Though Kentucky football recruiting guru Vince Marrow is listed as the primary recruiter for new Wildcats offensive lineman Tate Leavitt, there’s another member of the coaching staff that has already formed a close bond with the junior-college transfer.
Leavitt — a 6-foot-6, 310-pound prospect from Thornville, Ohio — has spent the past two seasons at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas. He committed to Kentucky last July, and in the days before he made that decision he told the Herald-Leader that he had really “hit it off” with offensive line coach John Schlarman.
Shortly after UK announced its 25-player signing class Wednesday, Schlarman recalled his first meeting with Leavitt.
“When we first sat down and started talking offensive line play, I think we just hit it off,” he said. “I think we’re both the type of guys that could sit there and draw up plays and talk football and watch film for a long time. He seems to have a personality kind of like mine. So I think that probably went a long way with him. And our group — the offensive line is different, it’s different. You have to feel a great relationship with your coach. You have to feel a great relationship with the guys around you, because it’s a group. It’s not a position where you can be an individual. It’s a position where you’re a part of a bigger picture. And that mentality is what we’re trying to recruit here.
“You want those types of guys that are team players on your offensive line. It means more to be part of that fist than to be a finger. So, I’m excited about him.”
So is Coach Mark Stoops, who cautioned fans to “put the brakes on a bit” in regards to expectations surrounding UK’s highly touted offensive line class that also includes five-star tackle Landon Young, four-star center Drake Jackson and three-star center Luke Fortner.
There’s definitely a high level of expectations there. Now he has to come in and earn it. He’s got to come in and go to work.
John Schlarman, UK offensive line coach
Those three players are all high schoolers, and while Young and Jackson in particular are expected to compete for immediate playing time this season, it’s rare for true freshmen to play right away on the offensive line in the Southeastern Conference.
There are different expectations for Leavitt, who Rivals.com ranked as the No. 3 offensive tackle in the junior-college ranks. “We expect him to come in and be ready to play,” Stoops said.
Schlarman, who was a four-year starter at offensive lineman for the Wildcats from 1994-97, echoed those high expectations. He called Leavitt a “very athletic” prospect who can definitely play the left tackle position and works hard in the weight room and the film room. “Trains hard. Studies the game. And that’s what you want,” he said.
UK is losing a starting offensive tackle in Jordan Swindle, and Leavitt didn’t turn down scholarship offers from Alabama, Auburn and Oklahoma to come to Lexington and stand on the sidelines.
“It’s the first junior-college player we’ve signed on the offensive line,” Schlarman said. “When you sign a junior-college guy, they’re two years older and you expect them to come in and be able to compete for a job. So there’s definitely a high level of expectations there. Now he has to come in and earn it. He’s got to come in and go to work, which he’s done so far in January. And I’m looking forward to seeing him get into pads and seeing what he can do this spring.”