A few days before Kentucky’s Blue-White Spring Game, recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow furrowed his brow, worried that the Cats’ next class wasn’t getting enough love.
“This might be the first time the 2019 class thinks, ‘Man, I haven’t heard from Coach Marrow as much,’” he said.
It wasn’t about not loving that class as much, but mostly about navigating the new NCAA early signing period that went into effect last year. “We had to battle down to the end for certain prospects,” Marrow said.
It wasn’t an issue at just UK, either. Coaches around the country raced through December trying to lock down their 2018 classes before the first signing period, which meant less attention on the next class.
For Kentucky’s head coach that meant two or three weeks on the road recruiting on top of practices and planning for the Music City Bowl at the end of the month.
“It was an overwhelming December,” said Mark Stoops, who told the story before the Music City Bowl about having to ask his pilot what city they had just touched down in once or twice.
But after being undecided about whether the early signing period would be good for the Cats or not, Stoops is decidedly for it, now that everyone is getting more comfortable with the time line.
“I like it just because it solidified those commitments and taking as many question marks away as you can,” Stoops said on Thursday in a sit-down with the Herald-Leader.
Kentucky was able to lock down 83 percent of its 2018 class before the holidays with 20 signings and then double down efforts to get other targets. Stoops and Marrow signed four more on the regular February signing day.
“A lot of people don’t realize we’re not special, we’re not alone,” Stoops said of UK not landing a couple of players it had hoped to land. “Kids change their mind. It’s just to me (the new early signing period) now gives you two opportunities to get it right.”
By the time spring practice rolled around, Marrow said the staff finally felt like it had caught up on connecting with and evaluating players for the next couple of classes.
“We always evaluate ahead, but when we had to put in the ground work on (2018 final commitments), our whole staff was involved,” he said. “As soon as that signing day was over, I had to catch up with 2019 guys. We were behind a little bit.”
There’s a new twist in the time line, too.
This is the first year that prospects can make official visits to campus in April, May and June. Previously, they weren’t allowed to make those visits until the first day of classes in the fall, Stoops said.
Kentucky hasn’t had any official visitors so far, but there are several in the works. It already has four commitments from the 2019 class, including four-star defensive back Moses Douglass.
“This is all new to be able to bring somebody in for April and May,” Stoops said. “We’ve had some discussions about it and we’re working toward having some in June.”
That is speeding up the evaluation time line a little bit more. And it’s creating a new, interesting twist for teams.
It used to be that teams would get commitments that they would have to try and hold on to, willing the first Wednesday in February to hurry up and arrive before a player could flip.
The December date helps, but it doesn’t necessarily eliminate the chance for late drama.
“Now you have an official visit maybe in April, May or June and then you have to hold them all the way to December 20 without being able to bring them back in here,” Stoops noted. “But the other side is if you don’t bring them in here now, they might commit somewhere else.
“Those are many of the unknowns with our first time going through this for all of us.”