"I definitely don't want that to be the case," Stoops said in December. "I definitely want to continue to make Kentucky our priority."
Though it is still eight months until class of 2019 prospects can sign binding letters-of-intent, there are again some worrisome signs for UK's in-state recruiting efforts.
When Scott County offensive lineman Bryan Hudson committed to Virginia Tech earlier this month, it meant that three of the top four home-state prospects in the class of 2019 as rated by Rivals.com have announced plans to play their college football outside Kentucky.
Trinity defensive end Stephen Herron, the top-ranked prospect in the state according to Rivals, is committed to Michigan. No. 3 Jacob Lacey, a defensive lineman from South Warren, is pledged to Notre Dame.
A recent article by Rivals.com state of Kentucky recruiting analyst Dave Lackford did not paint a rosy picture of UK's standing with the other uncommitted 2019 players ranked in the top 10 in the commonwealth, either.
Is what seemed a Stoops-era anomaly last year — UK missing out on top in-state recruiting targets — becoming a trend?
Competing with familiar faces
As I noted in a column last April, the coaching carousel has recently installed coaches with strong ties to the state of Kentucky at schools with easy access to the commonwealth's recruits. That has the potential to create the most competitive environment for the recruitment of in-state football players in history.
In the two recruiting classes since Jeff Brohm left Western Kentucky for Purdue, the Boilermakers have signed nine players from the commonwealth. So far, Brohm has gotten only one signee, class of 2018 Trinity wideout Rondale Moore, who had a UK offer.
In Louisville's first four recruiting classes after Bobby Petrino came back for his second stint as Cardinals head coach in 2014, U of L signed only five players from Kentucky.
With the hiring of former UK assistant Mike Summers as Louisville offensive line coach last February, however, U of L now seems far more engaged in recruiting in-state.
The Cardinals recently got a commitment from 2019 Franklin-Simpson offensive lineman Jack Randolph, though Butler wideout Demontae Crumes, a player Kentucky reportedly likes, recently decommitted from the Cards.
When Gerad Parker, the former Kentucky Wildcats wide receiver, was an assistant at Purdue, he beat UK in a recruiting battle for class of 2015 Caldwell County quarterback Elijah Sindelar. Now an assistant at Duke, Parker is making a bid for dynamic Western Hills flanker Wandale Robinson, a class of 2019 player Kentucky has offered.
In-state recruiting now "is very competitive," said UK offensive line coach John Schlarman, one of the Wildcats' primary home-state recruiters. "But it's way beyond other guys with connections to this state. There are a lot of good players in Kentucky who are being recruited from all over the country."
Alabama in the Bluegrass
Since Stoops started recruiting for UK in 2013, college football's preeminent program, Alabama, has offered a scholarship to at least one player from Kentucky every year, according to the Rivals.com recruiting data base.
Of the 12 in-state players from 2013 to 2019 that Rivals says held Alabama offers, Stoops and UK have signed four: Trinity defensive end Jason Hatcher (2013); John Hardin nose guard Matt Elam (2014); Lafayette offensive tackle Landon Young (2016); and Woodford County center Drake Jackson (2016).
From the class of 2019, Rivals shows four Kentucky high school players with Alabama offers: Herron; Christian Academy of Louisville wideout Milton Wright; Hudson; and Glasgow offensive tackle Tanner Bowles.
Schlarman said the recruiting presence in the commonwealth of football titans such as Alabama is a testament to improvement in high school football in Kentucky.
"I do think it tells you a little bit about the talent of the high school players here," Schlarman said. "I think it tells you a lot about the coaching of the high school teams here."
To some degree, UK's recent in-state recruiting struggle has been shaped by factors outside the Wildcats' control.
In the class of 2018, the Cats only offered three in-state prospects. Not one of the trio of Trinity's Moore, Waggener defensive back Jairus Brents or Bowling Green linebacker Justice Dingle grew up in the commonwealth.
Nevertheless, if UK cannot get its in-state recruiting mojo back, some of the good work that Stoops and his staff are doing recruiting in Ohio, Florida and Michigan will be negated.
"Like Coach Stoops always says, we want to keep the Kentucky talent right here. That's the main priority," Schlarman said. "We're hitting (in-state recruiting) full-steam, the whole staff, Coach Stoops, everybody is hitting it hard. We've just got to make sure we are doing everything we can to keep these kids at home."
Mark Story: 859-231-3230, Twitter: @markcstory