The new Kentucky football staff — still wrapping up its first recruiting class in Lexington — landed a big piece for the future Tuesday.
Denzel Ware, one of the best defensive linemen in the country, has committed to Kentucky, Opp High (Ala.) Athletics Director Jack Whigham told the Herald-Leader.
Ware, a junior, is the No. 223 overall player in the class of 2014, according to the new Rivals.com rankings, which were released shortly after his commitment Tuesday.
24/7 Sports ranks Ware as the No. 44 overall player in the class and the No. 4 weakside defensive end.
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The 6-foot-3, 220-pounder was previously committed to Florida State and had formed a bond with new UK coach Mark Stoops and defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot.
Until last week, Ware attended Crestview High School in Florida, which is right across the state line from Opp.
Ware's principal at Crestview, Bob Jones, graduated from Bryan Station High School and was a place-kicker for UK from 1968-70.
"When Coach Stoops came to UK — at that time Denzel had committed to FSU — I was kind of excited, hoping that maybe he could lure Denzel up there," he said.
Jones said he started receiving phone calls about Ware's commitment Tuesday morning.
By that time, he wasn't quite as excited.
Jones got a call from a secretary at Crestview on Thursday saying that Ware was in the guidance office, asking to withdraw from the school.
Crestview's football coach had resigned a few days earlier to take another job in Florida, but Jones didn't see Ware's departure coming.
"It was absolutely out of the blue," he said. "I was like, 'You've got to be kidding me. This is a joke.'"
The principal said Ware had shuffled back and forth in recent years between Crestview and Opp, where his mother lives, but he had been living with a family in Crestview since the middle of eighth grade.
Jones also was Ware's principal in middle school and called him a "fine young man," but he was perplexed by the timing of the transfer.
Crestview is hiring a new football coach, and Jones said many of the more than 80 applicants have proven to be winners at the high school level — a fact he shared with Ware.
Ware also was the starting center on the school's basketball team. His departure came one day before that squad's first playoff game, which they lost without him in the lineup.
"I spent an hour trying to talk him into at least waiting until basketball season was over until he left here," Jones said. "The basketball coach spent an hour with him. Neither one of us did any good."
Ware is now enrolled at Opp and, according to Whig-ham, has been taking classes there since Monday.
But Jones said Ware owes money at Crestview and that school cannot release his transcript until those debts are paid.
Jones said he and others at Crestview are still "extremely upset," but he wished Ware the best.
"I hope that he can get things worked out ... so he can move on," he said.
"I get back up there as much as I can to (watch UK football) games. I'd love to be able to go up there and see Denzel play."
Barker earns high ranking
Conner quarterback Drew Barker was the only Kentuckian to make the initial Rivals 250 for the class of 2014 released Tuesday.
Barker was rated as the No. 153 overall player in the country and the 12th-best quarterback.
Barker attended UK's event for 2014 prospects over the weekend and is considered one of the Cats' top priorities in the class.