Now that Kentucky's 2011 class is signed, sealed and scheduled to be delivered this summer, Coach Joker Phillips and his staff can put their full focus on the 2012 class.
The Bluegrass state produced several blue-chippers last fall. Lamar Dawson, DaMarcus Smith, Jon Davis, DeVante Parker and Darrian Miller were rated as four-star prospects by one or more recruiting services. That figures to be the case again in 2012. Several Kentuckians figure to be listed in the recruiting rankings that come out after the camp circuit winds up in the summer.
That includes one of the nation's top quarterbacks in Dixie Heights' Zeke Pike. UK has offered Pike a scholarship but could be fighting an uphill battle. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound Pike has already received more than 30 offers from such schools as Alabama, Florida, Michigan, Penn State, Southern Cal, LSU and Auburn.
Another Northern Kentucky quarterback who will be highly sought after is Patrick Towles, a 6-4, 230-pounder from Highlands. Towles is being tutored by former UK quarterback Jared Lorenzen, who is the quarterbacks coach at Highlands.
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"He's farther along than I was at this point," Lorenzen said. "He's legit. He's got all the tools: a strong arm, speed; he can run a 4.6 or 4.7 40. All he needs to work on now is consistency. I'm putting big goals out there for him because I really want him to challenge himself."
Cincinnati has been coming after Towles the hardest, and Illinois and Louisville have also offered. Kentucky hasn't extended an offer yet, but Towles is scheduled to be on campus for Junior Day next Sunday.
An in-state recruit the Wildcats appear to be in good shape with is Jeffersontown defensive lineman Daniel Ross. Phillips visited the 6-5, 255-pound Ross in January, and Ross told Rivals.com that UK is his early leader.
The Cats also will be in the mix for mammoth Bowling Green offensive lineman Joe Manley, who is 6-7, 305. UK, Louisville and Western Kentucky have already offered Manley.
"I think he'll be a young man who'll be a better player in college than he is right now," said Kevin Wallace, Manley's coach at Bowling Green.
UK's chances with Manley will be helped by the fact that his family wants him to attend school close to home.
"We haven't really made a great attempt to make Joe a national recruit because he and his parents want to stay within a six-hour radius (of Bowling Green)," Wallace said. "Of course, there's a lot of Big Ten and SEC schools in that area, and most of them have expressed interest. It's still awfully early, and once schools see him in person, they'll realize that nobody was lying about what they put on paper about his size."
Phillips is also high on Louisville Central speedster Anthony Wales. Wales is on the small side (5-9, 170), but he's a legitimate home-run threat who ran for 2,994 yards and 37 touchdowns in leading Central to the 3A state championship. Phillips has the Central pipeline working in his favor — three Yellowjackets (Mister Cobble, Ridge Wilson and Tim Patterson) will be on the UK roster this fall. But Wales has already gained a lot of national interest, picking up offers from Indiana, Illinois, Northwestern and Central Florida along with UK.
UCF could be a dark horse. The Knights have targeted Kentucky as a primary recruiting base. They talked Smith into reneging on his U of L commitment and signing earlier this month.
Southwestern's Rob Lewis has also been invited to UK's Junior Day, along with teammates Alan Williams and Latrell Wilson. Lewis is a 6-4, 290-pound defensive tackle who's also a standout on the basketball court. He hasn't received any written offers yet but has attracted the attention of Nebraska and defensive line coach Carl Pelini, who was at the University of Ohio when former Southwestern standout Lee Renfro lettered there.
"He's a kid that you can't miss on," Pulaski Southwestern Coach Dale Anderson said about Lewis. "He's got the size, strength and athletic ability to be a good defensive tackle at the next level."
Williams is a 6-2, 205-pounder who can play outside linebacker or wide receiver. The 6-2, 193-pound Wilson is a multi-purpose athlete who could play several positions.
Two more in-state products have received national recruiting interest: Mason County athlete Josh Harris, who's on the ESPN150 Watch List, and Seneca offensive lineman Tyrone Pearson.
UK, Illinois, Louisville, UCF and Western have offered Pearson, but the Wildcats don't appear to be high on his list at this point. Pearson told Rivals.com that his favorite schools at the moment are Florida State, Illinois, Alabama, Auburn, and Louisville.
Cats linked to transfer
The loss of Boyle County's Lamar Dawson to Southern Cal will no doubt leave a stinging sensation around the UK camp for a while, but the Cats are in the running for what could at least be a temporary fill-in at middle linebacker. Brandon Maye, who was a freshman All-American at Clemson in 2008, has left the school and visited Lexington last weekend.
The 6-3, 230-pound Maye had 87 tackles as a freshman and followed that with 103 in 2009. But Maye was unhappy with a switch from middle to outside linebacker in the pre-season, and he had only 43 tackles in an injury-plagued junior year.
Maye is expected to graduate this spring with a sociology degree and would be eligible to transfer to another Football Bowl Subdivision program and play immediately as long as the school offers a graduate program Clemson does not.
UK is expected to switch to a 3-4 scheme in the spring, and Maye would be a candidate to play one of the inside linebacker spots.
Maye is a native of Mobile, Ala., the hometown of UK wide receivers coach/passing game coordinator Tee Martin. He was a three-star recruit out of high school and chose Clemson over South Carolina, Memphis and Southern Miss.
UK senior center Marcus Davis was one of 12 student-athletes inducted into the Frank G. Ham Society of Character on Saturday.
The Society of Character recognizes Wildcat student-athletes who have demonstrated exceptional commitment to academic excellence, athletic participation, personal development, career preparation and serving as a role model. The SOC was founded during the 1998-99 school year and is named in honor of Ham, a longtime UK administrator.