For the first time in modern college football history — and, probably, for the first time ever — UK has signed a recruiting class that does not include at least one high school player from inside the state of Kentucky.
Last summer, the Herald-Leader researched every Wildcats recruiting class back to 1939, and those results showed that UK had signed at least one in-state player in every one of its recruiting cycles.
Barring any post-signing-day surprises, that streak ended Wednesday with the official announcement of the Cats’ final additions for the 2018 class.
UK Coach Mark Stoops has said repeatedly since he was hired in late 2012 that keeping the top talent inside the state would be a major priority for his coaching staff, and they’ve largely followed through on that promise.
Stoops signed 15 in-state players over his first five recruiting classes at UK, including top prospects with major out-of-state scholarship offers such as Jason Hatcher, Drew Barker, Matt Elam, Eli Brown and the highly touted five-player haul of Kash Daniel, Zy’Aire Hughes, Drake Jackson, Davonte Robinson and Landon Young two years ago.
So, what happened with the 2018 class?
“I was disappointed. I’m not going to lie,” Stoops said Wednesday. “I want in-state guys, and we’re recruiting hard on the (2019 class) right now. We’re out there beating the pavement and making sure we’re evaluating the right guys and getting them.”
It’s worth noting that many of the top seniors in Kentucky last season actually transferred in from other states. Those included Trinity’s Rondale Moore, Waggener’s Jairus Brents and Bowling Green’s Justice Dingle. All three of those prospects were on UK’s radar at certain points, but none had any emotional ties to the university and none were seen as major priorities as the recruiting cycle neared its end.
The top four prospects in the state, according to the 247Sports composite rankings, all played for Louisville high schools, and UK has had a hit-and-miss record recruiting the state’s largest city.
Kentucky did look at some others on down the list, including Doss wide receiver Terez Traynor, St. Xavier offensive lineman Wyatt Smock and Paintsville defensive tackle Tyrese Allen, but none of that trio received a UK scholarship offer.
The Cats seemed close to offering Traynor when he suffered a devastating leg injury last year. UK was still monitoring his progress for a possible late offer, but he committed to Western Kentucky in early August.
UK extended a preferred walk-on offer to talented but undersized Danville star D’Mauriae VanCleave — the state’s surprise Mr. Football winner — but he opted to accept a scholarship offer to play for Wofford College, an FCS-level school.
So, it seems that the 2018 class was more of a blip on the in-state recruiting radar than a sign of things to come.
“Like I’ve said, there’s not always going to be an abundance of guys, but there always is good quality here,” Stoops said. “And we gotta make sure we get those quality players to stay home.”
If UK finds itself in a similar spot this time next year, there could be larger cause for concern. The 2019 class of Kentucky high school prospects is stacked with top-tier talent.
Two of the top recruits in the class — South Warren defensive lineman Jacob Lacey and Trinity defensive lineman Stephen Herron — have already committed to out-of-state schools (Notre Dame and Michigan, respectively). But there’s plenty of talent to go around, and UK has made major priorities out of several other rising seniors.
Western Hills playmaker Wandale Robinson, Scott County offensive lineman Bryan Hudson and Glasgow offensive lineman Tanner Bowles have all consistently listed UK among their top schools despite out-of-state offers from national powers.
The Cats are also recruiting several Louisville players, including Louisville Christian athlete Milton Wright, Moore defensive lineman J.J. Weaver and Doss defensive end Shawnkel Knight-Goff.
Others will surely emerge as in-state targets in the coming weeks and months.
“It does seem strong,” Stoops said of the 2019 in-state class. “It definitely reminds me of the class a few years back with Kash and those guys. There are some impact players in that class.”
In-state football signees in the Stoops era