The recruiting headlines this offseason haven’t been the good kind of splashy for Kentucky.
The Cats have seen a once elite-level 2017 class lose some important names, including quarterback Mac Jones, to Southeastern Conference foe Alabama.
Other defections include highly touted Ohio teammates James Hudson and Michael Warren as well as Russ Yeast, the son of former UK wide receiver Craig Yeast.
Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops said he wasn’t going to panic over losses on the recruiting trail.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
“We still love any guys that decommitted or whatever,” Stoops said to a group of select media at SEC Media Days on Wednesday. “Listen, I want our fans to embrace them. They’re good people. These are hard decisions for these kids. They get pulled a million different directions. We try to have an approach where you don’t put a lot of pressure on guys, but let’s face it there’s pressure. There’s pressure on these recruits.
“It’s our job to make it very difficult for them to say no to Kentucky. I don’t think anybody made these decisions very lightly. They still have great respect and feeling for Kentucky. We still love — anybody that we’re recruiting we believe in whether that’s a decommit or anybody else out there that we’re recruiting.”
The Cats’ class is now ranked No. 40 nationally according to Rivals.com, among the lowest among conference contenders.
And while losing a player at a leadership position like quarterback is difficult, Stoops said it’s not just about one player.
“No one player, no one coach, no one person is going to affect the outcome of this program and where we go,” he said. “Certain positions are very important. Certain skill positions are very important and certain defensive linemen are very important. Those are guys that you really have to battle for and work for to get the right ones.”
Bonner won’t arrive until August
It was expected that an offseason stabbing incident was going to delay Jordan Bonner’s arrival at Kentucky to late June, but that timeline has been extended to August now, Stoops said Wednesday.
The Cats’ coach called it an academic setback directly related to the incident March 19 when he was stabbed in the chest, back and abdomen.
“He had to finish up a couple more classes,” Stoops said. “There were a couple classes that he actually had to drop because he couldn’t catch up because of the injury.”
The 6-foot-5, 220-pound junior-college sophomore had 37 tackles including 10 for loss and seven sacks last season at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College.
As far as Bonner’s health and whether he will be able to play this season, Stoops said the linebacker will get a full physical when he gets to UK.
Elam ‘looking a lot better’
Junior defensive tackle Matt Elam and his battle with weight has become a yearly discussion.
Saying he didn’t want to pile on Elam, Stoops wasn’t ready to discuss numbers, but he thinks they’re on the right path.
“I don’t want to jinx him right now and tell you any weights or anything like that, but he’s looking a lot better and he’s been very serious in approaching that in the right way,” Stoops said of the 6-foot-7 player listed at 360 pounds in the new media guide. “He is a great kid. He wants to do well. …
“We all have imperfections and he’s working extremely hard to get his under control and play the very best he can.”
The staff is working with Elam to get through some of those “imperfections,” which seem to include his calorie intake.
“He’s a hard-working guy and he’s talented, but he does have to get the eating under control and make sure he’s staying at the appropriate weight,” Stoops said of Elam, who is penciled in as the Cats’ starting nose guard this season.
Bielema back and forth
It wouldn’t be an SEC Media Days without a couple of coaches taking swipes at their friends.
For Stoops, it was a chance to take on Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema, a fellow Youngstown, Ohio, native.
When Stoops was told that the Hogs boss joked of the Stoops brothers: “You piss one of the Stoops off, you piss them all off,” the UK head coach had a quick reply.
“I better be careful. Don’t get in a pissing contest with a skunk. Right?” he laughed.
Schlarman gets raise, extension
Offensive line coach John Schlarman received a one-year extension and a $50,000 raise in May, per his contract updated on the university’s database.
Schlarman’s new deal, which was signed May 11, keeps the former UK standout at his alma mater through 2018 and raises his salary to $300,000 a season.