Mark Stoops was making and taking recruiting calls until late Tuesday night.
But this 2017 Kentucky class was worth losing some sleep over.
“I just feel so good about this class top to bottom,” Stoops said on Wednesday after the ink had dried on signatures from 24 players who comprise UK’s signing class.
It wasn’t always a smooth road constructing this class, which filled needs at several key position groups such as wide receiver and defensive line, but Stoops seemed pleased with the end result.
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“The 24 guys we have that we added to our program are going to make us better,” he said. “They’re going to make the community happy. … There’s a bunch of quality young men in here, and again, it starts with the winning attitude, the leadership, the character.”
The 2017 class, which started with a series of de-commitments in the spring, ended with a group of players that stuck together and finished ranked No. 25 nationally and No. 10 in the Southeastern Conference, according to Rivals late Wednesday afternoon.
The league has four schools in the top 10 nationally: Alabama, Georgia, LSU and Texas A&M. Florida, Auburn and Tennessee were close behind in the top 15.
“What a joy they were to recruit,” Stoops said of the class, headlined by four four-star signees including athlete Lynn Bowden, whom UK recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow called “the best player in Ohio.”
The other four-stars are defensive end Joshua Paschal — a player who Stoops says fits the mold of 2015 first-round NFL Draft pick Bud Dupree — defensive back Tyrell Ajian and wide receiver Javonte Richardson.
“The prospects and their families .... they’ve been so loyal to us. And many of them have been committed to us for a long time,” Stoops said. “Many of them could go to plenty of our quality schools, and people coming at them left and right. A lot of it doesn’t get publicized, but they just dismiss them quick, so it doesn’t get a lot of traction. These guys could have gone a lot of places, and so they’ve been very solid with us.”
What Kentucky ended up with was a class that met a lot of needs including two quarterbacks in Danny Clark, a former Ohio State commitment, and Lafayette’s Walker Wood, both already on campus with five other mid-year enrollees.
“If I’m talking about one, I’m talking about both of them,” Stoops said of the new signal callers. “They are unbelievable leaders. They’re winners, they’re competitors and you could say that about the whole group.”
Wood’s Lafayette five-star teammate, offensive lineman Jedrick Wills, who UK coaches were hoping would be a late flip to the Cats, ultimately signed with Alabama.
Two other possible UK signees, the No. 13 wide receiver nationally in Danny Davis and offensive line target Thayer Munford, opted to go to Wisconsin and Ohio State, respectively.
At his news conference, Stoops confirmed that the class was complete at 24 players.
Kentucky fortified its lines on both sides of the ball with six commitments on the defensive line in tackles Quinton Bohanna, Phil Hoskins and ends Abule Abadi-Fitzgerald, Paschal, Chris Whittaker and Jordan Wright. Edge rushers Alex King and Jamin Davis were key additions, too.
“We got a bunch of kids that have potential to be difference makers,” new UK defensive coordinator Matt House said. “You go from Quinton Bohanna — Big Bo’s got a chance to be a big-time player — you go all the way to Josh Paschal’s got a big upside. Jamin Davis is already here. All those kids have potential to be really, really good players.”
It’s a class that will add a bunch of depth and competition to the roster, House said. The commitments include defensive backs Ajian, Yusuf Corker, Cedrick Dort, Lonnie Johnson and Michael Nesbitt.
“From front to back, there’s a bunch of talent in the class. It’s a good mixture of length and speed and violence. Really excited about them,” House said.
On the other side of the ball, UK brought in three offensive linemen in Sebastien Dolcine, Naasir Watkins and Austin Dotson, a four-time state champion at Belfry.
UK added one running back in Bryant Koback, who suffered a broken leg in September, but is expected to be ready by the start of fall camp.
The wide receiver spot got a lot deeper with the addition of three-star standouts Josh Ali, Isaiah Epps and Clevan Thomas, who join Richardson and Bowden, two of the top players in the class overall.
“It’s a good group,” said wide receivers coach Lamar Thomas, who is replacing four or five players after next season. “It’s a really good group, so spring will be great for us and the fall. I really believe these guys are going to come in and help us. It’s going to be a nice balance and that’s going to make us better.”
This is a class that’s going to help Kentucky build on the 7-6 season it produced last season, which included a bowl game for the first time since 2010, Stoops said.
He hopes this new group will spur more forward progress.
“I may be a bit redundant when I talk about this, but it is about their character, about their leadership,” Stoops continued. “You look at these guys and a bunch of these guys are captains on their football team, they’re very, very good students. They’re competitors, they’re winners.”
Signing day at a glance
IMMEDIATE IMPACT PLAYERS
Lynn Bowden: He excels in many roles and has a chance to become a major part of the Wildcats’ offense right off the bat.
Phil Hoskins: A big defensive lineman from the juco ranks with three seasons of eligibility as a Wildcat.
Lonnie Johnson: Another junior-college transfer, this defensive back is already on campus and can play all over the secondary.
Bryant Koback: The Cats go into next season with only four scholarship players at running back. Koback can help right away.
Javonte Richardson: All of UK’s new wide receivers have a chance to play this fall. This 6-4 prospect probably has the most upside.
OL Austin Dotson, Belfry
QB Walker Wood, Lafayette
Florida 8, Ohio 7, Georgia 2, Maryland 2, Indiana 1, Oklahoma 1, Tennessee 1