It might have been the most overused statement of the morning on the first day of the new early national signing period:
“Christmas came early,” coaches tweeted throughout the country Wednesday as players’ names went up on big boards like they were kids on Santa’s “nice list.”
And even though Kentucky’s signing class hasn’t been formally wrapped up in a bow — there still might be names added to the list — Coach Mark Stoops seemed happy when he unwrapped the Cats’ 2018 signing class.
“I was very pleased with the way it went,” he said of the class of 20 players who made their commitments official by signing on Wednesday morning. “Again, very few surprises. There’s always things that you have to work through, but I think it went very well.”
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It was a day that could’ve gone many different ways as every school around the country worked through the process of a new, December national signing day.
The sped-up schedule meant hectic weeks that left Stoops asking his pilot “Where am I landing?” on a regular basis.
But it also meant UK was able to lock down a vast majority of its next signing class and fill several positions of need, grabbing up 10 offensive players, including quarterback Terry Wilson, eight defensive players as well as a kicker and a punter.
Since it was everyone’s first go-round with the new signing date, UK recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow wasn’t sure how it was going to go, but the Cats were able to lock down their final signature of the day — from tight end Brenden Bates — by 9:30 a.m.
“If you would’ve told me we would’ve signed 20 guys this early I wouldn’t have believed it because in the beginning a lot of (high school) coaches weren’t even aware of this early signing period,” Marrow said. “I was very excited and I know our coaches were, too.”
While some other Southeastern Conference and Power Five conference coaches might not love the early signing day, count Stoops among those sold on it.
“If guys are solid like most of these guys were and they want to sign, why not? Other than to let them get poached,” he said. “I’m glad to get these guys locked down, because believe me there’s some players here that can play at an awful lot of top-five schools.”
Without naming names or players, Stoops said Kentucky had to fight off other schools to sign this class, which includes eight players from the state of Florida.
“I’m very pleased with these guys,” the head coach said of this class. “They’ve been so solid through the process, but you never know. They’re getting pulled at. There’s guys on here that were getting poked at until last night.
“Constantly pulled and asked to not sign and don’t sign early and come on visits. Being offered scholarships yesterday or the past couple days. These guys didn’t waver, and that’s the character we’re looking for. So, very pleased.”
For some recruits, the earlier signing period was a gift, too.
Kentucky’s coaches said they heard from players and their families that they were ready for the process to wind down.
“There were quite a few of these players who said, ‘I’m sick of it,’” Stoops said, noting that parents also regularly complained about other schools trying to get their children to rethink their Cats commitments.
“Mothers and fathers are just tired of people getting in their ear,” Stoops said. “And you’ve got to understand the pressure these guys are under. And this isn’t pressure that just started in December. They’ve had pressure on them for a year. And it doesn’t get any better in that last month.”
There are still quite a few players on Kentucky’s wish list. Marrow said there were some “situations” that kept two players from signing.
“We’re working on that right now,” he added without more detail.
Other players — less than a handful — still have the option of signing on the secondary date on Feb. 7.
“There’s some very good football players that we’re in pretty deep on,” Stoops said. “We’ll go into February with several of the guys we’ve already been recruiting, and then several of the guys we’ll continue to poke around and find some new guys.”
2017-18 football signing dates
Early period: Dec. 20-22
Junior-college mid-year transfer period: Dec. 20-Jan. 15
Regular period: Feb. 7-April 1