After beating out the Ohio State Buckeyes for one of their in-state targets and locking up another talented prospect at a key position, there was plenty of reason for cheer at Kentucky football headquarters Wednesday.
“You see me smiling?” the Cats’ top recruiter, Vince Marrow, asked reporters after UK put the finishing touches on its 2018 class on national signing day.
It was a rhetorical question. Marrow was wearing a big grin, just like Coach Mark Stoops had been a few minutes earlier as he talked about the Wildcats’ latest haul.
Four-star linebacker Chris Oats — a 6-foot-5 prospect from Cincinnati — was the highlight of the day. Marrow noted that he had been recruiting Oats since his freshman season of high school, but Ohio State was keeping tabs, too, and the Buckeyes tried to swoop in during the final weeks of the cycle and lure Oats to Columbus.
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Instead, Oats canceled an official visit to OSU last weekend, pretty much clinching the recruitment for the Cats. He signed with UK on Wednesday morning.
“That juggernaut up there at Ohio State — they do great there,” Marrow said. “Urban (Meyer) recruits very well. This was truly a kid that they targeted. … Beating them on this kid just speaks volumes.
“Until last week, everybody thought Chris was going to Ohio State. But I kind of knew where he was going — just kept it to myself. But until he signed those papers, I was nervous.”
Oats is the No. 22 outside linebacker nationally, according to the 247Sports composite rankings.
Three-star running back Kavosiey Smoke — his first name is pronounced, “kah-VAH-see-ay” — was another important addition for UK on the last day of the 2018 recruiting cycle. Smoke — a 5-10 prospect from Wetumpka, Ala. — signed with Kentucky over fellow finalists North Carolina and Florida Atlantic on Wednesday.
“Kavosiey was a big get for us,” Stoops said. “There was a lot of competition for him late as well. He’s a very good player.”
Rivals.com ranks Smoke as the No. 29 running back nationally for 2018, and he joins Chris Rodriguez as the second running back in UK’s signing class. Those two will join junior Benny Snell, senior Sihiem King and sophomore A.J. Rose in the team’s backfield next season.
Dailey — a 6-3 prospect from Pinson, Ala. — caught 23 touchdowns last season.
Lewis — a 6-9, 350-pound tackle from Jacksonville, Fla. — is the No. 57 offensive tackle in the class, according to the 247Sports rankings.
“Very big guy,” Stoops said. “We love that size. We need to get bigger, more physical. He’s certainly a good start.”
The Cats signed most of their class back in December, adding 20 players in college football’s first-ever early signing period. The four new additions pushed UK’s class to No. 36 nationally in the 247Sports composite rankings, as of Wednesday afternoon.
“I really feel like we hit a home run with the guys we signed today,” Stoops said. “Excited about this class. With these four guys here, it puts a really solid class together with 24 players in total. That’s a perfect number for us. I felt like we hit the number right on the spot.”
Kentucky is not expected to sign any more scholarship players for the 2018 class.
Four-star linebacker Xavier Peters was the only UK commitment who did not sign with the Cats in the early period in December. He was still seen as a major recruiting target for Kentucky entering the final weeks of the 2018 cycle, but he flipped his commitment to Florida State late last month and went ahead and signed with the Seminoles on Wednesday.
Stoops said he’ll consider commitments who don’t sign in future early periods to be wide open in their recruitments in future classes.
“Without a doubt, yes,” he said. “That’s the way we looked at it the whole time. That’s why we didn’t miss a beat.”
UK also benefited from the same scenario with new signee Nick Lewis, who was committed to Washington State at the time of the early period but opted not to sign with the Cougars.