Torrential rain forced the Lafayette football team off of the field and into the high school’s gymnasium Wednesday evening for a walk-through in T-shirts and shorts instead of a practice in pads.
There in the Lafayette gym, towering over his teammates, was 6-foot-4, 315-pound offensive lineman Jedrick Wills, the highest-ranked recruit in the state of Kentucky.
Several of Wills’ teammates were wearing UK gear — Commonwealth Stadium is less than 2 miles away from the high school — just another reminder of the Wildcats’ continued pursuit of the five-star recruit.
Wills — the No. 16 overall prospect in the class of 2017, according to Rivals.com — is often asked about his recruitment. At school, around town, just about wherever he goes.
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“I can’t go a day without hearing things like that,” he said.
He also said that the constant questions don’t bother him. He just answers them and moves on.
If everything had gone according to plan, there’d no longer be anything to talk about.
They’ve told me that I’ve been their main priority since eighth grade, when I went over there for the first time. They were my first offer. They’re still on me heavy, telling me that they want me to keep them in mind, be a hometown hero, those type of things.
Jedrick Wills, five-star offensive lineman
Wills had intended to announce a college decision before the start of his senior season. Lafayette opened its schedule against Paul Laurence Dunbar on Aug. 19, and the buzz leading up to that day indicated that Wills would reveal a commitment sometime before the game. He didn’t, and a rumor started to spread during the game that he’d called all of the college coaches involved in his recruitment and told them that he was committing to Alabama.
“I heard the same thing,” he said. “Everybody was coming up to me and asking me about that.”
He said those calls didn’t happen.
Another week went by without an announcement from Wills, and then another and another. Now, Lafayette is more than halfway through its regular season — a 5-1 record with the lone loss to state powerhouse Trinity — and Wills doesn’t have any kind of timetable for that college decision.
“Not too sure right now,” he said. “We’re just trying to keep the focus on the season. My goal is to win state. I’m more focused about finishing my legacy here before I get to college. I’m just playing things by ear. I’m taking my official visits, still staying in touch will all those coaches. Just keeping things going.”
Lafayette Coach Eric Shaw had hoped that Wills would come to a college decision before the season started so he could enjoy his final fall in a Generals uniform without the added pressure of a high-profile recruitment.
Shaw said he had a talk with Wills after that first game and told him to wait until he was ready. No need to rush an announcement until the decision is 100-percent made.
“He’s taken it as it’s come, and we’re keeping it moving. It’s not a distraction,” Shaw said. “And it wasn’t going to be a distraction in the first place. But just for him to relax and enjoy his senior year was the issue. He’s a great kid. He’s managed this really well. And he’s listened and followed directions real well. It’s been fine.”
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On the field, Wills has looked like the five-star recruit that he is, Shaw said, picking up right where he left off last season, when he helped lead Lafayette to an appearance in the state title game.
Wills’ considerable skill level was first noticed by the coaching staff at UK, which continues to pursue him vigorously despite the narrative that Alabama has emerged as the clear frontrunner in his recruitment.
“They’ve told me that I’ve been their main priority since eighth grade, when I went over there for the first time,” Wills said of UK. “They were my first offer. They’re still on me heavy, telling me that they want me to keep them in mind, be a hometown hero, those type of things.”
Wills attended UK’s home game against South Carolina on Saturday, and he was also on the field before the season opener against Southern Miss, chatting with friend and teammate Walker Wood, who has been committed to the Cats since last fall.
Wood — Lafayette’s ebullient quarterback — wants Wills to join him in college, but this isn’t a case of one teammate constantly being in the ear of another, trying to influence his life-changing decision.
“It’s not even like that,” Wills said. “I’ve been playing football with him since we were 6 or 7, and we’ve always had that thing where we both want to be professional football players one day. It’s every kid’s dream, and we just talk about that. We thought that it would be cool to go to college with each other, but if it doesn’t happen, he doesn’t really care.
“He wants me to be successful, just like I want him to be successful.”
Wills will take the first official visit of his recruitment this weekend to Michigan, which hosts Wisconsin on Saturday afternoon in a battle of top-10 teams.
He said Alabama and Tennessee coaches are also in daily contact about lining up an official visit — the Bama-Auburn game on Nov. 26 is a possibility for a trip to Tuscaloosa — and specifically mentioned Florida and Florida State as two other programs still recruiting him hard.
So the recruitment — one that was supposed to be finished several weeks ago — continues. And as long as they have a chance, UK’s coaches will be right in the thick of things.
“I’m still going to go over there on game days and talk to Coach (John) Schlarman and Coach (Mark) Stoops,” Wills said. “I’m still going to go over there and visit with my teammates, check out the team and develop a relationship with those guys.
“They’ve told me to give them a chance and that they’re going to recruit me to the last day. All the way up until signing day, no matter what happens.”