UK Football

Recruiting pipeline to Ohio key for Kentucky football

Vince Marrow
Vince Marrow

The name "Ohio" comes from an Iroquois Indian word meaning "great river."

Kentucky's coaches are hoping the great-river state will turn into a great football pipeline for them in the next few years.

New coach Mark Stoops, an Ohio native, mapped out his plan just weeks after he got started at UK.

"I think it's very important for us to get into Ohio, obviously southern Ohio being very, very close. We consider that local," Stoops said. "There's tremendous football being played in Ohio. We want to treat that as home base."

Much has been said about the weight a last name like "Stoops" carries in Ohio.

But don't underestimate the power of the last name "Marrow" in that talent-loaded state as well.

It's been Vince Marrow, fellow Ohio native and UK tight ends coach, who has gotten the Cats some big-time commitments in the past month, including two on Saturday alone in tight end Darryl Long and defensive end Tymere Dubose.

In all, Marrow has landed five players (other reported 2014 commitments include wide receiver Thaddeus Snodgrass, linebacker Dorian Hendrix and running back Mikel Horton) from Ohio so far.

As Marrow crisscrossed Ohio this week, he talked about the importance of getting the ball rolling in his home state, where he played high school ball with Stoops at Cardinal Mooney in Youngstown.

"A lot of these recruits, once we get them going, they've started this thing called the 'Ohio pipeline,' and the thing is once you get a couple of them guys, you can get a lot of them," Marrow told the Herald-Leader. "I've been telling kids who commit, 'Recruit the next guy.' That is our thing right now."

Marrow, who also recruits Pennsylvania, said Kentucky has been an easy sell in his home state for many reasons, including the chance to play in the Southeastern Conference.

"The SEC, let's be honest, it's the No. 1 conference right now," Marrow said. "Kids want to go and play in it."

Marrow had considerable success in Ohio when he recruited for Nebraska and that was 13 hours away. When Stoops asked Marrow to follow him to Kentucky, the former NFL tight end knew Ohio would be key.

"Ohio was so close and we have such strong roots there," Marrow said of himself and Stoops, whose father was a longtime high school coach in Ohio. "I knew we could do well in Ohio just based on how close it was."

Stoops considers Ohio so important to the success of Kentucky recruiting, he's got Marrow almost exclusively recruiting in that state.

"When Mark first got hired, one of the main things he wanted me there for was Ohio," said Marrow, who has lived in Toledo, Youngstown and Columbus (or as he notes, 75 percent of the state). "I knew my name and his name would carry some weight in Ohio. I have Ohio pretty much by myself."

Marrow's Ohio connections are key, Stoops said.

"He works at it extremely hard and he has a lot of ties to Ohio," Stoops said on a recent teleconference. "He's lived in three or four different parts of Ohio."

Like Stoops, Marrow has deep family connections in that state as well. He had two brothers, Brian and Duane, who played football at Wisconsin. Brian Marrow is the head coach at Dubose's Youngstown Christian.

Another brother Ray also has played, coached or coordinated football in one way or another for years in that state.

Marrow, who spent eight seasons as a tight end in the NFL including two Super Bowl appearances with Buffalo, has a unique ability to connect with anybody, Stoops said.

"He's very good at just building relationships," the head coach said. "He knows how we want to go about our business in recruiting, so I think just his work ethic and his ability to build some relationships are some of the best qualities he has."

It's been easy to connect with parents and players in Ohio, Marrow said. So many players from that state are similar in their values.

"It's blue collar, tight-knit, especially where we come from in Youngstown," he said. "You were surrounded by brothers and sisters, you took care of each other, you went to church on Sundays and did sports Monday through Saturday and I think that work ethic our parents taught us carried over to our love for the game."

Kentucky may not be done in Ohio yet, either. Several other names have been tied to UK in the past few weeks, including four-star wide receiver Derek Kief (former teammate of UK signee Jaleel Hytchye), four-star safety Darius West and three-star safety Mike Edwards.

No doubt Stoops would like to see that small pipeline grow into a great river for Kentucky football.

"We're going to work Ohio hard, along with Kentucky and really anything within close proximity to UK," the head coach said in December.

Teleconference leftovers

In his first SEC teleconference as a head coach, Stoops was asked about some of his running backs and their potential. Specifically he was asked how the spring went for young backs Dyshawn Mobley, Justin Taylor and Josh Clemons, who is returning after sitting out last season to rehab a torn meniscus in his right knee.

Coaches were careful not to practice the sophomore on back-to-back days during the spring.

"Josh is again a pleasant surprise," Stoops said. "Coming off a knee injury, I really was impressed with him. He also had a good spring game. ... I was happy with Josh."

It was a good spring for Mobley, a true freshman who was used sparingly last season, his coach said.

"Dyshawn, he was a good back," Stoops said. "He really did some good things. I was impressed. I feel like he's a physical guy, up about 215 pounds. He's a real physical punch and he's also got some good speed, so I was impressed with him."

Taylor, a running back who came in with Mobley last season but was redshirted, apparently has to keep improving.

"He's got a lot of work to do," Stoops said.

■ Stoops and defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot were both on hand at the NFL Draft this week to support several of their former defensive players at Florida State who were drafted, including defensive end Bjoern Werner (Colts, No. 24 pick) and cornerback Xavier Rhodes (Vikings, No. 25 pick). Other Seminoles defenders drafted include defensive end Cornellius "Tank" Carradine (49ers, No. 40 pick overall) and linebacker Brandon Jenkins (Redskins, No. 162).

"A couple of them asked me to come up and be with them," Stoops said this week. "I wanted to be there to support them and their family."

But will having so many of his former pupils drafted help him recruit at Kentucky?

"I don't know if it's a selling point or not. I'm really doing it because of my relationship with these guys," he said. "I've been with them for the past three years and really think the world of them and want nothing but success for them."

More with Warford

Kentucky's Larry Warford was drafted by the Detroit Lions on Friday in the third round of the NFL Draft, making him the first UK offensive lineman to be drafted since Todd Perry and Chuck Bradley in 1993.

But the longtime starter at right guard doesn't believe it will be another 20 years before a UK lineman's name is called.

"We've got a lot of good guys on the offensive line this year," Warford said. "We had a lot of young guys (last season) and we had to throw them in the fire right away because we were pretty thin on the offensive line. With them gaining that experience it's going to make them great players. Darrian (Miller) is going to be really good. Zach Myers and Zach West, I saw those guys play and they are going to be good ones, so I'm hoping that I won't be the last one for a while and I believe they can change that for sure."