LEXINGTON — Mitch Barnhart won’t even try to pretend that he won’t miss having Randall Cobb at Kentucky.
“He is extremely special. He is a young man that possesses incredible passion for the game he plays. He loves his teammates and it flows out in a variety of ways,” the Kentucky athletic director said.
“He loves this university and was very appreciative of the opportunities that the University of Kentucky gave him. He wanted it to be better on all fronts and wanted to make it better and would sacrifice a great deal to do that.
“There are very few of those guys that come along that have the sense of urgency, the sense of passion and the sense of love for your program that you hope for. He is one of those guys. He is a locker room guy, and you want him in your locker room.”
Cobb won’t be in Kentucky’s locker room next year, though, because he’s taking his all-American skills to the NFL. He set records at Kentucky and ranks high on numerous offensive categories at Kentucky, but he declared for the NFL last week and gave up his final season of eligibility at UK.
“You can’t get enough Randall Cobbs. He is very, very special young man. I hope that someone in the NFL is smart enough to figure out to pick him quickly and to give him a chance,” Barnhart said.
“Given the opportunity, he will not disappoint in effort. I can’t say that what he will produce. That is not my deal, but I do know he will not disappoint in effort.
“If you have daughters, would you want them to come home with a young man like Randall Cobb? One hundred times. He is one of those people that is just special.
“I know he loves this university and wrestled with the decision to leave or come back. He has a dream to play in the NFL, and what we can say is thank you for the incredible memories that he gave us. He gave us 37 touchdowns and a lot more beyond that.
“He was fun to watch. I can think back to some of the plays he had leaving people just chasing him all over the place that were fun to watch. Those are the things that will stick in my mind among just the great look he had in his eyes and the intensity and passion he came every day.”
Barnhart just hopes others will see Cobb’s departure as an opportunity to shine as Cobb did after Kentucky lost star players off its 2007 team before Cobb arrived from Alcoa, Tenn., and became the face of the football program.
“I remember losing Keenan Burton, Wesley Woodyard and Jacob Tamme and those kind of players, and everybody said they are irreplaceable. Well, we had some folks that came along and did pretty well,” Barnhart said. “Randall Cobb came along. Rafael Little disappeared, and here came Derrick Locke. Andre Woodson disappeared, and here came Mike Hartline.
“Now is a chance for others to come along and take their step. A lot of times that motivates guys. They see Randall Cobb standing right there in front of them and they say there is no room for them. Once he leaves, now they can ratchet up their effort and become aware of that.”
Barnhart knows, though, it will be hard for any player to replace Cobb in the hearts of UK fans, not only because of his on-field exploits, but also because of his love for the fans he showed in a variety of ways off the field when it came time to speak, sign autographs or pose for pictures.
“He embraced those moments. There are a lot of kids running around with a No. 18 jersey on because of that young man. That doesn’t just happen because you produce a jersey,” Barnhart said. “You can go and look at all the shelves, and there are a lot of jerseys sitting on shelves of guys that no one really cares about.
“Those jerseys get bought for one reason — young kids want to emulate someone they respect or admire. People have respected Randall Cobb for much more than football. I think he will do well in life.
“I did challenge him, as his grandma and mom did, to get the degree. I want him to get his degree, and we will make sure we get him covered when he comes back to get that done. I want him to be a University of Kentucky graduate as well as an alum. I am anxious to make sure we get that done for him.”