One of Mark Stoops' stated goals early in his tenure as the University of Kentucky's football coach was to bring the commonwealth's best high school players to Lexington for their college careers.
He's not going to see many better than Jedrick Wills.
A 6-foot-5, 315-pound offensive lineman, Wills is entering his junior season with the Lafayette Generals, and he's already considered one of the nation's best recruits for the class of 2017.
He's had a busy summer, starting with a Rivals.com camp in St. Louis in early May, an event that featured many of the best prospects from the Midwest and Southeast. Most of the players featured there were from the class of 2016 — one year older than Wills — but the Lexington standout walked away with offensive line MVP honors.
That was enough to earn him an invitation to the Rivals Five-Star Challenge a few weeks later in Baltimore, another event featuring the best in the country, most of them rising seniors.
Wills didn't disappoint, said Rivals national analyst Mike Farrell.
"He was so good in St. Louis. He was so technically sound," Farrell told the Herald-Leader. "We said, 'All right, let's give this kid a shot — as an underclassman — to go up against the best defensive linemen in the country at the Five-Star Challenge.' And he was dominant there as well."
Rivals named Wills the No. 3 overall offensive lineman at the camp — No. 1 among class of 2017 prospects.
When that recruiting service posted its first batch of 2017 player rankings this month, it didn't take much scrolling to find Wills' name. He was listed as the No. 13 overall recruit in the country, and he had five stars next to his picture.
"I was definitely excited," Wills said. "I felt like it was another step, but it's still not done. You can't be satisfied with anything."
Former Madison Southern running back Damien Harris is the only other Kentuckian to earn five-star status from Rivals since they started publishing rankings in 2002.
Lafayette Coach Eric Shaw Sr., hasn't been surprised by the early recognition for one of his star players.
"He's a very large, nasty individual," Shaw said. "He plays the game hard. He plays to win. It's been a delight to see him grow into this player that he's become. He still has a lot of room to grow, but he's working his butt off to get there."
Shaw brought in coaching veteran Garry McPeek to work with the Lafayette offensive line this season, and Wills acknowledged several times that he has plenty of room to improve on the field.
He's listed as a tackle and said he prefers that spot to the guard position, though he's more than capable of playing anywhere on the offensive line.
Wills is joined on that line by Landon Young, a rising senior who is ranked by the recruiting services as one of the top offensive tackles nationally in the class of 2016.
Shaw said Young's presence has been beneficial to Wills' development.
"That's always good to have a bigger brother that plays the same position that's getting that type of attention," he said. "He can help him along the way through the process and help him manage that attention so it doesn't get to his head."
Young was UK's first commitment for the class of 2016 — pledging to the Wildcats before his sophomore year — and he remains one of the program's most highly touted incoming players for next year.
He's also been recruiting his younger teammate to join him at their hometown school.
Wills has already taken several visits to UK — the latest being Saturday, when he was there for Lafayette's championship run in the 7-on-7 competition that was part of the Wildcats' series of summer recruiting camps.
Stoops has followed through on his promise of keeping the state's best players home — Harris being the only major exception — and the UK coach isn't going to let Wills get away without a fight.
"They've told me I'm very important," Wills said. "They said if I commit I would be the spearhead for the 2017 class. They've told me that they need me a lot and that they really like me. It makes me feel good."
Plenty of other coaches are telling him similar things, and his list of scholarship offers includes Alabama, Florida State, Louisville, Notre Dame and South Carolina, to name just a few.
Wills — two more seasons of high school football ahead of him — claims he isn't leaning toward a particular school and says he hasn't given much thought to his recruitment.
Farrell likes Kentucky's chances.
"Especially since Landon is already committed, you expect — with that connection — for them to be able to land a kid like this," the analyst said. "Everybody's going to come after him, but I think he's very comfortable there.
"I think it's one of those situations where he's leaning that direction, if they can prove to him that they're headed in the right direction as well. He's young. I don't see him popping during his season. But I do see — if Kentucky makes strides (on the field) — I could see him commit possibly after the season. But they have to make strides."