A couple of months ago, Kentucky’s football program pulled off a recruiting coup with the early commitment of four-star defensive back Keontra Smith, a seemingly can’t-miss talent from the state of Florida with a long list of big-time scholarship offers.
Smith’s reputation has only grown in the short amount of time since that pledge.
Rivals.com released its first Top 250 national player rankings for the 2019 class two weeks ago, and Smith’s name was on the list as the No. 209 overall prospect nationally and the 19th-best cornerback.
“We’re high on him,” Rivals.com analyst Rob Cassidy told the Herald-Leader. “He’s a thick kid that plays corner and plays corner at a very high-level school. … Just look at the kids he goes up against. He matches up with Xavier Williams, who’s going to Alabama, every day in practice. He gets to cover kids like Shaun Shivers, who is committed to Auburn, every day in practice.”
Smith — listed at 5-foot-11 and 200 pounds — is a junior at Chaminade-Madonna Prep in Hollywood, Fla., and his team is the early favorite to win the state’s 3A title. As Cassidy mentioned, it’s a talented squad with some dynamic offensive players, including Williams and Shivers. The recruiting analyst also said that Smith plays against elite-level competition on the 7-on-7 summer circuit in Florida, yet another forum to hone his skills against the best.
“And he’s always looked great,” Cassidy said. “He’s a year younger than these guys, and he doesn’t look out of place at all. And that’s against guys that are going to be playing at Alabama and other big places next year.”
Smith’s continued development is great news for Kentucky … for now.
As is always the case with early football commitments — especially from high-profile players — minds and plans can change in a hurry. Smith had reported scholarship offers from Auburn, Oklahoma, Miami, Oregon, Louisville and others at the time of his commitment to the Cats. He’s received an offer from Florida since then.
In a recent Rivals.com story predicting possible future decommitments, Cassidy mentioned Smith’s name.
“That’s how it is with all Florida kids though, to different extents,” he told the Herald-Leader. “Kentucky has had a little run of this in the past few years, where they’ll get a high-profile kid and then they have to guard him. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.
“I think Smith is one who is going to see a lot more offers. Whether that piques his interest, I have no way of predicting. But I think there will be other schools that come calling.”
One big factor in UK’s favor: the pipeline the program has built into Chaminade-Madonna, which is one of the top football schools in south Florida at the moment.
Two UK freshman this season — Josh Ali and Chris Whittaker — played there last fall. Three of the Cats’ commitments for the 2018 class — Marvin Alexander, Davoan Hawkins and Akeem Hayes — will be Smith’s teammates this season. (The Cats are also actively recruiting Shivers, a running back committed to Auburn.)
Cassidy said that having all of those UK connections around “100 percent helps” as the Cats try to hold on to Smith’s commitment over the next year and a half.
“You know how it works. When you’re an athlete, you have a bond with your teammates, and you don’t want to let those guys down,” he said. “So, if they can keep that group intact, I think it creates a tidal wave.”
More on Florida
UK has hit the Sunshine State hard in recruiting lately.
Eight of the Wildcats’ signees in the 2017 class were from Florida, and the state is already responsible for five of UK’s 18 pledges for next year.
As Rivals.com Rob Cassidy mentioned earlier, it helps to get into schools like Chaminade-Madonna and pull out multiple talented guys. Those relationships can also bleed into other power programs, due to how the Florida offseason is structured.
Recent UK commitment Stanley Garner, for instance, isn’t a Chaminade-Madonna player — he goes to Dillard High (the alma mater of UK freshman Jordan Wright) in nearby Fort Lauderdale — but he knows a lot of other area players through their time together on the 7-on-7 circuit.
“There’s a certain clique of dudes in Florida that all play 7-on-7,” Cassidy said. “All of these guys know each other because they play 7-on-7 every single weekend. It’s different here than in a lot of other states. This is life in the offseason. And the kids that they have in the fold — Garner and (Keontra) Smith are two of them — they know so many other kids at the other elite high schools, too, because they all play on different 7-on-7 teams together.
“So if you can get a few commits, it can create a domino effect.”
That domino effect can also spill over into other classes, and Smith could be the first step toward another large Florida contingent in UK’s 2019 recruiting class.
“They’ve targeted those kind of kids, whether it’s been accidentally or not,” Cassidy said. “And if you get those guys in the fold, you can see that kind of spread.”
Keep an eye on OSU?
Scout.com recruiting analyst Bill Greene (an expert on all things Ohio football) spoke to the Herald-Leader last week about four-star linebacker Xavier Peters, one of UK’s highest-profile commitments for 2018.
Peters’ seriousness about his July 4 commitment had been questioned, but the Ohio native reiterated to Greene in a recent interview that he remains pledged to UK, although he did say he hopes to visit Oregon, Penn State, Southern Cal, Tennessee and Texas.
Ohio State has also been mentioned behind the scenes as a possible player for Peters.
Should UK be worried about the Buckeyes?
“You never know with them, because a lot of times they seem to reassess their situation later in the year,” Greene told the Herald-Leader. “So it could happen late in the game, but I don’t think so.”
One of the top reasons OSU might not seriously pursue Peters? Numbers.
The Buckeyes already have three linebackers committed for the 2018 class, and all of them are top 10 prospects at their position. UK fans might want to hope they all stay committed.
“I think three was the plan this year, and they’ve got their three,” Greene said. “But, again, you never know with Urban Meyer. He might get more room than he thought he had. He might watch senior film of Xavier Peters and think, ‘Wow, this guy’s a lot better than what I thought he was. We gotta get this guy.’ But, right now, I would say no. I think they’re set at linebacker and I think they’re happy with what they have.”
A reminder that four-star wide receiver L’Christian “Blue” Smith is set to make his college announcement during his team’s game Sunday, which will be televised live on ESPN at 1:30 p.m.
Smith — the No. 29 recruit nationally in the Rivals.com rankings — is expected to pick either Kentucky or Ohio State, but the Buckeyes seem to have all of the momentum going into the weekend. He’d be the top-ranked player in UK’s class if he pulls a surprise and picks the Wildcats.
▪ If Smith doesn’t pick UK, three-star wide receiver Meechi Harris might be the most likely player to join the Wildcats’ 2018 class next. Scout.com recruiting analyst Bill Greene recently logged a pro-UK pick on Harris’ Crystal Ball page, and 247Sports national analyst Steve Wiltfong is also picking Harris to the Cats. The 6-2 receiver from Xenia, Ohio has not announced a timetable for his commitment.
▪ Want to watch an area player with a UK offer Friday night? Class of 2019 wide receiver Wandale Robinson and Western Hills host Estill County at 7:30 p.m. Class of 2019 offensive lineman Bryan Hudson and Scott County play at Lafayette at 9 p.m. Class of 2020 QB Beau Allen will lead Lexington Catholic against visiting Covington Catholic at 8:45 p.m.