A few days removed from a whirlwind week of Army All-American Bowl practices — and the game itself — the impression left by three University of Kentucky football commitments has not changed.
Kash Daniel, Drake Jackson and Landon Young were mighty impressive.
247Sports national recruiting director Steve Wiltfong was one of several analysts in San Antonio for Army Bowl week, and he said UK’s trio of in-state commitments validated their lofty status in the 247 national rankings.
Daniel — the state’s Mr. Football winner from Paintsville High — earned praise from several major recruiting services, but Wiltfong noted that 247Sports was the only outlet that ranked him as a four-star prospect coming into the week.
“He’s a throwback, old-school, physical linebacker,” Wiltfong told the Herald-Leader. “But he can move, too. He’s fluid. He’s got some burst to him. Right away at the Army Bowl, they’re going through position work and drills, and he certainly looked good doing that. But you could just tell he was like, ‘All right, man, this is cool, but I’m ready to get some contact going.’ That’s the type of kid he is.
“Another thing that stands out about Kash is just how much he loves playing. He’s got a great spirit on the field. He’s a guy that I think has a promising career ahead of him in Lexington.”
247Sports ranked Daniel as the No. 98 overall prospect in the class of 2016 going into Army Bowl week. He already has enrolled at UK and is expected to compete for immediate playing time in the fall.
Jackson, the standout offensive lineman from Woodford County, was ranked by 247Sports as the nation’s No. 2 center and No. 75 overall prospect coming into the Army Bowl.
The 6-foot-1, 290-pound prospect was singled out for praise multiple times during the national broadcast of the game.
“He’s so smart,” Wiltfong said. “He’s a technician at the point of attack, a quick learner, a guy that asks a lot of great questions, a leader. With the way he plays the game, he can match up with the best defensive linemen in the country and negate their attack.
“He’s planning to compete right away at Kentucky, whether it’s challenging (Jon) Toth at center or getting some time at guard. That’s the mentality he’s bringing to Kentucky, and he brought it to the Army game.”
Jackson, who is also enrolled at UK for the spring, has been ranked consistently as one of the nation’s top centers despite rarely playing the position for the Yellow Jackets.
Wiltfong says that’s not unusual, and it should not negatively affect his transition to college.
“A lot of the best offensive linemen play tackle in high school,” Wiltfong said “But he’s known for a long time that he’s a center, or an inside guy. And that’s what he works on when he’s away from his responsibilities as a high school player.
“I know he works really hard at it. He’s put in a lot of time and watches a lot of film. He’s just a football junkie.”
247Sports ranks Young — an offensive tackle from Lafayette High School — as the No. 102 overall prospect in the senior class, but Wiltfong said Young was the most impressive of Kentucky’s three commitments in Texas last week.
“He’s the best prospect in the group,” he said. “He has great length and athleticism. He’s your prototype when you’re describing left tackle prospects.”
On Tuesday, 247Sports named him the No. 1 offensive lineman during Army Bowl week.
Young, who is also a standout in wrestling and track and field at Lafayette, will not enroll at UK until the summer, but he’s expected to compete for immediate playing time — and possibly a starting spot — as a true freshman.
Rare honor coming?
Landon Young was so impressive at last week’s Army Bowl that his name was mentioned by several recruiting analysts as a possibility for five-star status in the class of 2016.
Reading the Twitter tea leaves, it seems his best shot at getting a fifth star will come from 247Sports, which will release its final group of five-star rankings this week.
“We haven’t made a final decision, but he’s got a shot,” 247Sports national analyst Steve Wiltfong told the Herald-Leader.
Wiltfong noted that 247Sports designates 32 high school seniors as five-star players because there are 32 first-round picks in the NFL Draft.
“If a player gets that fifth star, we think he has that kind of capability,” he said.
In the era of star rankings, only two UK signees have earned five: Micah Johnson (from Scout.com and ESPN in 2006) and Matt Elam (from 247Sports in 2014).
The final weeks
The current recruiting “dead period” ends Thursday, and that means that prospects again may visit college campuses and that coaches will have more contact with their top targets in the run-up to national signing day Feb. 3.
One of the most high-profile players remaining on UK’s recruiting radar for 2016 is expected to be in Lexington as soon as the dead period ends.
Junior-college quarterback Stephen Johnson earned a scholarship offer from the Wildcats on Dec. 31 and has said he will take an official visit to UK this week. It’s possible he will commit to the Cats while on that trip.
Johnson — a two-star recruit from California — is also trying to enroll early so he can participate in spring practice. UK’s spring semester began Wednesday, so Johnson would need to enroll as soon as possible to minimize missed class time.
UK is looking for another quarterback to join Drew Barker and incoming freshman Gunnar Hoak following the departures of Patrick Towles and Reese Phillips. The Cats also have walk-on quarterback Davis Mattingly on the roster, as well as Luke Wright, who recently announced plans to transfer from Cincinnati to UK after joining the Bearcats as a walk-on in 2014.
With three weeks left until national signing day, Kentucky has put together yet another strong class, according to the national recruiting services.
As of Wednesday, the Cats’ 22-player class is ranked No. 21 nationally by Rivals.com, No. 22 by 247Sports, No. 28 by Scout.com and No. 31 by ESPN.
UK’s standing in the SEC: eighth (Rivals and 247Sports), ninth (Scout.com) and 11th (ESPN).