One of the biggest surprises on the college football recruiting trail this fall worked out in Kentucky’s favor.
At the beginning of last week, it would have been difficult to find a recruiting insider who truly thought that Western Hills star Wandale Robinson would end up at UK. That’s because just about everyone — including, perhaps, Robinson himself — thought he’d be committing to Nebraska.
By the end of last week, the local standout was a Kentucky commitment. He plans to enroll at UK in January and suit up for the Wildcats next year. His decision could also have a positive ripple effect across the program’s recruiting efforts elsewhere.
“It sends a message,” Rivals.com national analyst Mike Farrell told the Herald-Leader. “Certainly, kids notice where other kids end up going, so to get a kid like that who was supposed to go someplace else — everybody’s going to sort of stop and pause a little bit, and say, ‘What did he say that I maybe missed?’ Or, ‘What did he see that I need to check out?’
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“It certainly can’t hurt. How much it helps, I’m not really sure. We’ll have to see. But it’s one of those things that could be a momentum-driver for them.”
The Wildcats still have a few spots to fill in their 2019 class, and Louisville standout JJ Weaver — another four-star recruit — is among their targets. There are also several players from the state of Kentucky that UK is pursuing for the 2020 class.
Robinson — a 5-foot-9 prospect with elusive speed — is ranked by Rivals.com as a four-star prospect and is the frontrunner for Kentucky Mr. Football honors this year after combining for 2,698 yards and 41 touchdowns rushing and receiving this fall. Rivals pegs him as the No. 20 athlete nationally, and he’s expected to play primarily receiver — while factoring into the return game and running plays out of the backfield — at UK.
“He’s just one of those guys that’s really hard to tackle,” Farrell said. “He’s so shifty. He’s so fast. He’s the type of guy that you could set up a bubble-screen for, and he could take it 80 yards. And that’s what everybody’s looking for. He’s not as strong as Rondale Moore, but he’s that type of potential impact player, where he can change an offense just based on his ability and his speed and his quickness.”
Moore — a top recruit in the 2018 class and standout at Trinity High School last season — has 74 catches for 833 yards and seven receiving touchdowns (plus another 163 yards and one touchdown rushing) in his freshman season at Purdue.
While Robinson’s commitment was welcome news for the Cats, there has also been some negative momentum on the recruiting trail in recent days.
UK lost a commitment Tuesday from three-star defensive back Jay Ward, a Georgia native who has been getting rave reviews with his play this season. Ward continued to draw major recruiting interest after his commitment to the Cats, and Louisiana State — which recently extended a scholarship offer — is seen as a possible favorite.
Kentucky could also lose a commitment from three-star defensive tackle Cavon Butler, an Ohio native who took an official visit to Michigan State last month and is expected to be on Ohio State’s campus for an official visit in a couple of weeks. He has scholarship offers from both schools.
It might seem a bit curious that UK would be losing commitments amid its best season in 40 years. Until last weekend’s loss to Georgia, the Cats were in the mix for an SEC East title and a spot in the league championship game. They’re still projected for a New Year’s Six bowl berth.
So, should the decommitments be a concern?
“It’s part of the game,” Farrell said. “When an Ohio State comes in … you’re going to have trouble keeping kids. And kids make up their mind so early. I don’t think any decommitment at this point in time is a reflection on, ‘Oh, they lost to Georgia, I’m out of here.’ I think it’s about bigger programs coming in and picking off some of those kids, and that’s just the way it is. Until Kentucky becomes a regular competitor for the SEC title. Until they become one of those big names, which might never happen, honestly — how do you become an Ohio State or a Michigan? It takes 40, 50 years to do that — you’re going to run into situations like that, where kids are going to look around.
“But, as long as they’re recruiting talent that they feel fits their system; as long as they’re winning battles, like they did with Wandale; as long as (Vince) Marrow’s out there doing his thing in Ohio and Kentucky, they’ll be fine. But you’re going to lose kids. Now, everybody loses kids. Alabama has had decommitments each of the past four of five years. So it happens to everybody.”
Off the board
Four-star wide receiver Milton Wright became the latest in-state standout to commit to Purdue by pledging to Coach Jeff Brohm’s Boilermakers on Friday morning.
Wright — a 6-foot-3 prospect from Louisville Christian — has 50 catches for 707 yards and eight touchdowns so far this season. Rivals.com ranks him as the No. 2 overall prospect in Kentucky for the class of 2019, and he had UK on his list of finalists, but the Cats were never viewed as a frontrunner in his recruitment.
Lexington Catholic quarterback Beau Allen had another stellar showing last Friday night — 10-for-14 passing for 308 yards and five touchdowns, plus a rushing touchdown, in a 58-18 victory over Pike Central in the opening game of the state playoffs — and he was at UK the next afternoon for another game-day visit.
Things will get tougher this weekend for Allen, a major Wildcats recruiting target for the 2020 class. He’ll lead Lexington Catholic into another elimination game at Belfry, which will be a tough out in the second round of the playoffs.
This season, Allen is 199-for-302 passing for 3,278 yards and 36 touchdowns with just six interceptions. He’s also rushed for 543 yards and seven touchdowns in his junior campaign.
Rivals.com ranks Allen as the No. 13 pro-style quarterback nationally in the 2020 class.