Signing day notes: Winning in-state recruiting key for Kentucky

jsmith3@herald-leader.comFebruary 5, 2014 

Kentucky signed 28 players from 10 different states.

Eleven of them came from head Mark Stoops' home state of Ohio and that was special, he said.

But he seemed most pleased that the Cats, who announced their school-best 17th-ranked (Rivals.com) recruiting class on Wednesday, got the state's top talent to come to Kentucky.

"Really feel good about what we did in Kentucky," Stoops said. "I said that a year ago ... in my opening press conference about how important it was to recruit this state. So to sign the top four guys in the state this year was very important to us."

In fact, Kentucky signing quarterback Drew Barker, defensive tackles Matt Elam and Adrian Middleton and defensive end Lloyd Tubman, was unprecedented.

It was the first time that any in-state school was able to sign four of the state's top five commitments since Rivals started tracking that statistic a decade ago.

"It's huge for the success of our program to keep the kids that are the best players and the best fits for us in the commonwealth, to keep them home," said offensive coordinator Neal Brown, who is UK's lead recruiter for Kentucky.

Barker, the highly regarded Conner quarterback who picked UK over South Carolina, "set the ball rolling" on that, Brown said.

Getting a kid like Elam, who chose UK over Alabama and Notre Dame, was important, too.

"Make no mistake about it," Stoops said. "It's important because (Elam's) from our state and he's a great player. I think it's important to know that we can go head to head and win some recruiting battles against the best teams in the country.

"It's important to lay the foundation for future recruits of Kentucky to say why not come to Kentucky and build this program?"

Conference conundrum

After signing the nation's No. 17-ranked class and the best class in school history, Stoops was floating on air.

But it didn't take long for the coach to come down.

"I was all excited earlier seeing what we were doing and everything, and somebody told me where we finished in the conference, and I said what?" he laughed.

As unprecedented as this day was for Kentucky, it was par for the course for most of the Southeastern Conference, which had seven teams in the top 10 classes, led by No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Louisiana State. The Cats finished with the league's ninth-rated class overall, according to Rivals.

Kentucky's class had plenty to brag about, finishing ahead of big names like Texas, Penn State, Oregon and Nebraska.

Stoops was happy with that.

"If I'm honest, we maybe had a little bit better success than I thought this quick."

Looking ahead?

The 2015 Kentucky signing class already was on coaches' minds.

Stoops hopes this class will help convince the next class, too. "I'll tell you, we're working right now for 2015, and the 2015 recruits know what's going on with 2014. That has an effect."

Stoops spoke in generalities when asked about what he wanted in the next class.

"Good football players," he said. "It will be a lot the same. ... And we're always going to continue to build on O– line and D– line. And we're just going to continue to recruit quality players and guys that are good leaders. But we're going to need help in a lot of positions again. We'll have a pretty good-sized class again next year."

Not so subtly, the head coach made an overture toward Madison Southern's Damien Harris, who decommitted from Michigan last month and is the nation's No. 1 overall running back and the No. 5 overall prospect at any position.

"We could always use a home-run running back," Stoops said with a sly smile. "Know where I can find one?

Apparently the recruiting-minded Class of 2014 members aren't quite done doing their part. Linebacker Dorian Hendrix of Ohio said he plans to work on a couple of players.

"There's actually a guy back at my school, (safety) Tyree Kinnel, who I'll be going after," Hendrix said. "He's committed to Michigan right now, but I'll try to get after him. And there's a couple other guys I'm pretty sure out there that I'll be trying to talk to and get them down here."

Weighty issues

T.V. Williams' parents are going to go broke sending the freshman wide receiver money to buy new clothes.

The freshman, who already is on campus with six of his classmates as an early enrollee, said he needs a whole new wardrobe after putting on 15 pounds since getting on campus in early January.

Williams, who said he's 158 pounds but UK listed at 165 (maybe their target number?), has a plan to put on pounds.

"I have to eat every two hours," he said. "I eat three big meals a day — breakfast, lunch and dinner — and then every two hours between them, I eat either peanut butter and jelly, protein shake, fruit, something of that sort."

He's gotten so used to eating that he now gets hungry in the hours in between the two-hour increments.

"I just keep eating, keep eating, keep eating," Williams said. "I'm still putting on weight, and I'm still getting faster, and I'm still getting stronger. It's a good feeling."

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