UK Football

Meet Kentucky’s football signees for the class of 2016

New football signees like what they're getting into at Kentucky

Incoming players say they like family feel of coaching staff and program
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Incoming players say they like family feel of coaching staff and program

The University of Kentucky officially announced its signing class of 2016 on Wednesday, and the group includes 25 players who will join the program for next season.

Here’s a quick look at each of UK’s signees:

Jaylin Bannerman

Candidate to play the “jack” linebacker position. His frame — including a near-7-foot wingspan — and raw athleticism have drawn early (though probably unfair) comparisons to recent UK great Bud Dupree. “(He) can rush the heck out of the passer,” Coach Mark Stoops said Wednesday.

Jordan Bonner

An important late addition to UK’s class, Bonner chose the Wildcats over offers from Tennessee, Nebraska, Virginia Tech and others. He’s capable of playing multiple positions on defense and has the potential to make an instant impact as a pass rusher.

T.J. Carter

Unranked by any of the major recruiting services when he committed to UK last week, Carter’s reputation has grown as more analysts see his film. ESPN now ranks the physically impressive defensive end as the 11th-best prospect in UK’s class. “He’s going to be a heck of a football player we couldn’t pass up on,” Stoops said.

Ja’Quize Cross

UK extended a scholarship offer after Cross’s impressive camp performance in Lexington last summer. He had a handful of Big Ten offers at the time. Cross should give the Cats more depth on the interior of the defensive line for future seasons.

Kash Daniel

Kentucky’s Mr. Football went from relative unknown to national recruit in a matter of weeks. Michigan extended a late scholarship offer to Daniel, who probably would have had many more had he not been so openly loyal to the Cats. Could have an instant impact. “He’s a guy that I think this whole community is going to come to love,” Stoops said. “Our whole state’s going to love him.”

Luke Fortner

The oft-overlooked recruit in UK’s four-man offensive line class, Fortner is nonetheless a talented prospect who is a proven commodity at the center position. He’ll almost certainly redshirt in 2016 and provide interior depth down the road.

Tobias Gilliam

He committed to the Cats one week after national signing day 2015 and has stayed loyal despite serious interest from several major programs. Rivals.com ranks him as a high-three-star player and the No. 46 cornerback in the country.

Jordan Griffin

UK’s only Rivals 250 signee other than Landon Young. Griffin attended the Cats’ home upset of South Carolina in 2014 and committed that night. Auburn tried to flip him late. Holding on to his commitment was one of UK’s biggest recruiting victories for 2016. “Teams were not letting up,” Stoops said. “It was relentless pressure. ... (His family) was just getting absolutely hounded.”

Gunnar Hoak

ESPN ranks Hoak as the No. 14 pro-style quarterback nationally. He enrolled at UK last month and will be with the team for spring practice, where he’ll be given an opportunity to compete for playing time. “Our receivers have been out throwing with him and they said he can spin the heck out of the ball,” Stoops said. “He’s a guy we’re very excited about. ... I’m excited to get out there this spring and see what he can do, compete for playing time.”

Dakota Holtzclaw

Another early enrollee in UK’s class, Holtzclaw has tremendous size at 6-foot-7. He was recruited as a wide receiver, but there’s a chance he could move to the tight end position at some point (and that’s where many scouts have said he’d fit best).

Zy’Aire Hughes

One of the earliest commitments in UK’s class. Listed by many websites as an “athlete,” Hughes is expected to be a wide receiver at Kentucky. He’s an athletic prospect who played several positions for McCracken County High School. “We expect to get him the football, and we expect him to change some digits on the scoreboard and score some points for us,” Stoops said.

Drake Jackson

Regarded as one of the best centers in the nation, Jackson was one of the most vocal leaders in UK’s class throughout the recruiting process and had several offers from elite schools. “He plays with a healthy degree of nastiness,” said Rivals.com’s Josh Helmholdt. Stoops agrees: “He wants to maul you, and that’s what you want.”

Stephen Johnson II

A late addition to UK’s class from the junior-college ranks, Johnson won conference player of the year honors this past season and will compete for the starting QB job this spring. He’ll probably be no lower than No. 2 on UK’s depth chart in 2016. “He came here to win that job,” Stoops said. “He’s going to go out there and compete for it.”

Tate Leavitt

Expected to be the biggest instant-impact player in this class, Leavitt chose UK over scholarship offers from Alabama, Auburn, Oklahoma and several other top schools. The junior-college transfer is projected to be one of UK’s starting tackles this fall.

Kordell Looney

Under the radar but highly regarded by UK’s coaching staff, Looney rebuffed a late run by Louisville to stick with his commitment to the Cats. Didn’t play much football until junior season of high school and has lots of upside.

Grant McKinniss

He’s likely to be UK’s starting punter this season following the departure of senior Landon Foster. Scout.com ranks McKinniss as the No. 4 punter nationally in the class of 2016. He averaged 39.4 yards per punt and booted a 52-yard field goal this past season.

Naquez Pringle

He had offers from Clemson and South Carolina out of high school before being forced to go the junior-college route. Pringle is a big body who should be able to make an immediate contribution as a defensive tackle this fall. “We needed that depth at nose guard in particular,” Stoops said. “For him to come in and compete with Matt (Elam) is important.”

Justin Rigg

Rigg is known as a tremendous blocker at the tight end position (so much so that some see him as an offensive lineman down the road). 247Sports ranks him as the No. 47 tight end nationally for the class of 2016.

Davonte Robinson

Probably under-ranked by the recruiting services — largely because he doesn’t often participate in all-star camps — Robinson was recruited by Alabama, Florida State, Notre Dame and Ohio State but chose to stick with UK. Track-star speed with great size for a cornerback. “Everybody that sees him play, it’s a no-brainer,” Stoops said. “He can play just about anywhere in the country.”

A.J. Rose

Rivals.com ranks Rose as the No. 25 running back nationally in the class of 2016. He’s a tremendous athlete and several schools recruited him as a defensive player (including Ohio State). As a RB, he can run, catch and block. Still a little raw with lots of upside.

Kayaune Ross

Junior-college transfer could be an immediate contributor at wide receiver this fall. He has great size and length for the position and has improved dramatically as a pass-catcher since his high school days in Ohio. “He’s a monster,” Stoops said. “He looks like a cheetah out there.”

Benny Snell

He ran for 26 touchdowns and more than 1,800 yards as a senior despite some injury troubles late in the season. Scout.com ranks him as the No. 39 running back in the country. Snell describes himself as an “all-around” running back.

Roland Walder

The first Ohioan to join UK’s class, Walder committed to the Cats in October 2014. A versatile prospect, he played several positions at his high school and is ranked by 247Sports as the No. 28 ILB in the class. Rivals.com pegs him as the No. 40 OLB nationally.

Jamar Watson

He started his football career just two seasons ago and quickly emerged as a Division I prospect. Scout.com ranks him among the top 100 outside linebackers in the class. His nickname is “Boogie.” ... “He can go,” Stoops said. “He’s an electric outside backer.”

Landon Young

The first five-star player to sign with UK, according to the Rivals rankings. Young is ranked by 247Sports as the No. 12 overall player and No. 3 O-lineman in the country. He’s expected to compete right away for playing time at offensive tackle. “Landon is most definitely one of the more talented true freshmen I’ve been around in any school,” Stoops said.

Ben Roberts: 859-231-3216, @NextCats

Kentucky’s class of 2016 signees

Player

Pos.

Ht.

Wt.

Hometown

Rivals

Scout

ESPN

247

Jaylin Bannerman

LB

6-5

220

Pickerington, Ohio

Jordan Bonner*

LB

6-5

220

Lyndhurst, Ohio

T.J. Carter

DE

6-4

245

Mableton, Ga.

Ja’Quize Cross

DT

6-3

315

New Market, Ala.

Kash Daniel

LB

6-1

235

Paintsville, Ky.

Luke Fortner

OL

6-6

305

Sylvania, Ohio

Tobias Gilliam

CB

5-11

190

Huber Heights, Ohio

Jordan Griffin

CB

6-0

175

Jonesboro, Ga.

Gunnar Hoak

QB

6-4

190

Dublin, Ohio

Dakota Holtzclaw

WR

6-7

215

Columbus, Ohio

Zy’Aire Hughes

ATH

6-1

190

Paducah, Ky.

Drake Jackson

OL

6-2

302

Versailles, Ky.

Stephen Johnson II*

QB

6-3

190

Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.

Tate Leavitt*

OL

6-6

310

Thornville, Ohio

Kordell Looney

DT

6-3

285

Springfield, Ohio

Grant McKinniss

P

6-1

210

Findlay, Ohio

Naquez Pringle*

DT

6-2

330

Hemingway, S.C.

Justin Rigg

TE

6-6

245

Springboro, Ohio

Davonte Robinson

CB

6-2

180

Lexington, Ky.

A.J. Rose

RB

6-1

200

Garfield Heights, Ohio

Kayaune Ross*

WR

6-6

225

West Chester, Ohio

Benny Snell

RB

5-11

220

Westerville, Ohio

Roland Walder

LB

6-3

215

Trotwood, Ohio

Jamar Watson

LB

6-3

225

Forestville, Md.

Landon Young

OL

6-7

305

Lexington, Ky.

* Junior-college transfer

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