Kentucky's Mark Stoops already looking ahead after another impressive signing day
Shortly after arriving at the University of Kentucky a few weeks ago, new co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw had a conversation with Coach Mark Stoops about the program’s quarterback situation.
The departures of Patrick Towles and Reese Phillips left Drew Barker as the Cats’ only returning quarterback to go along with incoming freshman Gunnar Hoak. Stoops told Hinshaw he wanted to add another “older guy” at the position, and Hinshaw went to work.
He said Wednesday that he looked at about 30 junior-college quarterbacks.
“A lot of them were not what I wanted,” Hinshaw said.
Then he and offensive coordinator Eddie Gran watched Stephen Johnson II’s highlight tape and were intrigued. Hinshaw asked Johnson’s quarterbacks coach for more film.
“And that made me even more fired up,” he said. “Coach Gran had looked at it. And we said, ‘Hey, I think this could be our guy.’ And then we found out about his character and everything else. And I was really excited about that.”
Johnson enrolled early at UK and will be with the Cats for spring practice. National signing day Wednesday was the first day UK’s coaches could talk about him.
Stoops says the 6-foot-3 junior came to Lexington to win the starting job, and he will be given a chance to do so. Hinshaw said he’s a great blend of talent and character.
“Everybody I talked to said he was an unbelievable human being, on and off the field,” he said. “And that was extremely important to me. No. 2 was his motion. I wanted to see multiple throwing angles of how he throws the football. Why did he throw the ball for over 300 yards a game in junior college? That’s how I know — be able to get the right angles and see that. And then his athleticism and how he runs around and all that.
“And he’s also able to sit in the pocket and pick defenses apart.”
Johnson, who won conference player of the year honors last season playing at 175 to 180 pounds, has acknowledged he needs to put on weight, especially with his penchant for running the football.
Hinshaw said he wants Johnson to play at about 190 to 195 pounds, and he doesn’t think that will be a problem with UK’s nutrition and weight training programs to support Johnson and several months to go before the season begins.
“Putting on weight is a lot easier than you think,” Hinshaw said. “That’s not unreasonable to do with his frame.”
During the program’s signing day show Wednesday morning, UK radio analyst and former player Jeff Piecoro said signee Kash Daniel was a little “meaner” and “nastier” at the linebacker position than former Wildcat Jeff Snedegar.
That’s saying something, considering the UK fan favorite was about as nasty as they come on the field.
Piecoro elaborated on that comment later in the day in an interview with the Herald-Leader.
“I think Kash Daniel has more athletic ability than Jeff did,” Piecoro said. “Jeff was kind of out of position, and he had to take a lot of chances. He was kind of a wild man out there on the field. ... He was fun to watch and he was a nice player. But I think Kash can be a special player. I just think he’s better athletically than Jeff was.”
Piecoro cited Snedegar and former UK defensive end Cam Jacobs as guys who stepped up, worked harder than everyone else and made it work despite not being prototypical players for their positions. He said Daniel shares that do-anything mentality and called him “a real linebacker,” pointing out that Daniel already looks the part straight out of high school.
Daniel — coming from Class A Paintsville High — also has a chip on his shoulder. That’s a good thing, Piecoro says.
“I think he’s got that mean streak about him,” he said. “Football is a rough, rugged, dangerous sport, and you’ve got to be crazy to play it. And he has got that ‘it’ factor. It’s just like, ‘Hey, I’ll do whatever it takes to win.’ And that’s the kind of guys you want in your program. And I think he’s going to be a great player here for Kentucky.”
Stoops’ best class
Mark Stoops was asked Wednesday whether this recruiting class was his best yet at Kentucky. He did not equivocate.
“I definitely do,” he said. “I feel that way. I don’t know where the numbers stack up. I don’t really care. From my point of view, absolutely top to bottom, I feel like it’s the most solid group.”
The numbers, according to Rivals.com, say UK’s 2014 class is still the best. That class, which included players such as Boom Williams, Drew Barker and C.J. Johnson, was ranked No. 17 nationally. The 2016 recruiting class was ranked No. 29 nationally and 10th in the SEC as of Wednesday night.
“Take a good look around at our league,” Stoops said. “The good thing is, wherever you slot us, nine, 10, whatever in the SEC, it’s a lot closer than being way off. You know what I mean? The balance is getting closer.”
UK’s recruiting classes were ranked 62nd and 61st nationally in the two seasons before Stoops took over the program.
Off the radar
Though you never can say never when it comes to football recruiting, there were no indications from UK coaches Wednesday that they’re planning to add any other players to this 25-man signing class.
Two prospects mentioned as possible late additions — defensive ends KaDerrion Mason and Jaquwan Nelson — signed elsewhere. Mason is headed to Louisiana Tech, and Nelson signed with Syracuse.
Rivals.com class rankings
2. Florida State
3. Ohio State
8. Southern Cal
12. Notre Dame
16. Texas A&M
20. Michigan State
21. Texas Christian
23. Penn State
24. North Carolina
26. South Carolina
Note: Rankings as of 10:30 p.m. Wednesday.