John Clay: Stoops recruiting at Calipari-like pace

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistJune 11, 2013 

Pay attention.

You might miss one.

They're coming so fast, it's hard to keep up. Stars, stars and more stars all lining up to make their oral commitment to the hot program with the buzzing fans and the hot coach, the one they feel will put them on the proper path to future success.

It is Kentucky basketball, after all.

What's that?

It's not Kentucky basketball, it's Kentucky football?

It's not John Calipari, you say, but Mark Stoops that's making all this summer recruiting noise and news?

In the past two days alone, the new UK staff shouted out "Yahtzee" — their crazy celebratory cry whenever a new recruit hops on board — four times as prospects announced their intentions to play SEC football in Lexington, of all places.

These aren't bottom-rung prospects, either, ones who turned down Central Directional U. and Guarantee State in hopes of proving to be diamonds in the rough.

For example, Monday night a kid by the name of Darius West announced via Twitter that he wanted to be a member of Stoops Troops.

West is a defensive back from Lima, Ohio. Rivals ranks him as the 15th-best safety prospect in the nation and the 185th-best overall prospect in the nation.

In the past, Kentucky would have popped the champagne over securing a commitment from one Top 250 prospect.

West was the fourth player in the Rivals Top 250 — joining Conner quarterback Drew Barker (117); West Chester, Ohio, running back Mikel Horton (131); and Springfield, Ohio, wide receiver Thaddeus Snodgrass (205) — to commit to Kentucky for 2014.

At present, Georgia doesn't have four commitments from players listed in the Rivals 250. Neither does Oklahoma (coached by a fellow named Bob Stoops), or Southern Cal (where Tee Martin escaped to a couple of years back) or Penn State.

Rivals has UK ranked No. 4 nationally in recruiting. Sports 24/7 has UK at No. 5 and Scout at No. 10.

The lemon-suckers among us will tell you this all means next to nothing. Paper tigers. Rankings shuffle continuously. These commits could all change their minds by February and sign with more tradition-rich schools. Football recruiting is so much harder to judge than basketball recruiting.

That's all true.

Right here, right now, however, here's what it does mean: It means momentum.

It means the momentum Stoops established when he first was named coach last November has carried through the 2013 signing day, through 50,000-plus at the spring game and on into the summer camp season where the Cats have coaxed their latest commitments.

It's also spread north into a long-neglected state. One of the more puzzling aspects of recent UK football was why the program's recruiters didn't make a bigger push into Ohio.

There are strong Bluegrass ties in the Buckeye State and not every Ohio prospect can play at THE Ohio State University. UK offers a shot at SEC football.

Stoops has taken advantage of his native Youngstown ties, spreading through the state to pick off prospects.

Number of players from Ohio on the current Kentucky football roster: Seven.

Number of players from Ohio who have committed to UK for 2014: Eight.

In fact, of the 2014 commitments thus far, only one is from Kentucky. That was a big one, however.

That was Barker, the 6-foot-3, 214-pound quarterback from Hebron who picked the Cats over South Carolina and Tennessee and who has been driving the Big Blue Bandwagon in hopes of collecting more big-time commitments along the way.

"WE ARE BALLIN!!! GET WITH IT OR GET LOST!!!," Barker tweeted from his own Twitter account on Monday.

Right now, UK football is definitely getting with it.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv.Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com.

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