With all of the recruiting success that UK has had under Coach Mark Stoops over the past five years, only two prospects have been ranked higher by Rivals.com than the Wildcats’ top commitment for the class of 2018.
Michigan lineman Marquan McCall — a 6-foot-4, 320-pound senior — announced his commitment to UK earlier this year, and he’s apparently off to a solid start to his final season of high school football.
Rivals.com analyst Josh Helmholdt scouted McCall at his Week 1 game recently, and he came away from that performance confident in the website’s lofty ranking — No. 4 offensive guard and No. 115 overall player nationally in the class of 2018 — for the future Wildcat.
“With Marquan, I was looking at how he’s progressing from an athletic standpoint,” Helmholdt told the Herald-Leader. “He’s always going to have that above-average strength, but how’s his form? How’s his technique? How’s his athleticism? Is he staying light on his feet? And I thought he looked very good in that area of athleticism. And I found out after the game that he was dealing with a minor leg injury. He definitely looked better going forward and backwards — as opposed to laterally — and that injury affected him more laterally.
“So I think he will be probably even better as the year goes on and he gets healthier. But from what I saw, I was pleased with his progression.”
McCall’s progress on the field was something that recruiting analysts, including Helmholdt, had questioned in recent months.
Listed at 6-3 and 323 pounds going into his sophomore season two years ago, McCall was already a buzzworthy recruit at a national level. He was the first in-state member of the 2018 recruiting class to earn a scholarship offer from Michigan.
At that time, analysts were praising McCall’s quickness and athleticism for a player of his size. He also carried very little bad weight for a big, young offensive line prospect. Helmholdt wrote then that McCall looked “like he could step onto an FBS field right now,” and there was early talk of him ultimately becoming a five-star player, a designation reserved only for the top 30 or so players in each recruiting class.
“He’s not progressed to the level that I’d hoped or even expected when we first saw him two years ago, but he has progressed nicely,” Helmholdt said. “I think where we have him rated now is still pretty accurate. Based on what he showed early in his career, I could have seen him turn into just a freak show. He has some really unique gifts and talents, but he hasn’t quite developed them as much as he probably could have.
“So I don’t think that potential five-star talk is ever going to come back with him. But I think he’s settled in and he looks like a solid four-star guy.”
Kentucky has had several Rivals 250 commitments under Stoops, but only offensive tackle Landon Young (No. 29 in 2016) and wide receiver Javonte Richardson (No. 114 this year) have been ranked higher than McCall.
“Obviously, where we have him ranked, you can tell how much appreciation we have for what he brings to the table,” Helmholdt added. “That’s a very high ranking.”
Though listed as an offensive guard, there was some debate when McCall committed to UK in May whether he would end up on the offensive or defensive line in college.
Helmholdt said McCall showed early signs that he could be a terrific defensive tackle, but there hasn’t been nearly as much of that lately.
“Early in his career, he looked like a guy who had a skill set that could be very good as a three-technique or even a zero-(technique) on the defensive line,” he said. “He’s never really tried to develop that. He’s stayed strictly as an offensive guard. That is where his development has come, almost exclusively.
“So it’s not out of the question — the skill set is there — he’s just way behind the curve, in terms of a developmental standpoint, from that defensive tackle position.”
As always with high-profile football commitments, fans worry about the possibility of a flip to another school. That’s been especially true for McCall, who visited Ohio State for a camp in July and reported a scholarship offer from Louisville last week.
McCall told Helmholdt after that Week 1 game, however, that he is “100 percent all the way with Kentucky,” and there’s no reason to think otherwise at the moment.
“It was very obvious when I talked with him that his mindset was not on recruiting, in general, but also that he — at this point — is very solid with Kentucky,” Helmholdt said. “He talked openly about going to Ohio State’s Friday Night Lights camp, but really made it sound like that was a learning opportunity, a chance to get some more work against top talent.”