Charlie Strong's hiring at Louisville has created a story that should be worth watching the next few years, and that's the battles between Strong and UK head coach-in-waiting Joker Phillips on the recruiting trail.
Strong and Phillips were both on Lou Holtz's staff at South Carolina in 2002, and both are known as excellent recruiters. Phillips has been able to attract some top-notch talent to Lexington right out of the Cardinals' backyard since returning to UK in 2003, signing Derby City prospects such as Myron Pryor, Garry Williams, Alfonso Smith and Corey Peters.
But it didn't take long for Strong to make an early statement that he was going to try to re-establish the Cards on their own turf. Strong was announced as Louisville's coach on Wednesday, and on Thursday he received a commitment from DaMarcus Smith, a highly regarded junior quarterback from Seneca.
Phillips struck back the next day, securing a commitment from Eastern's do-it-all junior prospect Jon Davis. Smith is already listed as a four-star recruit by Scout.com, and Davis is expected to be a four-star recruit when the rankings are updated next summer.
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Davis, who will likely play tight end at Kentucky, has drawn comparisons to former U of L star Michael Bush.
"He's one of the best athletes I've seen around here in my nine years in Louisville," said Eastern Coach Ken Whalen. "(Bush) has already proven himself and Jon still has a long way to go, but as far as athleticism I'd say he's right there. He's a real big kid that moves really well."
Things should only get more interesting in the coming months because the city of Louisville is loaded with Football Bowl Subdivision prospects in the class of 2011. Strong and Phillips figure to battle until the end for Central linebacker Tim Patterson. Phillips has established a pipeline at Central, signing Peters, Ridge Wilson and Mister Cobble and investing a lot of time in Patterson. But Patterson is a lifelong Louisville fan, and his Central classmate, receiver Stephan Robinson, committed to U of L while Steve Kragthorpe was still the coach.
Another Louisville product who'll get plenty of attention from Phillips and Strong is DeVante Parker, a 6-foot-3, 180-pound receiver from Ballard. Parker, who's also a standout on the basketball court, has gotten looks from schools such as Ohio State, Miami (Fla.), Indiana and Notre Dame. Fern Creek has two players who'll get a lot of offers in 5-11, 175-pound speed back Jerrell Moore and 6-4, 290-pound lineman Jamon Brown.
2010 class nearly complete
UK picked up three commitments in the aftermath of its big recruiting weekend for the North Carolina basketball game: defensive backs Anterio Sloan (West Helena, Ark.) and Dale Trimble (Gadsden, Ala.) and defensive tackle Brice Laughlin (Summerville, S.C.).
Sloan is a four-star recruit while Trimble and Laughlin are three-star recruits.
Kentucky didn't rack up many early commitments but has caught up quickly: UK now has 21 commitments and is on the verge of finishing its 2010 class. Of the 21 commitments, 12 are three-stars and one is a four-star, which is consistent with what Coach Rich Brooks' staff has been doing since it arrived at UK. Brooks tried to reassure restless fans at the pre-season UK Kickoff Luncheon that the recruiting class would turn out OK, and said last week that the staff will continue to bring in classes that can play winning football in the Southeastern Conference.
"People don't know what's going on," Brooks said. "They don't know who we're evaluating. All they know is the star rankings. I went through this at Oregon. Oregon, even with the success they had when I was there, and the success they've had after I left, which has been better, they still don't rank in the top five or 10 in the nation in recruiting classes, and probably never will. And believe it or not, maybe somebody will get upset with me for saying this, but I don't think Kentucky football is ever going to be ranked in the top 10 in the nation, either. That doesn't mean Kentucky can't end up top 10 in the nation in won-loss record. All you have to look at is what Cincinnati and TCU have done. ... If you're recruiting correctly and evaluating correctly, you can build a good football team without having the star-ranked teams. And if you look at some of the teams we've beaten the last few years, they almost always have top-10 recruiting classes. Now, would I rather be in that position? Yeah I would. But a lot of it is history.
"Look at basketball. All of a sudden we get a guy in here who can recruit and we've got a top recruiting class in the nation, and they're playing that way. But also, Kentucky is probably the No. 1 school to recruit to in basketball in the SEC, and one of the top four in the nation to recruit to. Kentucky football has never had that going forward in recruiting."
Brooks puzzled by All-SEC teams
UK Coach Rich Brooks was miffed at the inconsistency between the media and coaches' All-SEC teams that were announced last week. For example, senior linebacker Sam Maxwell (six interceptions) was a second-team selection by the media but was ignored by the coaches. And sophomore Randall Cobb was a first-team selection by the media who was also left off the coaches' ballot.
"I have a hard time figuring out how Sam Maxwell doesn't even get mentioned on one," Brooks said. "I mean, you get six interceptions as a linebacker. Give me a break."
Brooks also thought his offensive line was overlooked. Kentucky was fifth in the SEC in rushing offense and tied for fourth in fewest sacks allowed. Senior left tackle Zipp Duncan was the only offensive line representative on either team, getting second-team honors from the coaches and honorable mention from the media.
"A guy I thought had a great year, and I understand Zipp getting votes because he's a three-year starter, but what about Stuart Hines?" Brooks said. "And I know there are good centers in the league, but Jorge Gonzalez didn't even get a sniff. This was production-wise one of the best offensive lines in the league and the best line we've had here at Kentucky."
Hartline returns to practice
Junior quarterback Mike Hartline, who's been sidelined by a knee injury, recently returned to the practice field. Coach Rich Brooks will continue to monitor Hartline's progress over the next week or so, and if Hartline proves to be healthy, Brooks must decide whether Hartline or Morgan Newton will start at quarterback in the Music City Bowl.
"I think there's a decision to make," Brooks said. "We need to see if (Hartline) is healthy and functioning on all cylinders in practice first. But there's clearly a decision to make because of the lack of passing in our offense as the season ended."
Maxwell has shoulder surgery
Senior linebacker Sam Maxwell had surgery on Friday to repair a torn labrum. Brooks said Maxwell should be able to resume full activity in four months. Maxwell won't be able to do any weight lifting before the NFL Draft, but Brooks said Maxwell should be able to run for teams, which will be the thing scouts most want to see anyway.
"What'll happen with Sam's draft status depends on the stopwatch," Brooks said. "He's got ball skills, can make plays, is instinctive, and has the size. It will all depend on speed."