A strong season on the field continues to pay dividends on the recruiting trail for the UK football program, which — by one measure — just picked up its biggest commitment yet for the 2019 class.
Four-star prospect JJ Weaver — a standout defensive player at Moore High School in Louisville — announced his commitment to the Wildcats on Friday, becoming the first player in the Rivals 250 national rankings to pick Kentucky for next year.
Rivals.com ranks Weaver as the No. 213 overall player in the 2019 class and the No. 13 weakside defensive end nationally. The 6-foot-5, 235-pound prospect chose UK over Louisville, and has recently listed Miami and Purdue as schools under heavy consideration.
“He has great length, and that certainly helps him as a pass-rusher,” Rivals.com national analyst Mike Farrell told the Herald-Leader. “He uses his hands very well. Technically sound kid. He’s a kid who needs to fill out — as they all do — but he has a good work ethic, so I think he’s the type of kid that, if you give him a couple years to develop, he could be a really good SEC defensive end.”
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
UK has been recruiting Weaver to play the “jack” linebacker spot, a hybrid position combining aspects of an outside linebacker and defensive end — the role Bud Dupree and Josh Allen have played so well for the Wildcats during the Mark Stoops era.
Weaver was credited with 70 tackles, 10 sacks, three interceptions and one fumble recovery in 12 games for Moore this season. Farrell sees him as a good fit for the “jack” linebacker position at the next level, though any comparisons to Dupree or Allen are unfair at this stage in his development.
“He’s athletic enough,” he said. “I don’t know if he’ll be as good as those guys. Obviously, you’re looking at two first-rounders at that position. He’s got a lot to live up to. Athletically, though, I think he can play that position because he’s good in space. And that length is what’s really important at that position. You’ve got to be able to run plays down and be able to straighten things out. As a pass-rusher, he’s very technically sound. Sort of a natural at that. He’ll have to learn a little bit more about playing in space, but I think he’s athletic enough to do it.”
Weaver is now UK’s highest-ranked addition for the 2019 class, but the Cats also have previous commitments from safety Moses Douglass and wide receivers Wandale Robinson and JaVonte Richardson, all considered four-star players by Rivals.com.
Kentucky now has a total of 20 commitments — with the early signing period set to start on Dec. 19 — and Weaver’s pledge will push the Cats to the No. 26 spot in the Rivals.com national recruiting rankings.
Weaver’s commitment is also the latest example of UK’s in-state recruiting success. After not signing any local recruits in the 2018 cycle — a first for the program — the Wildcats now have commitments from Weaver, Robinson (a Western Hills standout and Mr. Football frontrunner), West Jessamine offensive lineman Eli Cox, Butler High wide receiver Demontae Crumes and Doss defensive end Shawnkel Knight-Goff.
Weaver, Robinson and Crumes are all ranked by Rivals as top 10 prospects in the state of Kentucky. No other program has more than one commitment from those rankings — Louisville doesn’t have any — and the Cats likely aren’t finished yet.
Ballard linebacker Jared Casey — another four-star recruit and the state’s No. 7 overall prospect, according to Rivals — recently backed off a commitment to Oregon and announced Friday that he will reveal his college decision Dec. 6. UK is the heavy favorite.
As U of L searches for a new head coach, and other powers — like Alabama and Notre Dame — try to raid the state for top talent, UK is putting together a tremendous group of local recruits
“It’s big,” Farrell said. “Obviously, they’re not only fighting Louisville for in-state kids, but they’re fighting a lot of the SEC and ACC programs that come in there and try to steal them away. Wandale was a big one, because a lot of people thought he was getting away. So keeping him was important.
“In-state kids will bring other in-state kids. It’ll make them look at it and make them think twice about leaving. ‘If that kid didn’t leave, why should I leave?’ Stuff like that. So I think it’s really important to close strong, especially with Louisville struggling so much.”