UK Football

Mark Story: Football buzz hits critical mass

UK head coach Mark Stoops stalks the field during the game. The University of Kentucky hosted its Blue/White Spring Scrimmage  Saturday, April 13, 2013 at the Commonwealth Stadium. Photo by Jonathan Palmer
UK head coach Mark Stoops stalks the field during the game. The University of Kentucky hosted its Blue/White Spring Scrimmage Saturday, April 13, 2013 at the Commonwealth Stadium. Photo by Jonathan Palmer Jonathan Palmer

Quick hitters from the line to see Man of Steel:

21. Mark Stoops. When people say the new Kentucky football coach has the Wildcats recruiting at a whole different level, that now has multiple meanings.

20. No. 2 nationally. With 17 current commitments for 2014, including five rated as four-star prospects by recruiting service, the UK class has been ranked as high as No. 2 in the country in the Rivals team ratings (which literally change with every new commitment that comes in).

19. Best buzz for UK football since (fill in the blank)? The excitement generated by the recruiting success of Stoops and Co. has created the most upbeat feelings toward Kentucky football since, I would argue, one particular week in 2007.

18. Oct. 13-20, 2007. From Saturday to Saturday, Rich Brooks' Wildcats upset No. 1-ranked LSU in triple overtime, rose to No. 8 in the AP rankings and had ESPN's College GameDay come to Lexington for the Cats' duel with No. 14 Florida and its sophomore quarterback, Tim Tebow — which the Gators won 45-37.

17. A middle-school recruiting service? A second way in which Stoops has Kentucky recruiting at a "different level" became public last week when reported that UK had offered a football scholarship to Jairus Brents, a seventh-grade cornerback from New Albany, Ind.

16. Becoming a trend? Amazingly, UK appears not even to be on the cutting edge at the moment in trying to break into the middle-school football talent pool.

15. Southern Cal. Lane Kiffin, who offered a scholarship to a seventh-grade quarterback (David Sills) in 2010 and then accepted the player's commitment, is back at it. He offered eighth-grade wideout Nathan Tilford recently.

14. UCLA. Not to be out-done by his cross-town rival, UCLA Coach Jim Mora Jr. extended a scholarship offer to Texas eighth-grade QB Liddell Stone.

13. The mac daddy of all middle-school recruiting battles. Then there is Dylan Moses, a 6-foot-2, 225-pound, football wunderkind from Louisiana. Before he's even entered high school, Moses already has offers from LSU, Alabama, Florida and Texas, among others.

12. Bad idea. I've all but lost my capacity to be outraged by the excesses of college sports recruiting, but making middle school kids the focus of the recruiting circus seems dubious to me on several fronts.

11. Creates sense of entitlement. It's bad enough when the recruiting process swells the heads of high school kids, so is there any reason to think 13-year-olds are ready to handle it?

10. Too much pressure on kids. Do we really want kids to spend their whole high school experience carrying the expectation burden one faces when one becomes a "Texas recruit?"

9. Evaluation mistakes. The earlier in the maturation process of a teen that colleges move the evaluation process, the more likely there are to be recruiting mistakes. Kids mature at wildly different levels. The top athletes when a class is in the eighth grade may not be close to the best by the time the class hits its senior year.

8. Billy Gillispie. In a different sport, Kentucky fans got a warning of what can go wrong when the former (2007-09) UK basketball coach tried to jump start the Wildcats' recruiting by taking early commitments from young players.

7. Vinny Zollo then. Committed to Gillispie and Kentucky in 2008 — in May of his freshman year.

6. Vinny Zollo now. Before he's played his second season of college basketball, Zollo is already at his third school, Northwest Florida State College, after also attending Western Kentucky (averaged 3.7 points and 2.9 rebounds as a freshman) and Furman (stayed one semester after transferring from WKU).

5. Dakotah Euton then. Committed to Gillispie and Kentucky in June 2007, the summer between his freshman and sophomore years of high school.

4. Dakotah Euton now. Averaged 10 points and six rebounds last season as a junior at Asbury of the NAIA.

3. Michael Avery then. Committed to Gillispie and Kentucky in 2008, in May of his eighth-grade year.

2. Michael Avery now. Averaged 1.8 points last season as a freshman at NCAA Division II Sonoma State.

1. Moral of the story: Tim Salter is the head coach of the high school where Southern Cal eighth-grade recruit Nathan Tilford is expected to play: "I would like for the young man to enjoy his high school experience before he has to worry about what college to go to," Salter told The Los Angeles Times.


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