Completing nearly all of their 2019 recruiting class by the end of the December signing window allowed UK’s football coaches to pivot much of their focus over these past few weeks to building stronger relationships with top targets in the 2020 class.
That opportunity, a 10-3 season that ended with a major bowl victory, and a large pool of talented prospects inside the state of Kentucky could all add up to one of Mark Stoops’ best recruiting classes yet when the the 2020 cycle comes to an end this time next year, though it will also be the smallest in the UK coach’s tenure.
Stoops estimated Wednesday that — with only nine scholarship seniors on the roster for 2019 — the Cats would take in the range of 15-17 signees for the 2020 class. Recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow noted that they already have a “head start” on a very talented group of players from inside the state.
“There’s about seven to eight guys in the state of Kentucky that we are zeroing in on heavily,” he said. “We want to recruit our home state first, and then branch out to Ohio and Georgia and south Florida.”
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The Cats have already extended scores of verbal scholarship offers — and their list of serious targets will evolve over the next few months — but here’s an early look at a dozen intriguing players on UK’s radar for the 2020 class, a list that’s heavy on in-state talent:
Beau Allen: Arguably the Cats’ most important target in the 2020 class, Allen is hometown kid (Lexington Catholic’s starting quarterback) with ties to the program (his father, Bill, was a UK QB in the 1980s). The No. 18 pro-style quarterback nationally, according to the 247Sports composite rankings, Allen earned a Wildcats scholarship offer after his freshman season and has long been the team’s No. 1 priority at the all-important position. His other serious suitors include West Virginia, now coached by former UK coordinator Neal Brown, who has former Lexington Catholic head coach Mark Perry on staff.
Izayah Cummings: Smart football people in Louisville have been raving about Cummings, the Male High School wide receiver who was recently on UK’s campus for junior day and will continue to be a major target for both the Cats and the Cards, as well as Purdue, which has had ample success recruiting Kentucky. The 6-foot-3 prospect caught 11 touchdowns in 10 games this past season, and Rivals.com ranks him as a high three-star prospect.
Tee Hodge: It’s not yet clear how much mutual interest there is between UK and Hodge, but he did land an early offer from the Wildcats and he happens to be the nephew of Randall Cobb, one of the most beloved players in the program’s history. Hodge — who, like Cobb, is from Tennessee — ranks as a four-star running back at Rivals.com, and the Volunteers are among the other teams that have already offered.
Richie Leonard: Technically, the three-star offensive lineman from Florida is already committed to UK — he’s the Cats’ only 2020 pledge so far — but followers of football recruiting know that early commitments are often difficult to maintain. Oregon is among the more recent scholarship offers for Leonard, a sign that other big names will likely come calling soon.
Octavious Oxendine: Another recent visitor for UK’s junior day weekend, Oxendine is a 6-3, 300-pound defensive tackle from North Hardin High School, and UK will have plenty of stout competition for his commitment. Tennessee, Ole Miss, Purdue and Louisville are among his many offers, and more will be coming over the course of his recruitment.
Xavier Restrepo: Wide receiver will likely be a priority position for UK in the 2020 class, and this 5-10 playmaker has been among the most consistent prospects linked to the Cats in recent months. Restrepo — ranked by Rivals as a high-three-star recruit — is also friends with UK quarterback signee and fellow Florida native Nik Scalzo, who has been recruiting on the Cats’ behalf.
Justin Rogers: UK’s coaches haven’t been afraid to aim big in recruiting over the past few years, and a victory with Rogers would be among their biggest yet. The Detroit-area offensive lineman is ranked as a five-star recruit — the No. 14 overall player nationally, according to Rivals.com — and has scholarship offers from Alabama, Georgia, Michigan, Ohio State and other big names. Still, UK remains in the mix, and the Cats hosted him again for junior day last month.
Reese Smith and Landen Bartleson: The Boyle County teammates both have early offers from UK, and both are ranked among the top 10 prospects in the state for next season. Smith — a 5-11 wide receiver — might be the more likely of the two to end up in Lexington, though Duke and West Virginia will be stiff competition. Bartleson is ranked by 247Sports as the No. 34 running back nationally, and his early offers include Ohio State and Tennessee.
Vito Tisdale: The No. 1 in-state recruit, according to the Rivals.com and 247Sports composite rankings, Tisdale is a four-star defensive back at Bowling Green High School, and he has been on UK’s radar since very early in his high school career. Rivals.com ranks him as the No. 60 overall prospect nationally for 2020. His list of scholarship offers is a who’s who of top programs.
Miyan Williams: There’s a possibility that UK could take a couple of running backs in the 2020 class, and Williams is being recruited by Vince Marrow while playing for the same Ohio high school that produced Mike Edwards and Chris Oats. The 5-10 prospect ran for 38 touchdowns and nearly 3,000 yards as a junior, resulting in an offer from Michigan after the season.
John Young: The Christian Academy of Louisville standout offensive lineman is ranked No. 3 in the state by Rivals.com, which also pegs him as a four-star recruit and includes him in its Rivals 250 national rankings. The 6-6, nearly-300-pound prospect grew up a Kentucky fan and has made numerous visits to Lexington as a recruit. He has a ton of major offers, but the Cats will recruit him as hard as anyone in the class.