Both Kentucky’s coach and its top recruiter feigned outrage on Wednesday at the idea of Cats signee Lynn Bowden being called the top talent to come out of northern Ohio in a long, long time by insiders.
“I take great offense to that,” laughed Coach Mark Stoops, a standout from that area when he played for Cardinal Mooney. “But I guess I was a long, long time ago.”
Vince Marrow, who played with Stoops, also was a top player coming from that area. Several current UK standouts are as well.
“I remember my brother telling me that this kid is the best that he’s seen in about 30 years,” Marrow continued of Bowden, an electric playmaker and four-star prospect by every major recruiting service. ... Everyone I’ve talked to says this kid is unbelievable.”
And now Kentucky fans will get to see what all of the hype is about this fall when the versatile playmaker joins the offense in various roles, including running back, wide receiver and maybe even quarterback.
“He’s just exceptional. He’s just dynamic,” Stoops said of Bowden, who ended his senior season throwing for 1,366 yards, rushing for 2,277 yards and amassing 57 total touchdowns.
Stoops sees him as a natural at the wildcat position, which became a staple in the Cats’ offense this season.
“You can add a few wrinkles with a guy like that,” Stoops continued. “He can throw it enough to keep people honest, and that we can build off of.”
Bowden, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound athlete who picked UK over Penn State, Indiana, Michigan State and Michigan among others, finished as Ohio’s sixth all-time rusher with 7,387 career yards and 91 rushing scores.
“I’ll go on record and say this: We signed the best player in Ohio,” Marrow said. “Lynn Bowden is the best player in Ohio. If you ask 30 reporters who cover Ohio football they all will say he’s the best player in Ohio. Sometimes when you don’t go to that other school now he may be the second-best player or third-best player. Ohio was very loaded. We got what we wanted out of Ohio from top to bottom.”
Stoops, a defensive guy by trade, probably lobbied hard for Bowden to play on that side of the ball, too, but he’s too good with the ball in his hands, the coach said.
“He’s the type of guy where he changes the digits on the scoreboard,” Stoops said.
Secondary coach Steve Clinkscale said he thinks Bowden would move over to defense if coaches asked him and that he’d make a “great corner, safety, wherever you put him at.”
But Bowden belongs on offense.
“Watching him live with a football in his hands, he’s special,” Clinkscale said. “The more he can get touches with that ball, the better off we’ll be as a team. I think he’ll make some electrifying plays.”
Truth with your fried chicken?
Sure Stoops is excited about Kentucky landing three-star offensive tackle Austin Dotson, but the coach smiles when asked about the Belfry star for a different reason.
Stoops loves Dotson’s grandmother.
“I’m not in the house five minutes, and she’s wonderful, gives me a big hug, very inviting and then she gets right into the bowl game,” Stoops said of the Cats’ loss to Georgia Tech on Dec. 31 in Jacksonville.
“What were y’all doing? You looked so stupid,” Stoops recounted the biting question from the grandmother.
Offensive line coach John Schlarman had given Stoops plenty of notice of what he’d be up against with granny. He’d gotten an earful himself in the weeks leading up to signing day.
“She’s going to tell you what she’s thinking, that’s for sure,” Schlarman said. “But I love her. She’s a great lady. She fattened me up the month of January.”
Schlarman raved about her meatloaf and her fried chicken, which he ate twice, including on the visit with Stoops.
“She made some great fried chicken,” Stoops confirmed.
After not having a single signee from Florida in the 2016 signing class, UK came back strong in the Sunshine State this time around, landing eight players from there.
The lead recruiter on seven of those signees was offensive coordinator Eddie Gran, who has been recruiting that area for more than two decades.
“We had to branch out,” Stoops said. “That was part of the plan with some of the coaches I hired a year ago.”
UK dipped strongly into Florida behind Gran, co-offensive coordinator Darin Hinshaw and wide receivers coach Lamar Thomas.
“I wanted to get back south Florida, Florida in general, but I wanted to get some players out of south Florida, and Eddie has such strong relationships down there and did a phenomenal job,” Stoops said.
And as always, UK coaches focused a lot of attention on Ohio where the Cats landed six signees, including several of their biggest gets in players such as Bowden, Tyrell Aijan and JaVonte Richardson.
Overall, Kentucky’s recruits come from eight states and offer some geographical diversity.
“It was nice to see us have a lot of variety there,” said Stoops of recruits from states like Georgia, Indiana, Oklahoma, Maryland and Kansas.
The plan remains for UK to work “inside out,” Stoops said, noting that Lexington and Kentucky are first.
“We’re going to start there and we’re going to branch out from there,” Stoops said. “We do consider Ohio and certainly southern Ohio as kind of home base for us. We’ve done very well. It’s very close in proximity. We have strong relationships there. We’re going to continue to do that. But we had to branch out.”
All in the family?
When outside linebacker Josh Paschal’s list first came out, Kentucky wasn’t even in his top 10, in large part because his brother TraVaughn played for UK from 2012-14 when things weren’t going as well.
“We had to go up there and sell the family first,” Marrow said of going to Olney, Md.
Ultimately, the younger Paschal was sold when he got to UK for the Georgia game and saw the sweeping changes.
“He called his dad and told him ‘This isn’t what you think, Dad. This is unreal. This atmosphere,’” Marrow relayed of Paschal, who picked UK over Notre Dame, Penn State and Oklahoma. “He was sold right then and there.”