UK Recruiting

UK football recruiting class lacking ‘star’ power as season begins

Cardinal Gibbons (Fla.) quarterback Nik Scalzo dived for a touchdown against Miami Central on Aug. 25. Scalzo has committed to UK for the class of 2019.
Cardinal Gibbons (Fla.) quarterback Nik Scalzo dived for a touchdown against Miami Central on Aug. 25. Scalzo has committed to UK for the class of 2019. For the Miami Herald

With about four months to go until the early signing period for high school football prospects, UK’s recruiting class of 2019 is already more than halfway assembled.

So far, it’s a solid group, though one that lacks the star power of some previous classes under head coach Mark Stoops.

Heading into Saturday’s season opener, the Cats have a total of 15 commitments and their class is sitting at No. 44 nationally, which would be the program’s lowest position in the 247Sports composite rankings since Stoops arrived toward the end of the 2013 recruiting cycle.

Ohio defensive back Moses Douglass — the son of a former UK star — is, so far, the only Wildcats commitment with a four-star ranking from Rivals.com. All six of Stoops’ previous classes at UK have had multiple four-star signees, and five of those have had three or more from that category.

There’s still time to improve that class ranking, of course.

There are four uncommitted in-state players with four-star rankings and UK scholarship offers — Jared Casey, Wandale Robinson, JJ Weaver and Milton Wright — though the Cats aren’t necessarily considered favorites for any of those prospects.

It’s also possible that some of UK’s current commitments could bump up their individual rankings with stellar senior seasons. For instance, quarterback Nik Scalzo, linebacker KD McDaniel and wide receiver Demontae Crumes are all considered “high-three-star” recruits by Rivals.com, just one step away from four-star status.

And, as UK fans know well, star ratings off the field often don’t match up with star status on the field. Benny Snell, Josh Allen and Jordan Jones were all ranked by Rivals.com as three-star recruits in recent classes.

Here’s a look at what UK has coming in for the class of 2019:

Marquez Bembry: The 6-foot-3, 225-pounder from Atlanta was originally a Tennessee signee as a three-star recruit in the class of 2017 before going the junior-college route. Bembry is expected to have three years to play three seasons at UK, and 247Sports ranks him as the No. 33 juco prospect nationally for the 2019 class.

Cavon Butler: The Cats’ most recent commitment, Butler joined UK’s class this month but told Rivals.com last week that he still plans to take all five of his official visits before signing with a school. Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State are among those on the Toledo native’s visit wish list, and Alabama sent him an official scholarship offer recently. Rivals.com’s Josh Helmholdt says the 6-3 D-tackle projects best as a 3-technique in college. That website ranks him as the No. 41 defensive tackle in the class.

Eli Cox: The standout offensive lineman from nearby West Jessamine High School became UK’s first in-state commitment in more than two years when he announced his pledge to the Cats back in May. 247Sports pegs him as the No. 14 overall prospect in the state of Kentucky for 2019.

Demontae Crumes: A few weeks after Cox ended the Cats’ in-state skid, Louisville native Crumes joined him in UK’s 2019 class. The 6-1, 165-pound receiver was previously committed to U of L and is ranked by Rivals.com as the No. 62 wide-out in the 2019 class. Crumes has seven catches for 241 yards and two touchdowns in two games with Butler High School this season.

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Moses Douglass: The highest-ranked member of UK’s class so far, Douglass is also the son of former Wildcats standout Maurice Douglass, who went on to play several seasons in the NFL. The younger Douglass is a four-star, high-IQ safety who accumulated several big-time scholarship offers before committing to UK early. Other schools are still recruiting him, but he appears to be solid in his pledge. Rivals.com ranks the Ohio native as the No. 21 safety in the class.

Jalen Geiger: His national rankings don’t reflect it, but Geiger emerged this year as one of UK’s top defensive back priorities for the 2019 class. The 6-1 prospect from Columbia, S.C., committed to Kentucky in May and is the No. 110 cornerback in the class, according to the 247Sports composite rankings.

DeMarcus Harris: The wide receiver from Vero Beach, Fla., is considered just a two-star recruit by Rivals.com, but that probably won’t last much longer. Harris turned in a huge performance over the weekend, catching eight passes for more than 220 yards and three touchdowns. The 6-2 receiver committed to UK on July 4, a couple weeks after landing a scholarship offer during a visit to Lexington.

KD McDaniel: A Georgia native and the first player in this group to join UK’s 2019 class, McDaniel is considered one of the top four prospects among Wildcats’ commitments, according to Rivals.com, which ranks him as the No. 20 outside linebacker nationally. McDaniel did tell 247Sports last month that he plans to take some official visits, and Georgia and Mississippi are among the schools still pursuing him.

Nikolas Ogneovic: A teammate of UK QB commitment Nik Scalzo (more on him later), Ogneovic is a talented tight end from Florida and is ranked by Rivals.com as the No. 27 prospect nationally at that position. Pittsburgh was the Cats’ main competition for the 6-6, 235-pound recruit.

Cardinal Gibbons High School head coach Matt Dubuc describes his mindset for the new football season. Quarterback Nik Scalzo is excited for his senior year.

Taures Payne: A 6-4, 260-pound defensive lineman from Hoover, Ala., Payne had 33 tackles, six tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks in 11 junior-college games last season at Northwest Mississippi Community College and was to make his sophomore debut Thursday night. 247Sports ranks Payne as the No. 50 overall prospect in the 2019 juco class, and he will have two years to play two seasons at UK.

Jake Pope: A Florida native who will add size to the Cats’ offensive line corps, Pope is listed at 6-7 and 275 pounds. He was targeted early in the process by Kentucky, which landed his commitment over reported scholarship offers from Michigan State, Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh and several others. Pope has remained firm in his commitment since announcing for the Cats in May.

Nik Scalzo: Another Florida native and one of the most visible members of UK’s recruiting class, Scalzo is the only quarterback in the group and is ranked by Rivals.com as the No. 22 pro-style QB nationally for 2019. He had a productive summer on the camp circuit and is also expected to be a successful recruiter on UK’s behalf as the cycle draws toward an end. Unlike two recent QB commitments — Mac Jones and Jarren Williams — Scalzo has not wavered in his UK pledge and appears 100-percent committed to the program.

He was 7-for-18 for 129 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions (plus seven carries for 67 yards and a TD on the ground) in a season-opening loss over the weekend. Scalzo injured his shoulder in that game but told the Herald-Leader on Wednesday that it’s only a sprain and he will play this weekend.

Travis Tisdale: The only UK commitment listed in the ESPN 300 national rankings — he’s No. 289 — Tisdale is also the Cats’ only running back pledge for the 2019 class. The 5-9 prospect from Valdosta, Ga., is the No. 45 running back nationally, according to the 247Sports composite rankings. In two games this season — both blowout victories — Tisdale has 12 carries for 169 yards (14.1 yards per carry) and four touchdowns, with an 85-yard kickoff return TD also on the early stat sheet.

Jay Ward: His national ranking — No. 85 cornerback and No. 891 overall, according to the 247Sports composite — doesn’t jump off the page, but his play has been getting rave reviews in recent weeks. The 6-1 Georgia native was singled out in a Rivals.com report for his physicality in the season opener a couple weeks back, and he has seven solo tackles, five pass break-ups and one interception in two games. The Cats might have found a steal for their defensive backfield of the future.

Tra Wilkins: The 6-2 outside linebacker from Stone Mountain, Ga., committed to UK in June and has received interest from several Southeastern Conference schools over the course of his recruitment. U of L hosted him for an official visit a couple of weeks before his UK commitment, and 247Sports ranks him as the No. 68 overall OLB in the 2019 class.

UK football commitments for the class of 2019

PlayerPosHometownRivals247Sports
Marquez BembryLBAtlanta, Ga.

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Cavon ButlerDTToledo, Ohio

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Eli CoxOLNicholasville, Ky.

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Demontae CrumesWRLouisville, Ky.

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Moses DouglassSSpringfield, Ohio

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Jalen GeigerCBColumbia, S.C.

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DeMarcus HarrisWRVero Beach, Fla.

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KD McDanielLBTifton, Ga.

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Nikolas OgnenovicTEFort Lauderdale, Fla.

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Taures PayneDEHoover, Ala.

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Jake PopeOLFort Lauderdale, Fla.

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Nik ScalzoQBFort Lauderdale, Fla.

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Travis TisdaleRBValdosta, Ga.

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Jay WardCBMoultrie, Ga.

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Tra WilkinsLBStone Mountain, Ga.

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