The first-ever early signing period for college football couldn’t have gone much better for the Kentucky Wildcats.
Any fears over whether or not players would sign with the Cats this week or wait until the regular national signing day in February turned out to be unfounded.
With one exception.
Four-star linebacker Xavier Peters, who has been committed to Kentucky since July, opted not to sign with the Wildcats on Wednesday.
Peters — a 6-foot-4 linebacker from Ohio — is UK’s second-best commitment (behind lineman Marquan McCall), according to the 247Sports composite rankings. He and McCall are the only two Wildcats commitments that are considered four-star players by Rivals.com, ESPN and 247Sports.
UK Coach Mark Stoops isn’t allowed to talk specifically about Peters until he signs with a college, but he was asked Wednesday afternoon if he had a message for any recruits who didn’t sign at the beginning of the day.
“I don’t know if I have any direct message,” he said. “There are guys out there that didn’t sign that we are going to continue to recruit, that we have a great relationship with. And I understand the reasons why they didn’t sign.
“For us, if guys have been committed to us for some length of time … and they have an opportunity to sign today, then why not?”
If Peters was a marginal talent by UK’s standards, the Cats might just cut him loose, but this is one of the program’s top commitments and a prospect that Kentucky’s coaches have spent a long time developing a relationship with.
Technically, he could still sign with UK during the early period, which doesn’t end until Friday, but — if Peters had planned to sign early — he almost certainly would’ve done so Wednesday morning with the rest of the class.
The more likely scenario now seems to be that Peters, who has not said much publicly about his recruitment, will wait until the regular signing period, which starts Feb. 7, to make his commitment official. If that happens, it will give other schools an opportunity to flip him.
The current dead period for college football recruiting ends Jan. 11, and coaches will then head back on the trail for in-home visits as they wrap up their 2018 classes.
Peters, ranked by all the major recruiting websites as a top-20 outside linebacker nationally, amassed reported scholarship offers from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma, Penn State, Southern Cal and many others early in his recruiting process.
Not all of those schools will still have spots for him, but his status as one of the top uncommitted prospects in the country would get him plenty of looks if he does indeed exit this week unsigned.
UK is likely to fight all comers to keep his commitment.
“We’re to the point now where, we’re not taking a back seat to nobody,” said Vince Marrow, the lead recruiter for Peters. “There’s some situations of why maybe (some) guys didn’t sign, and we’re working on that right now.
“We want guys that want to be here.”
When it was mentioned Wednesday that UK landed 20 signees that morning, Stoops paused and comically went to his pocket.
“Excuse me, I’m gonna check my phone, because I’m still waiting on a couple,” he said.
Stoops acknowledged that UK could land one or two more players in this early signing period, and he said the Cats could sign up to four more players by February.
One of the possibilities at the time — four-star defensive back Trey Dean — announced his commitment to Florida about an hour later. The Cats were finalists in that recruitment.
The Cats’ two biggest targets moving forward — other than the aforementioned Xavier Peters — are arguably four-star defensive end Leonard Taylor and four-star linebacker Chris Oats, both Ohio natives who were on UK’s campus over the weekend.
Stoops mentioned offensive line, defensive line, linebacker and wide receiver as possible areas the Cats might still need to fill in this 2018 class.
No Kentucky recruits
Junior-college linebacker Bryant Pirtle signed with Utah on Wednesday, picking the Utes over Kentucky and Louisville.
Before heading to the juco ranks, Pirtle played at DeSales High School in Louisville and seemingly represented the Cats’ final chance to land an in-state player in the 2018 class. Unless there’s a surprise between now and February, it would be the first time in program history that UK doesn’t sign any in-state players.
“I definitely don’t want that to be the case,” Stoops said. “I want to continue to make Kentucky our priority. And in some years there’s going to be more than others.
“There’s always good quality in Kentucky — the quantity is maybe not the same as some other states.”
In the rankings
As of 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, the Wildcats’ recruiting class ranked No. 28 nationally and No. 9 in the Southeastern Conference, according to the 247Sports composite rankings. (That number still includes Xavier Peters as part of UK’s class, and he’ll be considered a commitment until he says otherwise.)
Ohio State, Georgia, Texas, Penn State and Alabama had the top five recruiting classes for 2018, as of Wednesday afternoon.