University of Kentucky football recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow has been responsible for much of the Wildcats' off-the-field success in the two-plus years since Coach Mark Stoops took over the program.
Marrow, who is also UK's tight ends coach, has mined his home state of Ohio for high-level high school talent, and the Cats' recruiting doesn't seem to be slowing down.
UK already has 22 commitments for 2016, good enough for the No. 13-ranked class in the country with national signing day still six months away. The Cats also have four commitments for the class of 2017 and a pledge from the nation's No. 2 wide receiver in the class of 2018.
Marrow spoke to the Herald-Leader recently about several topics related to UK's recruiting. This is the first part of that conversation.
Over the past two years, has there been any change to your message to recruits or any change to how recruits are receiving that message?
"What's different is — we just rushed in that first year, trying to put a class together. And we stole some guys at the end. Now — with me and (director of football operations Dan Berezowitz) and Coach Stoops and our whole staff leading — it's a machine. I think when we did that 2013 class, people were like, 'OK, it's just a little excitement with the new staff.' That's what a lot of the other schools were using. And I think some of the people around here who were critical of the program, they thought, 'They're not going to put that together twice.'
"I made a comment after our (2013) signing day, I said, 'We will actually do better in 2014.' I don't know if people believed me or not, and when we started getting those commitments in '14 so early, people were saying, 'Oh, they're not going to hold on to 'em.' And then we held on to the whole class.
"And the people in Lexington have a lot to do with it. I'd say 98 percent of my involvement with parents, their input back to me has been, 'Wow, we walked around the town and people were just so nice.' So I started using that from 2014 on. I'd tell the parents — they're staying downtown — and I said, 'Just go outside and walk around.' I felt very confident in the people in this community.
"So, where are we at now in 2015? I don't think it's slowed down. As a matter of fact, if you look at it, our 2016 class is almost done. Some of the guys we've got — I can't say their names — but it could be very interesting. In 2017, we have big-time guys out of Ohio. It's going forward, and I compliment Brez with that. But ultimately, it goes to Coach Stoops. Every day, we're recruiting. And we just carry out the plan.
"And Lord forbid we win a couple more games. What are you going to have to say now? And parents are smart. They see where this thing is going. All you have to do is look around. I don't see it slowing down. I see it getting better, because our program is getting better. We're building something special."
When you go on these recruiting visits, do parents see Kentucky in a different way than they did two years ago?
"Yes. First year, it was like — I'm going to be honest — it was like, 'Kentucky? C'mon, man. Kentucky?'
"This is a true story, (freshman cornerback) Mike Edwards' dad — you know, Mike Edwards was a high-four-star, had over 30 offers. He committed to us, and I remember his mom said they first saw it on TV. He didn't tell his parents. So I knew I had to get with his dad, because the mom was like, 'Oh, my husband. He's not too happy.' And I called him, and he was like, 'Man, you all tricked him. What you did to my son, you all tricked him. We haven't even visited there. Man, Kentucky?' He just wasn't feeling it. Until he came here and visited himself. He was like, 'Man, now I see what my son wanted.'
"Now, nationally, people are starting to see it. In Ohio, we're a brand there now. State of Kentucky, always should be a brand. D.C. is starting to be a brand. Atlanta, Florida ... But, in Ohio, where we get a lot of these kids from, our logo is in there with Ohio State, Michigan, Notre Dame. And I can tell you this, four years ago, you didn't even see that logo there."
What do you have to do to make sure those 22 commitments for 2016 stay with you going into signing day?
"My job as the recruiting coordinator is to make sure every coach, every area recruiter messages those guys. And for my guys in Ohio, I have a relationship with those guys. I don't just talk to them guys once or twice. We may talk, sometimes, three times during the week. You've got to get 'em down here consistently. We did a study, and when we got guys down here more than two, three times, the (retention) numbers were very high. So you have to get these guys down here, get them to see the atmosphere at the games, get them interacting with people. And get their parents here, so they feel comfortable. To me, that's the main thing."
With so many guys from Kentucky and Ohio in this 2016 class, how beneficial is that proximity for getting them on campus for games and other visits?
"That's the key. Kentucky and Ohio — that's our stronghold. You have to keep your best players in Kentucky, then Ohio is going to be where we get our big numbers from. And a lot of those guys have been here four, five, six times. They're used to it now. That's what we have to do, keep continuing that."
Part II of Marrow's conversation with the Herald-Leader will be published in Friday's newspaper and includes the UK assistant's thoughts on in-state recruiting, his decision to turn down a job at Michigan, and accepting commitments from high school underclassmen.