Big wins and big crowds could ultimately mean one of the biggest in-state football recruiting hauls in recent memory for the Kentucky Wildcats.
Momentum was already on UK’s side coming off a major home victory over No. 14-ranked Mississippi State last weekend and a Streak-ending win at Florida two weeks before that, but 247Sports national recruiting director Steve Wiltfong added a little extra buzz a day before Saturday night’s sold-out home game against South Carolina.
Wiltfong, the highest-ranked Crystal Ball expert (with a 91 percent success rate on class of 2019 recruits), logged predictions Friday in favor of the Wildcats for four-star wide receiver Milton Wright, four-star defensive end JJ Weaver, and three-star defensive end Shawnkel Knight-Goff.
All three of those prospects play their high school football in Louisville, and all three of them are among UK’s top remaining targets in the 2019 class.
“It’s just the intel right now,” Wiltfong told the Herald-Leader on Friday afternoon. “None of those guys are done deals, so they have to keep recruiting. But they’re in it.”
In addition to the three new Crystal Ball picks, Wiltfong said he’s monitoring the recruitments of highly touted Ballard linebacker Jared Casey and do-everything Western Hills star Wandale Robinson for possible predictions in UK’s favor.
Vince Marrow, previously known for his ace recruiting efforts in the state of Ohio, is now UK’s lead recruiter on all five of those in-state targets, and there’s a chance that all five of them will be in Lexington on Saturday night for the South Carolina game.
“They’ve done a tremendous job in state, led by the efforts of Vince Marrow. He just does a great job,” Wiltfong said. “He works as hard as any recruiter in the country to build a relationship and be consistent with these young men. So, yeah, those prospects see the time that Vince invests in them and how important they are for Kentucky. And it’s another layer that helps Kentucky land those guys.”
Casey recently took an official visit to Oregon and is also considering Louisville and Wisconsin, but he’ll be in Lexington for his official visit this weekend. He’s the No. 20 inside linebacker nationally, according to the 247Sports composite rankings.
“If you had asked me a week ago if I thought Jared Casey could go to Kentucky, I would have said no,” Wiltfong said. “I do think the season, for him, has been big.”
Robinson is the leading contender for Mr. Football honors. He’s already taken official visits to Alabama, Michigan, Nebraska and Purdue, and he’s due on Ohio State’s campus next weekend for the final official visit of his recruitment. Before that, he’ll be in Lexington on Saturday night to see the Cats play South Carolina.
Wiltfong logged a Crystal Ball pick in favor of the Buckeyes for Robinson earlier this week, but there’s been plenty of pro-UK buzz around that recruitment in recent days.
“Kentucky has been doing a great job of recruiting Wandale. They’ve always been a contender,” Wiltfong said. “And he’s been to campus as much as any recruit in 2019. But anytime Ohio State is looming as the last visit, you can’t count them out.
“But Kentucky’s got a shot, there’s no question.”
The Cats’ 4-0 start to this season has gone a long way to bolster their in-state recruiting prospects. UK, which didn’t land any scholarship players from Kentucky in the 2018 class — the first time in program history that’d happened — already has commitments from West Jessamine offensive lineman Eli Cox and Butler wide receiver Demontae Crumes in the 2019 class.
Mark Stoops and company want a lot more from this group, and players like Wright, Robinson, Casey, Weaver and Knight-Goff are watching closely.
“Obviously, they’re feeling the energy and it’s contagious,” Wiltfong said. “These guys have had Kentucky among their leaders the whole time, but now it’s getting closer to them making a decision when, at the same time, Kentucky has been showing these guys what they’ve been telling them: ‘Hey, we’re headed in the right direction.’
“Kentucky really missed some opportunities last year to win some games that they should have won. So far, so good this year, as far as capitalizing on the moments.”
The next big moment is Saturday night. Kroger Field will be sold out and the stands should be rocking with another league foe coming to town. Stoops and several players have noted the importance of the crowd in recent days, both in on-the-field performance and off-the-field impressions.
UK landed two commitments less than 24 hours after the win over Mississippi State.
“Yeah, it’s very important. It’s been a great atmosphere and very good for recruiting,” Stoops said Thursday night. “We’ve had some official (visits) and plenty of unofficial (visits), as you know. We’ll continue to have the same. Yeah, definitely when you get off to the start we have and with the environment like that it’s a big piece of it to recruiting, for sure.”