A scan of UK’s football recruiting class of 2018 reveals another geographically diverse group for the Wildcats.
There are seven commitments from Ohio, the program’s go-to state for recruiting. Florida, a place where UK has had so much success recently, is responsible for five future Cats.
Michigan and Georgia have produced two UK commitments each, and South Carolina and Tennessee will send one player apiece to Lexington next year.
That’s 18 commitments spread across six states, but there’s one glaring omission from that list.
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As of now, UK has zero football commitments from the state of Kentucky.
If that doesn’t change before the end of the 2018 cycle, it will likely be the first time ever that the program doesn’t bring in at least one in-state, scholarship freshman.
A look through every UK football media guide in the university’s archives — those guides date back to 1939 — shows that every Wildcats’ signing class has included at least one player from the state.
Options are running out to keep that streak alive.
The only uncommitted 2018 prospect in 247Sports.com’s Top 10 composite rankings for the state of Kentucky is Waggener defensive back Jairus Brents, who received a scholarship offer from UK in the seventh grade but has given no recent indications that the Cats are at or near the top of his list.
Striking out on in-state recruits in the 2018 class would be an anomaly for this coaching staff, which has made keeping Kentucky’s best players at home a major priority.
A few weeks after Mark Stoops took over the program, the Cats fought off serious out-of-state competition to sign highly touted recruits Jason Hatcher and Ryan Timmons. They later did the same for such prospects as Drew Barker, Eli Brown and Matt Elam before landing the celebrated in-state quintet of Kash Daniel, Zy’Aire Hughes, Drake Jackson, Davonte Robinson and Landon Young in 2016.
There are a few reasons UK might not sign anyone from the state in this cycle.
One, the Cats didn’t cast a very wide net.
Brents, Bowling Green linebacker Justice Dingle and Trinity wide receiver Rondale Moore are the only three players in the class known to have official scholarship offers from UK. Dingle recently picked Georgia Tech over Purdue, citing the school’s computer science program as a major reason for his decision. Moore committed to Texas in June after having a breakthrough summer on the camp circuit. 247Sports now ranks him as a Top 100 recruit nationally.
It’s also worth noting that all three of those players transferred to Kentucky high schools from other states. Brents was a middle-schooler in New Albany, Ind., when he received his UK offer. Moore is also from New Albany, and Dingle moved to Kentucky from Tennessee prior to last season.
UK took hard looks at other highly touted players in the class, too. Offensive linemen Wyatt Smock (Vanderbilt) and Trey Livingood (Marshall) visited UK but didn’t get scholarship offers from the Cats. Same for Paintsville defensive tackle Tyrese Allen, who committed to West Virginia in April.
Kentucky’s coaches were monitoring the progress of Doss wide receiver Terez Traynor — who suffered a broken leg this summer — for the possibility of an official scholarship offer before he announced his commitment to Western Kentucky earlier this month. In all of those cases, UK chose to prioritize other players from other states.
It’s hard to fault that strategy, with the Cats’ two most recent commitments — Florida defensive backs Jamari Brown and Stanley Garner — pushing UK’s recruiting class to No. 14 nationally in the Rivals.com rankings.
This 2018 class could end up in the discussion for Stoops’ best yet at Kentucky, it just might not include any scholarship players from the state.
That could still change.
Brents, who has been quiet about his recruitment altogether, could ultimately pick the Cats. Or UK could flip an already-committed recruit like Moore, who is likely to keep hearing from Kentucky up until signing day. Or perhaps an in-state player not currently on the radar could have a stellar senior season and earn a late offer from the Wildcats.
“We’ve not taken anything for granted with in-state guys,” UK assistant coach John Schlarman told the Herald-Leader on national signing day this year. “We offer guys when we’re ready to offer and accept their commitment. And Coach Stoops has stood by that all the way and been up front and honest with everybody every step of the way.
“And sometimes that means telling a kid we’re not offering them, but it’s the truth. We’re being honest and up-front with everybody in the process, and I think that’s meant a lot to in-state coaches, families and players.”
Ditto for Louisville
Kentucky doesn’t have any in-state commitments for the 2018 class. Neither does Louisville.
The Cardinals have 16 commitments so far for next year, and they’re flirting with a Top 25 class nationally, but none of those pledges are from inside the state. Nine are from Florida.
U of L’s lack of in-state commitments isn’t nearly as strange as UK’s. The Cardinals signed only one Kentuckian in the 2017 class — Belfry offensive lineman Cole Bentley — and the Cards had zero signees from the state in 2015.
▪ Former Western Kentucky head coach and U of L assistant Jeff Brohm is expected to seriously target the state of Kentucky in his future recruiting efforts. The Boliermakers already have commitments from four Kentucky prospects in the class of 2018: offensive linemen Charles Allen (Doss) and Will Bramel (Boyle County), and defensive backs Kadin Smith (Spencer County) and Cory Trice (Christian County).
In-state recruiting at UK is a team effort, with Mark Stoops and various position coaches often playing a large role in the recruitment of specific players, but Wildcats offensive line coach John Schlarman handles a lot of those duties and has largely been the face of the program’s in-state efforts.
Schlarman — a Kentucky native and former UK offensive lineman — is, along with Vince Marrow, the only assistant coach who has been at the school for Stoops’ entire tenure. His popularity hasn’t waned, especially with players in his position group.
After offensive coordinator Neal Brown left UK following the 2014 season, local four-star offensive lineman Drake Jackson told the Herald-Leader that — while he liked Brown — it wouldn’t affect his recruitment. He said if Schlarman were to leave the program, that could have a major impact on his decision. Schlarman stayed, and Jackson committed to UK a few weeks later.
Last week, Scott County offensive lineman Bryan Hudson said something similar.
Asked to follow up on a recent interview he did with 247Sports — telling that outlet that Alabama, Louisiana State, Ohio State and Tennessee were at the top of his list — the four-star lineman from the 2019 class clarified to the Herald-Leader that he also considered UK to be in that tier.
“As long as Coach Schlarman is there they will be at the top,” Hudson said.
In the Stoops era, UK has signed four in-state offensive linemen: Belfry’s Austin Dotson, Henderson County’s Mason Wolfe, Lafayette’s Landon Young and Woodford County’s Jackson. The Cats are hoping to add Hudson to that list.
Another to watch
Bryan Hudson has been on UK’s recruiting radar since earning a scholarship offer more than a year ago, but another in-state lineman has since emerged as a major target for 2019.
Glasgow offensive tackle Tanner Bowles is ranked by 247Sports as the No. 161 overall recruit nationally and the No. 20 player at his position. UK extended a scholarship offer back in December, and Louisville, Tennessee and LSU have all followed suit with offers since.
Bowles’ older brother Hunter played at Louisville, but he’s taking the Cats seriously.
He has attended camps at UK and recently told Cats Illustrated that he considers John Schlarman to be an “tremendous” coach. Alabama is among the other programs keeping tabs on Bowles.
▪ Two of the top in-state players for the 2019 class are already committed. Trinity’s Stephen Herron picked Michigan, and South Warren’s Jacob Lacey is headed to Notre Dame. Both are four-star defensive linemen, and both had UK offers. (Worth noting that — like Jairus Brents and Rondale Moore — Herron came to Kentucky from New Albany, Ind.). In addition to Bowles and Hudson, the Cats have reportedly offered Western Hills athlete Wandale Robinsin, Louisville Christian athlete Milton Wright and Doss defensive lineman Shawnkel Knight-Goff, also in the 2019 class.
UK’s in-state football commitments in the Mark Stoops era