Another big recruiting weekend for the University of Kentucky football program will include an official visit from the player at the top of the program's wish list for next year.
Junior college offensive tackle Tate Leavitt — a 6-foot-6, 305-pound prospect — has emerged as the Wildcats' No. 1 priority to round out the class of 2016, and he boarded a flight to Lexington on Thursday for what will be a pivotal 48 hours in his recruitment.
Leavitt — a native of Thornville, Ohio — is a standout lineman at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas. Committed to Ohio University out of high school, he went the junior college route and decided a few months ago to decommit from the Bobcats and open up his recruitment.
Several major schools extended scholarship offers — including Alabama, Auburn and Oklahoma — and Kentucky has emerged as a possible frontrunner.
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Leavitt said the No. 1 aspect of his decision process will be finding a team where he can have an immediate impact. He's looking for playing time right off the bat, and that's what UK is offering.
Starting left tackle Jordan Swindle will be a senior this fall. The UK coaching staff is selling Leavitt on being next in line at that spot.
"They think I can be a huge piece for them," Leavitt told the Herald-Leader. "A lot of people are saying on Twitter — and I see it in my mentions all the time — about how I'm the missing link and things of that matter. I'm fortunate to be in a situation where I can possibly impact the program that much.
"They're graduating a left tackle and they need somebody to step in right away. For me to be put in a situation like that is a blessing. It's going to be a great weekend, and I'm really looking forward to it."
This won't be Leavitt's first trip to Lexington — he took an unofficial visit to UK in the spring — but it will be the first of a possible five official visits for the junior-college standout.
UK's current commitments already are treating him like one of their own.
The 2016 class has a group chat on Twitter where they can interact with one another throughout the year. Leavitt is one of only two or three uncommitted players who have been invited to join the chat, and he says he gets along well with UK's 19 commitments for next year.
He's also spoken to several of them individually, mentioning Drake Jackson, Kash Daniel, Landon Young and Kayaune Ross as fellow recruits with whom he stays in contact. He's also talked to incoming transfer Marcelys Jones, sophomore offensive lineman Kyle Meadows and another transfer, Courtney Love, who will be Leavitt's host for this weekend's official visit.
"In terms of these officials, it's for me to get around the guys," Leavitt said. "The guys I'll be able to see myself competing for championships and win bowl games with for the next two years. For me, the biggest part is how much camaraderie I can build in a weekend, to see what I can bring to each school."
Jackson — the de facto leader of UK's recruiting class — said he spent the past couple of months trying to get Leavitt on board with the Wildcats. Jackson, who will be in Lexington this weekend with many of his fellow commitments and dozens of others who will be attending the program's latest round of camps, said he thinks UK has a great shot at landing Leavitt.
"I really feel confident," Jackson told the Herald-Leader. "I don't know when he'll commit. But I think by the end, he'll be signing with UK."
Leavitt, considered a four-star recruit by Rivals.com, recently released a list of five finalists: UK, Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas Tech.
He has scheduled an official visit to Illinois next weekend, and he has tentative trips planned for Texas Tech right after that and Oklahoma on the final weekend of August.
It's possible he won't wait that long to make a decision.
"If I find the school that I know that I want to commit to, I'm not going to sit here and wait until December to announce it," Leavitt said. "That puts a wrench in other schools. And I have enough respect for these coaches to let them know to move on."
That doesn't necessarily mean a flawless official visit to Kentucky this weekend will result in an immediate commitment. Leavitt said that he's never been the type of person to make a decision "in the heat of the moment" and that he'll want to talk things over with his family before making a pledge.
Still, he seems all in with UK's recruiting pitch, and he's been impressed with the work of Mark Stoops and his assistant coaches.
Leavitt was a high school senior when Stoops took over the program, and he said he immediately took notice of the way the Wildcats were recruiting his home state of Ohio. He's continued to pay attention to UK's program while playing in Kansas and sees himself as a perfect fit in Lexington.
"Got a lot of respect for Coach Stoops, to say the least," Leavitt said. "From what he started with when he got there to what he's got now — it's light years.
"It seems like they've got it going where they envisioned it initially when they got there. And for them to make that progress is very eye-opening."