Kentucky coaches hoping fan support leads to another big recruiting day

broberts@herald-leader.comApril 25, 2014 

Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops, left, talked with his brother Bob, the head coach at Oklahoma, at the Wildcats' football practice Wednesday. Bob Stoops slipped on a UK jacket because he was cold, his brother said.

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One year ago, T.V. Williams was a high school junior in Texas when he made the long trip to Lexington for the first time.

He scheduled the visit around Kentucky's annual Blue-White Spring Game, which drew an improbable 50,000-plus fans to see Coach Mark Stoops' Wildcats for the first time.

Williams — a standout wide receiver — committed to UK a few weeks later, enrolled in January and will hit the field in a UK jersey for the first time in Saturday's spring game.

"It was awesome," he said Friday. "That was my first visit. When I went up and saw all the people in the stadium — especially after the season they just had — it really opened my eyes to Kentucky and really pushed me to commit.

"Seeing how much the city is behind Coach Stoops and how much they're behind this program. It really meant a lot."

That weekend last April was a tipping point in Williams' recruitment.

Twelve months later, it's still a talking point for UK's coaches.

UK wide receivers coach Tommy Mainord recalled several recruits and their families coming up to him after the game, taken aback by the level of support shown to a team coming off a 2-10 season.

He echoed their reaction.

"I'm saying the same thing to them: 'Wow, this is amazing!'" he said. "It was my first time too. The fan base was incredible, so I was just as excited and wide-eyed as they were."

The university has distributed more than 40,000 tickets for Saturday's scrimmage, close to the maximum allowable number due to the current construction project at Commonwealth.

The attendance last year was a major selling point as UK's coaches built what turned out to be the most highly touted recruiting class in the recent history of the program.

They're expecting another big group of recruits on campus this weekend, many who will be visiting for the first time.

"It gives us something to brag about," Mainord said. "It gives us the chance to say, 'Hey, I wasn't lying about the BBN.' We told you this was a great fan base, and they're showing it on Saturdays. ... These fans are unbelievable."

The coaches are hoping to say the same things to a new group of recruits Saturday.

Florida offensive lineman Luke Hiers — the No. 2 center in the country — is among the prospects expected to attend.

Others prospective visitors from the class of 2015 include defensive lineman Darius Fullwood, wide receiver Jabari Greenwood, junior-college wide receiver Darrion Landry and possible Ohio State transfer Jayme Thompson.

Running back C.J. Amill, who plays for Stoops' alma mater in Youngstown, Ohio, was already in town Friday to see UK practice.

The list will be much longer, and it'll also include players from the class of 2016 and beyond.

Some of UK's top local targets have a tough choice.

Rivals is holding one of its biggest spring camps in Columbus, Ohio, on Saturday, and in-state stars like Damien Harris and new UK commitment Eli Brown will attend, along with many of Ohio's best prospects.

Henderson County lineman Mason Wolfe — one of UK's five commitments — told the Herald-Leader that he would attend the Ohio camp but try to make the end of the spring game on his way back home.

Wildcats recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow is hoping others do the same.

"It was bad timing," he said. "That's a big thing in Ohio, and a lot of our top recruits will be there. ... But a lot of kids from Florida and D.C. (will be here). It's going to be a big weekend. Hopefully the fans — if it's right what I'm hearing about 40,000 — that's going to be pretty good."

Marrow said "100 percent" of the recruits and families he spoke to after last year's scrimmage were "blown away" by the crowd.

Williams was obviously one of those players. He's hoping Saturday's guests feel the same way.

"Going through the recruiting process, I already know it's going to be big for them," Williams said. "I wouldn't be surprised if we have a couple commits."

With renovations under way at Commonwealth Stadium, here's a guide to help fans get around at Saturday's Blue-White Spring Game:

TICKETS

All fans must have a ticket to enter Commonwealth Stadium. If any of the free tickets are still available on game day, they may be obtained online at Ticketmaster.com or outside the stadium. Tickets will be available beginning at 12:30 p.m. at the ticketing tents outside Gate 4 and Gate 12.

STADIUM ENTRY

Gates 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 9, 12, 14 and 15 will open to fans at 2:30 p.m. Gates 10 and 11 will be closed because of construction.

PARKING

Lots will open at 8 a.m. Parking surrounding Commonwealth Stadium is free and will be filled on a first-come, first-serve basis. Additionally, parking will be available downtown at the High Street surface lot, directly south of Rupp Arena; and the Transit Center Garage on Vine Street ($3).

SHUTTLES

The UK Football Express downtown shuttle ($2.50 one-way/$5 round-trip) will begin at 12:30 p.m. and will pick up at the Shops at the Civic Center (430 W. Vine St.) and LexTran Transit Center Garage (200 W. Vine St.). The UK Football Express campus shuttle ($2 one-way) will begin at 1:30 p.m. and will pick up in front of the Kentucky Clinic on Nicholasville Road and at the corner of Rose/Huguelet.

CONSTRUCTION IMPACT

The South upper-level and lower-level seating areas and concourses will be closed.

The East concourse between gates 14 and 15 will be closed.

PRE-GAME

■ Cooper Drive will be closed to all vehicle parking/tailgating.

■ The Wildcat Refuge, located outside Gate 9 will open at 12:30 p.m.

■ The CatWalk will take place at approximately 1:45 p.m.

Herald-Leader Staff Report

Ben Roberts: (859) 231-3216Twitter: @NextCatsBlog: ukrecruiting.bloginky.com

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