How important was it for Kentucky football to sign in-state players?
A year ago, UK football coach Mark Stoops took questions on the first day of the early signing period about why the program didn’t have any in-state signees — for the first time in school history — as part of its 2018 recruiting class.
On Wednesday afternoon, Stoops needed only a couple of sentences before he touched on the narrative in his opening statement.
“I feel good about going in state and getting some of the top prospects in state to stay home,” he said. “Definitely some difference-makers that were very important to us.”
Kentucky signed five in-state players this time around — tying the 2016 class for the most in the Stoops era — and some of the Wildcats’ highest-ranked newcomers in the 2019 class will be coming from just down the road.
The Cats’ in-state group consists of Ballard linebacker Jared Casey, West Jessamine offensive lineman Eli Cox, Butler wide receiver Tae Tae Crumes, Doss linebacker Shawnkel Knight-Goff, and Moore linebacker JJ Weaver.
UK’s assistant coaches were singing the praises of the local additions during the program’s early-morning signing day special, and that continued into the remarks that Stoops and recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow made from the Kroger Field media room Wednesday afternoon.
Getting into Louisville — the city Casey, Crumes, Knight-Goff and Weaver call home — was crucial.
“I think it was very important,” Stoops said. “We’ve been working these guys for some time. They’re very, very good players. You don’t know where the players are going to be in state, as I’ve mentioned every year. I think there’s always good quality in this state. Sometimes there’s not always the quantity.
“This year, there were certainly a good amount of very good football players. And it was a group effort. Really appreciate the work of our staff and certainly Coach Marrow, our recruiting coordinator, went in there and had a strong impact and built some strong relationships with these kids, along with our position coaches and other guys.”
Stoops and Marrow both shared the credit with offensive line coach John Schlarman, who had great success recruiting the state in the earlier years of the Stoops era, landed Cox early in this cycle, and helped build relationships with some of the other local standouts who signed Wednesday.
Marrow took over the bulk of the in-state recruiting earlier this year, however, and the results didn’t disappoint. Other than a late decommitment from Western Hills star Wandale Robinson, the Cats came away with the local players they targeted the hardest.
Weaver could end up being the best of the bunch. He’s slated to play the jack linebacker position at UK, and the comparisons to departing senior star Josh Allen have already begun. “That wouldn’t be fair to put on any one person at this time,” Stoops said Wednesday, though he and UK’s other coaches are clearly excited to get the 6-foot-5, 240-pounder on campus.
“You don’t find many guys that are as tall as JJ, and as long, that can be this athletic,” assistant coach Brad White said while breaking down film on the signing day show. “That’s a pretty special thing. You just look at the raw ability that he’s got. I’m just really, really excited about that clay. You talk about developing and molding — when he gets with our strength and conditioning staff … He could look like a Greek god by the time he leaves here.”
Casey is a consensus four-star recruit. Crumes brings 4.3 speed and had more than 2,000 yards receiving in high school. Schlarman said Cox has played center, guard and tackle, and the position coach loves the versatility he’ll bring to the offensive line.
Marrow mentioned Knight-Goff — a three-star prospect — as the player in UK’s 2019 class that recruiting analysts are most likely to look back on four years from now and regret not ranking higher.
“I think this kid could’ve been a high four-star, but his circumstances — he worked in the summer, never really went to camps,” Marrow said. “But he came to our camp and ran well for a guy that big. He’s going to be a guy who surprises a lot of people.”