Football notebook

UK football notebook: How to recruit, Wildcats style

Herald-Leader Staff WriterFebruary 4, 2012 

Mr Football

Highlands' Patrick Towles, a four-star quarterback, is the "face of this class," Coach Joker Phillips said.


Ever wonder what it would be like to have a collection of coaches in your living room, asking you to join them at their school for the next four years?

Without necessarily meaning to, Kentucky's coaches painted a pretty good picture of how a visit with them actually goes, of how they sell UK the program, UK the school, UK the brand.

As the Cats coaches discussed the 25 players who signed with Kentucky on Wednesday, national signing day, they also gave insight into how they work a room — specifically a living room.

"Our staff is pretty much the same way when we go into living rooms," wide receivers coach Tee Martin. "I've been on staffs where you go into a home with a game plan like, 'You're going to be the bad cop. I'm going to be the good guy. You're going to get the little brother and I'm going to get the little sister.' We don't do that. ... We try to feel the situation out, get to know the people."

The Kentucky staff's ability to get to know people and build relationships became the underlying current of the signing-day news conference to introduce a class that one recruiting service listed as the 31st best class in the nation (although still No. 11 out of 14 Southeastern Conference schools).

UK did it by trying to focus on Kentucky, not on anything else, head coach Joker Phillips said.

"We don't spend time talking about other people's problems; we don't do that," said Phillips, who has said many times that he's opposed to negative recruiting tactics.

"We show them our stadium, our video boards, we have this beautiful city that we have here in Lexington, so we are selling Kentucky and pumping them with information to help them make a wise decision."

Often, the sales job is more effective with the parents first.

"We've won the parents over quicker than we've won the kids over," Martin said. "Our staff does a really good job of recruiting parents and letting them know we're going to take care of their kids."

Phillips said the parents seem to appreciate the non-negative approach and it helped the Cats get a lot of early commitments.

Once UK's coaches have sold some parents, there have even been times when those parents have even sold other parents of other recruits on the program, Martin said.

"It's amazing how fast that happens," the wide receivers coach said of parents working on other parents.

"You're talking about (linebacker) Khalid Henderson. His mom reaching out to other moms talking about why'd they make that decision and how good they felt about our staff."

Going into a home coming off a losing season with a coach whose name periodically pops up on lists of coaches on the hot seat can't be the easiest thing, but Phillips and his staff were able to hold onto players who had committed early in he process and even grab up a few more.

Martin said the honest, non-negative approach "allows us to keep a lot of guys and not have them de-commit. We'll continue to win late battles when it comes to our kids."

Establishing early relationships helped UK hold onto key players like quarterback Patrick Towles, offensive lineman Jordan Watson, wide receiver A.J. Legree and running back Dyshawn Mobley, Phillips said.

Youth is served

One of the things the Kentucky staff is selling is early playing time.

For better or for worse, UK has 59 players on next season's roster that have at least three years of eligibility remaining.

"If you look at our top classes, we don't have a lot of numbers in our top classes so that becomes an opportunity for a young guy to come in here and play," Phillips said.

He's excited not just by the quantity of young players, but the quality of them, calling this year's full class of 25, maybe even better than last year's class, which had 11 true freshmen play.

Like last season, the younger players will have a chance to compete for playing time right away, coming into fall camp at the three spot on the depth chart, or in some instances at the No. 2 spot.

Signing-day snippets

There was a vast amount of information from Wednesday's news conference with Phillips and the various assistant coaches. Much of that will be fodder for future notebooks, but there were a couple of snippets that I found especially interesting.

Some of these got tweeted out during the course of the day, but since not everyone lives on Twitter (though if you do, follow me @jenheraldleader), this is a good place to rehash:

■ By coincidence, the Cats managed to sign three players with the last name Blaylock. All of them are from the state of Georgia, and all will play defense. Two, Daron Blaylock and Zack Blaylock, are twin brothers and the sons of former NBA star Mookie Blaylock. The other, Shawn Blaylock, is of no relation to the others, but they have met one another through the recruiting process.

It's already become confusing and a source of comedy for the UK staff. Phillips jokingly referred to them as "the Blaylock triplets."

When discussing next year's defense, coordinator Rick Minter got tripped up when talking about future positions for each Blaylock.

"I don't know what we'll call them," Minter said. "We'll say 'Blaylock,' and they'll all say, 'Yes, sir?'"

For the record, Minter sees Daron as a linebacker, Zack as a true safety and Shawn as a cornerback.

■ There were two fairly big surprises for Phillips and staff on signing day Wednesday in the form of running back Justin Taylor and linebacker Henderson, who had both committed to other SEC schools. Just to show how fragile the recruiting process is, Phillips relayed this story about Taylor. The staff had gotten word that the back, who committed to Alabama before being asked to grayshirt after injuring his knee early in his senior season, was planning to go to school and fax his letter of intent to UK.

Even that knowledge didn't make Phillips completely sure.

"A lot can happen in 2 miles. A lot! Especially in Atlanta, 2 miles is 40 minutes, right? ... You don't get excited until those faxes really come through the machine."

■ Much will be written about Highlands quarterback Patrick Towles in the weeks to come, but there were two signing-day snapshots of the signee that I found interesting. Towles' letter of intent was the first one through the fax machine at 7:01 a.m. on Wednesday.

"You better have a guy that's going to pull the trigger, going to be the leader and the face of your program, that's going to be the first guy that shows up, and his was the first (letter) that showed up," Phillips said.

Even though Towles had indicated that he was 100 percent committed to Kentucky throughout his recruiting process, Phillips said he got a little bit of a scare from the quarterback on Tuesday night, the night before letters were supposed to start rolling in.

A call from Towles woke Phillips from a deep sleep at 10:30 p.m. "All he wanted to know was: 'Coach, does the SEC letter need to have a time on it?' "

■ Just because your brother is a quarterback at the school that's recruiting you, doesn't guarantee that you're going to that school. Landing defensive lineman Langston Newton proved more difficult than just sending Morgan Newton home to fetch his baby brother.

"He wanted to do his own thing; he wanted to go about this process in his own way," Phillips said. "He took Morgan out of it and his family out of it. ... He didn't allow Morgan to do his homework."

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