The in-home visit seemed to be going well, but then Yusuf Corker stopped it in the middle of a great conversation.
“I have notebooks,” was all the defensive back from Georgia said as he sprinted out of the room.
Corker returned to the room with three notebooks that he’d kept detailed notes in during his high school season at Woodland. Each book had the names of opponents and mapped out the various plays that they’d run on first, second and third downs.
The interaction left Kentucky secondary coach Steve Clinkscale confident that they’d found a great fit.
Never miss a local story.
“He’s already doing what we do as coaches,” Clinkscale explained of Corker. “That young man, I’d view his football IQ as high.”
It’s not something that can be gleaned from a standardized test or a Twitter poll or a Facebook quiz.
But football IQ is something that Kentucky’s coaches are quite concerned about when they’re looking for future players.
“There’s a lot of verbal interaction with kids just to find out,” Kentucky’s director of football recruiting operations Dan Berezowitz said. “That’s really what in the end separates really good kids from great kids: Do they have football IQ? Can they learn football? Do they love football?”
Each Kentucky coach described his own way of discovering the elusive “football IQ” in a player he’s recruiting. For new defensive coordinator Matt House, it’s about calling up a recruit when there’s a big game on television.
“See if they’re watching the game,” House said. “Ask them who their favorite NFL player is and why? … All of those things tell you something.”
House has been in plenty of homes of players who don’t watch much football, don’t study the game beyond their immediate positions and duties.
“It really does make you wonder: Does he love the game?” House said. “A passion about the game you can tell pretty quickly. That’s a huge piece because as we all know when you come, there’s going to be a point where it’s hard and the more passionate you are about what you do, the more committed you’re going to be to push through.”
For offensive line coach John Schlarman, he starts with test scores and high school grades. He watches their entire game film, not just the cut-up highlights.
“You see when the blitzes are coming, are they picking them up, are they missing guys?” Schlarman said he notes.
A big chunk of visits isn’t spent touring campus, but in the film room. It’s the place where Schlarman really got to know UK’s three newest offensive line commits: Sebastien Dolcine, Austin Dotson and Naasir Watkins.
He would teach them something UK does and then ask them questions about it.
“See how quickly they can give me back information,” he said. “And all three of those guys did a phenomenal job with that.”
Co-offensive coordinator Eddie Gran shows recruits a play, dissects it, moves onto something else and then comes back to that play a few minutes later.
“I’m hoping he can regurgitate a little of that back,” Gran said. “We’re going to challenge them and we do that on their visits. And I’ll talk protections with the running backs, go through film and then I’ll do the film and say, ‘All right, here’s what we’ve got.’”
Several coaches said they have recruits draw up some of their high school plays on the dry erase board to gauge their understanding and interest.
“It’s important to see them in a classroom, in a meeting, talking about some football and seeing how they pick things up,” head coach Mark Stoops said of judging football IQ, which is something he brought up regularly last season. “That’s important for us. But it also shows up on the field, just awareness and the way they play.”
New hires to be made official soon
As reported by Football Scoop late this week and confirmed by multiple outlets including the Herald-Leader, UK is expected to make one of its two new coaching hires official on Monday.
That’s when former Eastern Kentucky head coach and Charlotte assistant head coach Dean Hood will be named the Cats’ special teams coordinator and outside linebackers coach.
With the Colonels, Hood was the 2008 Ohio Valley Conference Coach of the Year. EKU advanced to the FCS playoffs three times in Hood’s time there, going 55-38 overall. Hood was defensive coordinator and secondary coach at Wake Forest for seven years before that.
The defensive line coach job, which doesn’t formally close until Monday, also likely will be announced this week with multiple reports confirming that the spot will go to North Texas’ Derrick LeBlanc.
LeBlanc has close ties to Stoops mentor and defensive guru Pete Jenkins. Before working at North Texas, LeBlanc coached at Southern Miss, Wyoming, and most recently Pearl River College. He also was an assistant strength and conditioning coach at LSU.
He will replace Jimmy Brumbaugh, who also had close ties to the junior college community, where UK has had some success recruiting, especially on the defensive line. Brumbaugh left to become co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach at Maryland.
LeBlanc was a two-way lineman at Northwestern State in Louisiana.
On signing day, Brumbaugh noted how poor things were for the UK defensive line when he arrived with Stoops in 2012 and how much better things are for Kentucky now.
“When we first got here it was bad,” Brumbaugh said of the talent level. “Now we have the ability to go out and get a (Josh) Paschal, a Chris Whittaker that can rush a passer and run. … Now we’re able to stay in there with some of those big dogs and get some of those kids. And that’s what’s been helping us. Phil Hoskins is a big, long man.”
Instant access for recruits
Dan Berezowitz had a new accessory when he went on set for the Kentucky football signing day show: Snapchat glasses.
It’s just one of many new, technology driven things the recruiting staff has to help draw players to Kentucky. The Snapchat glasses enable a recruit to experience what it’s like to get off the bus for a Cat Walk from another state.
“We try to stay up on all the innovation: videos of workouts, videos of things, pictures, quotes, game pictures, the technology. We constantly are trying to stay up with it all,” Berezowitz told the Herald-Leader recently.
He has a small army of students — both undergrad and graduate level — who work in his office putting together graphics, posters and other mailers to go to potential future UK players.
“A lot of what kids want now is instant stuff, so a lot of it is through texts and DM and email with custom graphics and edits,” Berezowitz said. “I’ve got guys in here doing Photoshop graphics all day every day.
They send out short snippets of workouts, videos of campus, pictures, quotes, game-day pictures and more on a regular basis.
Of course the good, old-fashioned hand written note from coaches is still a big part of what UK is sending out to future Cats, too, Berezowitz said.
West heading in right direction
A familiar face from what feels like long ago popped up in Kentucky’s commercial that ran during the Super Bowl last weekend: safety Darius West.
In the ad, the sophomore makes a cameo where he finishes a sentence about life’s ups and downs with the phrase “and come back stronger,” which coaches say he’s doing now after missing the season with a knee injury.
His position coach said West has bounced back in a big way.
“I like what I’m seeing from Darius,” Clinkscale said recently of West, who played in 10 games in 2015 in the secondary and on special teams where he finished with 17 tackles. “He’s working hard. He’s in the weight room. He’s right there where they want him in the training room.
“He’s been a good influence on our players in that room. He brings a toughness back to that room that I believe we need.”