The University of Kentucky coaching staff has split time this month between the recruiting trail and Liberty Bowl preparations.
UK was on the practice field Friday and Saturday, and the Cats will work out Sunday and Monday before taking a break for final exams.
As for recruiting, UK secured a commitment from Indianapolis running back Dakotah Tyler last week and hosted a handful of prospects this weekend for the basketball game with Indiana. That included a pair of teammates from Los Angeles Harbor Community College, wide receiver Chris Matthews and defensive end DeQuin Evans.
The 6-foot-5, 210-pound Matthews is listed as a four-star prospect and the No. 9 junior college recruit in the country by Rivals.com. Evans, a 6-2, 275-pounder, is also a four-star recruit.
Also expected in town for a visit was Brian Adams, a 6-4, 210-pound athlete from Cumming, Ga., who committed to Kentucky in June; and Jared Pickett, a 5-9, 170-pound athlete from Marshall High School in Missouri City, Texas. Pickett, a two-star recruit by Rivals.com and Scout.com, has committed to Houston.
Wide receiver continues to be an area of need, and last weekend UK hosted a pair of wideouts from Tupelo, Miss.: Justin Bean and Chad Bumphis. The 6-2, 185-pound Bean committed to Kentucky in July and persuaded Bumphis, a four-star prospect who has offers from Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, Texas Tech and Mississippi, to give the Wildcats a look. Tupelo Coach Eric Collins said Bean will likely sign with UK, but Bumphis is a long shot.
"I really don't think Chad would have visited Kentucky if Justin hadn't talked him into it, but they both enjoyed the visit," Collins said. "Chad is wide open at this point. He's the best athlete I've ever coached."
Busy weekend for Newton
UK quarterback recruit Morgan Newton was in town this weekend on an unofficial visit. Newton had a basketball game Friday night, then left Indianapolis at 5 a.m. in order to attend UK's 8 a.m. quarterback meeting on Saturday. Newton took in practice and then slid over to Rupp Arena for the UK-IU basketball game before returning to Indy on Saturday night.
"When you're in this business, you can't sleep," said Newton's father, John. "He's got to be ready to go. This is the time that you have to take advantage if you want to be able to compete."
UK Coach Rich Brooks said that one of the most valuable elements of a bowl bid is that it gives recruits a chance to come check out practice in December.
"One of the things recruits and their families want to know is, 'What are your practices like?" Brooks said. "When they can get a glimpse of what you're doing and how your coaches and players interact on the practice field, it's meaningful information for them in making their decisions."
Johnson, Warford updates
UK Coach Rich Brooks said two starters from last fall who missed the 2008 season are on track to get back on the field in 2009. Christian Johnson, who was sidelined by a back injury and academic woes, has been practicing since mid-season. Johnson, who has 15 career starts at left guard, will not be eligible to travel for the bowl game, but he has the spring and summer to get himself in good academic standing. Paul Warford, who has 14 career starts at cornerback, has been re-admitted to UK after the spring semester after being ruled academically ineligible in the fall. Brooks said he expects Warford to return to the team.
Cobb still on crutches
UK quarterback Randall Cobb was on crutches at Saturday's practice, and UK Coach Rich Brooks said his status for the Liberty Bowl will be re-evaluated after the Wildcats complete final exams this week.
Dalcourt to visit Ga. Tech
One of UK's targets, Franklin-Simpson athlete Courtney Dalcourt, is set to visit Georgia Tech. UK lost one of its top prospects last month in Calhoun County (S.C.) athlete David Sims, who committed to UK but then switched to Georgia Tech after visiting for the Yellowjackets' big Thursday night win over Miami (Fla.).
Franklin-Simpson Coach Tim Schlosser said Dalcourt is capable of playing several positions including running back, which is still a big area of need for UK. But Georgia Tech, Western Kentucky and Central Michigan are recruiting Dalcourt as a quarterback, his position of choice. Dalcourt also has offers from Louisville, Stanford and Wofford.
Franklin-Simpson is the alma mater of UK offensive coordinator Joker Phillips.
"Joker, of course, is a big name in Franklin and was one of the first to offer," Schlosser said. "I don't know how much that will play into his decision. He really doesn't have a clear-cut favorite. Georgia Tech will probably push him for a commitment this weekend, but I'd be surprised if he did."
The staff shake-ups continue across the Southeastern Conference and the rest of the nation as programs fill coaching vacancies. Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen was named Mississippi State's head coach last week, and Auburn hired Iowa State's Gene Chizik, a former defensive coordinator for the Tigers, on Saturday.
"It never changes," UK Coach Rich Brooks said. "The guys that are hot are hot, and then different assistants get opportunities. It looks like a trend to go for the hot, young assistant this year. It's always something that's ongoing at this time of year, and there's a little more action this year than some of the others."
While the head coaching jobs get most of the ink, there's probably even more moving and shaking going on among assistant coaches. UK quarterbacks coach Randy Sanders has talked with Chattanooga about its head coaching job. Brooks said naming offensive coordinator Joker Phillips as his successor helps alleviate many concerns prospects have.
"That's why we named the transition here, so that they'll understand that even though a coach may leave, the system isn't going to change drastically," he said.
Bluegrass ties in Buffalo
There are some Kentucky connections involved in Turner Gill's dramatic turnaround at Buffalo. Buffalo receivers coach Juan Taylor is a former player and assistant coach at Kentucky State and is married to the former Betsie Aldridge, who played volleyball at UK from 1990-94 and also coached volleyball at KSU. The couple still have a home in Frankfort.