Phillips, Strong fight for Louisville turf

But coaches have kept new rivalry friendly

Herald-Leader Staff WriterMay 16, 2010 

Perhaps the most interesting sidebar of Joker Phillips' promotion at the University of Kentucky and Charlie Strong's arrival at the University of Louisville is recruiting, particularly in the Louisville area.

Phillips has been a huge presence in the city of Louisville, bringing in prospects such as Myron Pryor and Alfonso Smith while opening up a pipeline at Central that produced third-round NFL pick Corey Peters.

But it didn't take Strong long to get his foot firmly planted in the Derby City recruiting ground, as he got commitments from five recruits who are ranked among the state's Top 10 prospects by Seneca QB DaMarcus Smith (No. 1); Ballard WR DeVante Parker (No. 6), and Fern Creek prospects Jerrell Moore (RB, No. 7), Jamon Brown (DL, No. 8) and Jalen Harrington (S, No. 9).

The battle between Phillips and Strong to control the city figures to only get hotter in the coming months. Phillips has stayed in contact with U of L commits Smith and Parker, and Strong talks regularly with Eastern TE Jon Davis, who is committed to UK.

Earlier this year, Phillips and Strong vowed to remain friends despite the high-stakes recruiting game, and so far there doesn't appear to be any negative recruiting going on.

"Both guys have been very respectful of each other," said Davis' father, Reggie. "They haven't knocked or criticized the other. They have just presented Jon with data and explained why they want him to play for them and what role they envision him having. They've focused on what they have to offer without being negative toward the other program."

Reggie Davis is in the manufacturing business and has had to move every four or five years, so there's no real hometown allegiance to either UK or U of L. Davis committed to UK while the U of L program was going through the turmoil that came with the end of the Steve Kragthorpe era.

"One real big reason we liked Kentucky is that whether Kentucky is winning or losing, their fans seem to stay with them. Louisville fans, if they're winning they're with you. If you're not they're not. Jon told me, 'I don't want conditional love. If I drop one or two passes, I want them to remember the 10 that I caught.' The Blue people seem to be a little more loyal than the Red."

Davis also committed to UK largely because of the relationship he built with Phillips, but Strong is doing his best to play catch-up.

"The Louisville coaches are trying to build a relationship with Jon," Davis' father said. "We see them in Wal-Mart, we see them in the mall. Coach Strong tells Jon all the time, 'I wish I had known you an extra year like Joker.' "

Davis' father said his son still remains committed to Kentucky but will continue to listen to Strong's recruiting pitch.

"We want what's best for Jon, and we still think it's Kentucky," he said. "But he's still going to listen and make sure he has all the right data. We don't want to choose Kentucky without having all the info. And Joker understands that. He told Jon, 'Don't close the door. Be sure. We don't want you being here thinking, Oh, I wish I had gone to U of L.' "

Signee Smith enrolled at UK

Tight end Alex Smith, one of Kentucky's most heralded signees in the 2010 class, enrolled at UK for the first summer session that started last week. Smith completed his coursework at Lakota (Ohio) West in December and had planned on enrolling early at North Carolina after he committed to the Tar Heels last fall. But Smith re-opened his recruitment and ultimately decided on the Wildcats.

Smith, a four-star recruit who's listed as the nation's No. 11 tight end by, will be given every opportunity to compete for a starting spot. UK lost its top three tight ends (T.C. Drake, Ross Bogue, and Maurice Grinter) from a year ago, and none of the tight ends who competed in the spring (Nick Melillo, Anthony Kendrick, Ryan Wallace and Jordan Aumiller) were able to nail down the job.

Smith has already started working with strength and conditioning coach Rock Oliver.

"I've been here trying to learn the offense, watching film, working out with Coach Rock and trying to get the edge before June," Smith said. "The way it's looking, it's very possible to see some playing time. I think I definitely have a shot at it. I'm just trying to work hard and stay focused."

Smith, who has family in Hazard, has been following UK football since childhood and could provide the Cats with their first legitimate pass-catching threat at tight end since Jacob Tamme. In fact, Smith said he patterns his game after Tamme, now with the Indianapolis Colts. At 6-foot-5, 260 pounds, Smith is an inch or two taller and significantly bigger than Tamme was, although Smith said he'd like to drop 15-20 pounds over the summer.

"I watched him religiously every year," Smith said of Tamme. "He was a guy that I definitely tried to model myself after."

Smith is one of four prospects from the Ohio/Northern Kentucky area in UK's 2010 class, joining Wynford teammates Tyler Brause and Teven Eatmen and Simon Kenton running back Miles Simpson.

Smith said he's trying to persuade several top prospects from the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area to consider UK. His former teammate at Lakota West, three-star center Ryan Kelly, is ranked as the nation's No. 4 center by and has offers from Illinois, Cincinnati, Syracuse, Boston College, Louisville and Indiana. Smith said he's also been talking to several top prospects on a pair of Cincinnati powerhouses, Colerain and St. Xavier.

"I'm working on all those guys," Smith said. "Hopefully we can bridge the gap between UK and Ohio. Why shouldn't some of these guys come to Kentucky. It's close, and who wouldn't want to play in the SEC."

Burton creates scholarship

Former UK receiver Keenan Burton recently created the inaugural Burton-Taylor College & Academic Scholarship to recognize deserving high school students with monetary support toward their pursuit of post-secondary education.

Burton announced the scholarship during his inaugural Faith, Family and Football Education Awareness Tour in his hometown of Louisville: a weekend tour to promote education awareness to youth in the Derby City.

"We came up with the Burton-Taylor scholarship to try to do something that doesn't have anything to do with athletics," Burton told "I feel like the most important thing for kids today is academics and I'm trying to be positive in that sense to help bring education awareness to the state and city that I'm from."

Burton, who also does a charity around Christmas to aid families in need of assistance, decided to team with childhood friend/fellow NFL player and former University of Louisville star Michael Bush for an annual scholarship.

Burton said he is donating $1,500 annually for the scholarship, which honors Burton's parents, Edward Burton and Gladys Taylor, and said Bush has agreed to match whatever he donates. Because additional parties have expressed interest in joining the scholarship initiative, the amount of the scholarship has not been finalized.

Applicants interested in applying for the scholarship may visit the Web site of Burton's organization at for more details. The deadline for the inaugural scholarship is May 19. The award will be announced in June.

Burton is recovering from a torn patella tendon that ended his second season prematurely. Burton, who was the leading receiver on the Rams at the time of the injury, said his rehab is ahead of schedule and he plans to participate in the Rams' off-season team training.

"I'm close," Burton said "They said it was going to be an eight-to-10-month injury. I'm darn near 100 percent in six months, so I'm ready."

Chip Cosby covers UK football for the Herald-Leader. This article includes his opinions and observations. He can be reached by e-mail at

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