Kentucky football breaking down recruiting barriers in Buckeye State

broberts@herald-leader.comFebruary 6, 2014 

  • Breaking into the Buckeye State

    Ohio State has a stranglehold on top in-state talent, signing a total of 103 top-25 prospects from the state over the past 12 classes. Until Wednesday, Michigan was the only program other than the Buckeyes to sign more than five of the state's top 25 players in a single class. UK signed seven such prospects for 2014. Here's a year-by-year look at schools outside Ohio who led the way in signing top 25 Ohio recruits:

    Year/School/Top 25 Ohio recruits

    2014 Kentucky 7

    2013 Michigan 6

    2012 Michigan 6

    2008 Michigan 6

    2010 Michigan 4

    2010 Notre Dame 4

    2011 Indiana 3

    2009 Michigan State 3

    2006 Notre Dame 3

    2005 Iowa 3

    2005 Michigan 3

    2003 Pittsburgh 3

To help illustrate the University of Kentucky football program's recruiting reach into Ohio, Vince Marrow relayed a story Wednesday that was told to him by a high school coach from the state.

A college assistant at a "top-five school" that Marrow declined to name called the high school coach in question and said he wanted to extend a scholarship offer to his star defensive end, Tymere Dubose.

The high school coach told him that Dubose was already committed to Kentucky.

"Well, you would think that if we would offer him, he'll be interested in us," said the college coach.

"Nah, he's committed," was the reply.

UK's recruiting coordinator grinned when he got to the end of his story.

"He paused a little bit," Marrow said of the college coach, "and then he said, 'Are you related to the Marrow guy?' And my brother said, 'Yeah, that's my younger brother.' And the guy, he went on to another subject."

In this case, Dubose's coach was Brian Marrow, the older brother of the UK assistant who has been given much of the credit for the Cats' recent recruiting fortunes in Ohio.

Vince Marrow was asked Wednesday — the day Dubose and 10 other players from the Buckeye State signed with UK — if he knows everyone in Ohio. He doesn't, of course, but sometimes it feels that way.

"It seems like every kid I've talked to that's going to Kentucky or considering Kentucky — his dad knew Vince Marrow or he's related to Vince Marrow," said analyst Josh Helmholdt. "There's always some connection there. He's got a lot of connections in the state and, on top of that, he's a charismatic guy and a great recruiter."

What UK's coaching staff accomplished in Ohio over the past year was unprecedented, both for the Wildcats program and for any school not named Ohio State.

Of UK's 11 signees from Ohio, seven are ranked among the top 25 prospects in the state by

Since Rivals started ranking the best players by state in 2003, no school other than Ohio State has signed seven of the top 25 recruits in a class. Michigan signed six such players in 2008, 2012 and 2013, and no other school has ever signed more than four in one cycle.

In the 10 recruiting classes before Marrow and Coach Mark Stoops — both Youngstown natives with deep roots in Ohio football — got to UK, the program signed one player who was considered a top-25 prospect in the state.

Marrow received a $100,000 raise and a new title last month for his efforts. Helmholdt, who scouts Ohio for Rivals, called Marrow "one of the most valuable recruiting assistants in the country."

Stoops also praised Marrow — "that's why he got the promotion that he deserved," he said — but the UK coach was quick to point out that this new recruiting trend has been a team effort.

To his point, the early enrollees from Ohio who met the media for the first time Wednesday, as well as several others who have spoken to the Herald-Leader recently, mentioned coordinators Neal Brown and D.J. Eliot and many of UK's position coaches as reasons they decided to come to Lexington.

"I helped Vince out there, too," Stoops said, adding a smile after he had spread the credit around.

Marrow also deflected some of the praise. He said the evaluation process at UK starts with the whole staff watching film of prospective recruits and then discussing whether to offer scholarships.

If they find a player they want, they go after him.

When Stoops started discussing the job at UK with Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart more than a year ago, he laid out a plan to recruit heavily within a six-hour radius of Lexington.

That area includes all of Ohio, a state teeming with talent but one that UK coaches couldn't — or wouldn't — recruit in the past.

Marrow said Wednesday that he wasn't surprised by how well the new coaching staff did in Ohio with its first full class. He was more confident in the track record he and Stoops had in the state than put off by the poor showing of past UK staffs. "With our reputation there, I felt pretty good about it."

The evaluation process for the Class of 2015 is already well underway, and several of UK's top targets are again from Ohio.

Stoops, Marrow and company will make a run at Cincinnati linebacker Justin Hilliard, LaGrange tight end C.J. Conrad, Cincinnati lineman George Brown and Dublin linebacker Nick Conner, among many others.

"We're targeting and getting a lot of good responses from a lot of top-15 guys in the country," Marrow said Wednesday. "I think when they get here, it's such a family atmosphere. I love the coaches I work with, the support staff, the people of this university. ... I think the parents see these things.

"One thing about Coach Stoops is: Recruit, recruit, recruit. Like, we may enjoy the day for a couple of hours, and then we're back tomorrow on 2015."

Before Wednesday, nobody outside the state had done what UK accomplished in Ohio. Looking ahead to signing day 2015, there's no reason to think it can't happen again.

"I expect it," Helmholdt said. "With the success that they have, they're going to increase their efforts in Ohio, if anything. It's not a great year talent-wise in Ohio, but you're still talking about one of the top five talent-producing states in the country.

"And it's their backyard."

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