This moment in history is likely to become the best time ever to be an aspiring major-college football player in Kentucky.
Simultaneously, the next few years could become an unusually challenging time to be an in-state recruiter for the commonwealth’s three Football Bowl Subdivision schools — Kentucky, Louisville and, especially, Western Kentucky.
The coaching carousel this offseason placed coaches with deep ties to Kentucky at out-of-state FBS schools well-positioned to recruit the commonwealth.
At Purdue, not only is Jeff Brohm head coach, but the former Louisville Cardinals quarterback and ex-Western Kentucky head man has seven assistants on his Boilermakers staff who worked for him at WKU.
At Cincinnati, not only is ex-Kentucky Wildcats head man and longtime UK assistant Joker Phillips coaching the wide receivers for Luke Fickell, but Gino Guidugli, who quarterbacked Highlands to Class 3A state championships in 1999 and 2000, is the Bearcats’ running backs coach.
Having Brohm at Purdue and Phillips at UC should heighten the chances of Kentucky high school football prospects landing FBS offers.
“I think that’s true,” said Boyle County Coach Chuck Smith, a former UK linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator. “These are guys really familiar with the state. They feel comfortable with Kentucky high school football players and what they can do at the next level. I think you’ll see those guys being in here and going at it hard.”
They already are. Of Rivals.com’s top 15 college prospects in the commonwealth for 2018, Purdue has offered more of them scholarships — eight — than any other school. Cincinnati is tied for third, having offered five of the 15.
According to the Rivals.com data base, Western Kentucky has offered seven of the 2018 in-state top 15, Louisville five and UK three (Bowling Green linebacker Justice Dingle; Waggener defensive back Jairus Brents; and Trinity wide receiver Rondale Moore).
Lexington Catholic Coach Mark Perry — a former player and graduate assistant at UK — notes that Brohm in his three years (2014-16) as WKU head man put special emphasis on recruiting the commonwealth.
“Jeff was really invested in getting players from Kentucky, and I think based on his first signing class (at Purdue), that is continuing,” Perry said.
Brohm had four Kentuckians — Ballard offensive lineman D.J. Washington; Covington Holy Cross linebacker Derrick Barnes; and wide receiver Keyron Catlett and defensive back Kenneth Major, both from Christian County — in his first Boilermakers recruiting class.
UC signed only one Kentuckian in 2017, and St. Xavier quarterback Desmond Ridder committed early to the former Bearcats coaching staff of Tommy Tuberville. Yet with four of the top-15 Rivals.com prospects in the commonwealth for 2018 from Northern Kentucky, the Bearcats would seem poised to be a bigger factor in the coming year.
Increased interest from out-of-state schools in Kentucky prospects has to have an impact on the in-state FBS programs. “I think it puts some pressure on (the in-state schools) to be very precise in their evaluations and get in on the right kids early,” Boyle County’s Smith said.
Western Kentucky has had notable successes with in-state prospects who, for whatever reasons, didn’t end up at UK or U of L.
Antonio Andrews (Fort Campbell), Anthony “Ace” Wales (Central) and Taywan Taylor (Pleasure Ridge Park) became stars at Western. Current WKU running back Quinton Baker (Ashland) might be on the same route.
Going forward, the competition for those kind of players figures to be ratcheted way up. WKU seems to recognize that, too. New Hilltoppers Coach Mike Sanford announced Friday on Twitter that Western coaches will visit all 221 Kentucky high schools that play football from April 24-28.
Kentucky and Louisville might not be as immediately imperiled by Purdue or Cincinnati. Longer term, Brohm with his entertaining offensive system could make Purdue a big recruiting threat in Kentucky if the Boilermakers program becomes upwardly mobile.
UK offensive line coach John Schlarman, who has been the primary in-state recruiter on Mark Stoops’ coaching staff in recent years, said the Wildcats do not fear added competition for homegrown players.
Since Stoops came to UK in 2013, Schlarman points out that Kentucky has fought some of the nation’s elite college football programs to keep the best in-state prospects at home — and the Cats have won their share.
“As far as (in-state recruiting) being harder now, it’s always difficult,” Schlarman said. “We want to keep the in-state talent right here, in-state. We are going to battle for these guys. So whatever competition comes in and goes to battle with us, we’re going to hit it head on.”