’s pass-catching ability this fall. If Settle calculated correctly, the move to running back could be the best long term fit for Drennen.