The Independence Day commitment announcement of four-star linebacker Xavier Peters gave UK football fans cause for celebration, then concern.
Peters — a 6-foot-4, 225-pound prospect from West Chester, Ohio — was one of the Wildcats’ top recruiting targets in the class of 2018, so his July announcement via Twitter that he had committed to UK was welcome news. Less than 24 hours later, that tweet had been deleted — as had other references of a UK pledge on his Twitter profile — and the worrying in Wildcats’ circles began.
The highly touted prospect broke his silence about the situation over the weekend, telling Scout.com’s Bill Greene that he is still committed to UK but adding that he hopes to take official visits to Oregon, Penn State, Southern Cal, Tennessee and Texas.
So, it’s good news, bad news for Kentucky.
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Greene, in an interview with the Herald-Leader on Monday morning, was bullish on the Cats’ chances to hold on to their high-profile commitment. The Ohio recruiting insider said Peters’ possibility of visits elsewhere is just the reality of the current recruiting landscape.
“This is recruiting in 2017. It has changed, even in the past three to four years,” Greene said. “In the past, a committed kid taking visits to other schools was really a shocker. It’s not a shock anymore. Everybody does it. It’s a different game now. So it doesn’t surprise me that he wants to see other schools.”
Some silver lining for Kentucky …
“None of those visits are set right now, so we’ll see if he makes them,” Greene said. “I think he has a real comfort level with UK. It’s close for his parents. He mentioned his mom and his grandma being able to see him play. Well, that’s not going to happen if he goes to Texas or USC or Penn State. So I think Kentucky’s in good shape there. I really do.”
Peters plays for Lakota West High School — located just north of Cincinnati — a drive of less than two hours to Kroger Field for his family. He’s teammates with fellow UK commitment Tyler Bentley and friends with several others in the Cats’ 2018 class. UK’s current roster also features three former Lakota West players: George Asafo-Adjei, Kyle Meadows and Kayaune Ross.
Greene also mentioned Peters’ great relationship with lead recruiter Vince Marrow and emphasized the importance of that close proximity to home.
If Peters does stick with the Cats, he’ll be a high-upside addition to the roster.
Scout.com currently ranks him as the No. 203 overall prospect nationally in the 2018 class, the 11th-best senior from Ohio and the Cats’ second-best overall commitment, one spot behind Michigan lineman Marquan McCall.
Peters is making the move this season from middle linebacker to outside linebacker — Scout.com ranks him No. 16 nationally at that position — and he’s already showing marked improvement from a year ago.
“I thought, last year, he did a lot of thinking as the play was developing. I thought he might have been maybe a step slow,” Greene said. “Now, he’s got another year of experience behind him. He’s smarter, he’s older, he’s more mature. I watched him Saturday in a four-way scrimmage, and you can see it: He recognizes plays now as they’re happening, and he’s gone in a flash. He’s not thinking, he’s just reacting to what he sees. So I love seeing him play more sudden. He’s quicker, and he reads things faster.”
Peters’ blend of strength, speed and a body that Greene described as “college ready right now” has UK’s coaching staff excited for his future.
“My gosh, when he hits you, you’re going down,” Greene said. “He is a really physical kid. … The physical skills are evident.”
Vince Marrow serves as both UK’s recruiting coordinator — specializing in finding talent in his home state of Ohio — and the program’s tight ends coach.
The combination has resulted in a stable of Buckeye State natives at the position, and that’s not changing any time soon.
All three scholarship tight ends on this season team — C.J. Conrad, Greg Hart and Justin Rigg — are from Ohio, and both of the Cats’ commitments for the class of 2018 are, too.
Cincinnati standout Brenden Bates gets most of the attention at that position in the 2018 class — Rivals.com, ESPN and 247Sports all rank him as UK’s best tight end in the group — but don’t sleep on the Cats’ other commitment, Keaton Upshaw.
Scout.com actually has Upshaw — a 6-5, 230-pound prospect from Lima — one spot ahead of Bates in its tight end rankings. (They’re No. 17 and 18, respectively).
“He is physically more impressive than Bates,” Scout.com’s Bill Greene told the Herald-Leader. “He’s taller. He’s longer. I don’t know if he’s as good a football player as Bates is right now. Bates is probably a better player today, but Keaton — in about three years — might be really special.
“He is a legit 6-5, 6-6 kid. Great hands. Keaton, with that body — when you’re 6-5, 230 and can run and catch — they’re going to find a spot for him.”
Greene also had kind words for Bates, who’s also listed at 6-5 and comes from Cincinnati powerhouse Archbishop Moeller.
The Scout.com analyst called Conrad an NFL-caliber tight end “for sure,” mentioned professional football possibilities for Hart and said he’s heard good things about Rigg’s progress so far this fall.
“Kentucky does such an amazing job with their tight ends,” he said. “Bates and Upshaw will just continue what they’re doing now with these tight ends.”
Remember the name
According to the 247Sports composite rankings, UK’s top commitment from the state of Ohio isn’t four-star linebacker Xavier Peters, or four-star tight end Brenden Bates or four-star defensive lineman Alex Reigelsperger.
That honor goes instead to Cleveland offensive lineman Darian Kinnard, who isn’t mentioned nearly as often as some of his peers in the 2018 class.
Being overlooked is nothing new for the 6-7, 335-pound prospect, who didn’t start getting scholarship offers until after his junior season.
“I thought he was a big-time kid way back when, before he got his first MAC offer,” Scout.com’s Bill Greene told the Herald-Leader. “And now, I think, as people are seeing him in… it was like, ‘Wow, this guy is good.’
“I never got why he didn’t have the offers. He has the grades. He’s a great kid. He plays for a great program. It didn’t make sense to me.”
Kinnard was active on the camp circuit this spring, picked up reported offers from Penn State, UCLA and West Virginia, among others, and committed to Kentucky at the end of April.
He plays for powerhouse St. Ignatius in Cleveland — “That coaching staff is probably the best — or one of the best — in Ohio,” Greene said — and is a major pickup for UK’s 2018 class. He’s ranked as highly as No. 100 nationally (by 247Sports, which also rates him as the No. 9 offensive tackle in the class).
“He’s just a massive kid,” Greene said. “He’s really quick for his size. He’s got great footwork. He competes hard. And he’s in a program where he is being taught football at the highest level. … The ability to move at that size is really impressive. He’s a legitimate college tackle, too, where a lot of these high school tackles are actually guards when they get to college.”
Other Ohio notes
▪ It could come down to UK and Oklahoma for another talented Ohio senior. The Dayton Daily News’ recent preview of four-star recruit Leonard Taylor’s high school team — Springfield High — mentions that Taylor “appears to favor” the Cats and Sooners at this stage in his recruitment. Taylor — a 6-6 prospect who plays both sides of the ball — could be a tight end or defensive end in college. Rivals, ESPN and 247Sports all rank him as a four-star recruit. His head coach is former UK defensive back Maurice Douglass.
▪ Kentucky’s coaching staff also remains confident that the Cats can ultimately get commitments from Ohio prospects Meechi Harris and Chris Oats, the Herald-Leader was told this week. Harris — a 6-2 receiver from Xenia — is ranked by 247Sports as the No. 68 player at that position for 2018. Oats is a consensus four-star linebacker from Cincinnati, and he’s the No. 20 OLB nationally in the 247Sports composite rankings.
▪ UK already has seven commitments from Ohio for the class of 2018, one more than they signed from the state in 2017.