UK Recruiting

UK football coaches keeping an eye on former colleague turned recruiting rival

Mark Stoops: ‘Next year will be the smallest class I’ve signed’

University of Kentucky football head coach Mark Stoops spoke to press about the introduction of M.J. Devonshire from Pennsylvania, and how the next football seasons would be the smallest signing class he's had.
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University of Kentucky football head coach Mark Stoops spoke to press about the introduction of M.J. Devonshire from Pennsylvania, and how the next football seasons would be the smallest signing class he's had.

It has been more than four years since he left the program to become the head coach at Troy, but former UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown was still a topic of discussion during the Wildcats’ national signing day press conference at Kroger Field on Wednesday.

“Neal going to West Virginia — I’ve been keeping my eye on that one, because I think he’s kind of like Jeff Brohm,” UK recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow said with a grin.

Brohm, since becoming the head coach of Purdue after the 2016 season, has spent the past couple of years raiding his home state of Kentucky for recruiting talent. The Boilermakers’ roster last season included 10 Kentuckians, in addition to Indiana native Rondale Moore, who finished his high school career at Trinity in Louisville and emerged last fall as one of college football’s most dynamic players.

Purdue also signed Louisville Christian wide receiver Milton Wright — a four-star prospect with scholarship offers from UK and Louisville — as part of its 2019 class.

It was apparent from the very beginning of Brown’s tenure at West Virginia that he would be taking a similar approach, extending scholarship offers to several Kentucky high school players shortly after his hiring last month. He acknowledged as much in his first signing day press conference as the Mountaineers’ head coach Wednesday.

“I think what you’ll see from a recruiting philosophy here is going to be … West Virginia and all the states that touch West Virginia. We want to have a really strong recruiting presence,” Brown said. “Everybody on our staff is going to have a primary recruiting area within that geographic footprint. … West Virginia has a good brand, and we’re obviously well-known from a coaching standpoint as well.”

Brown’s coaching staff also has deep ties to Kentucky.

Neal Brown, left, was the offensive coordinator for Mark Stoops during the 2013 and 2014 seasons. Charles Bertram

He has hired former UK player Chad Scott, who, like Brown, was an offensive assistant for the Wildcats in the early Mark Stoops seasons. Rafael Horton, another former Stoops staffer at UK, is West Virginia’s assistant head coach for strength and conditioning.

Perhaps the most interesting hire from a Kentucky recruiting perspective is director of football administration Mark Perry, who was Brown’s director of football operations at Troy last season. Before that, Perry — a former UK quarterback — was the head coach at Lexington Catholic, which happens to feature the Wildcats’ top QB target in the 2020 class, Beau Allen.

Perry was actually the WVU staff member who informed Allen he had a scholarship offer from Mountaineers, a call that came just hours after Brown took the job. Not long after that, Allen made the trip for his first recruiting visit to Morgantown.

Allen, ranked by as a four-star prospect, is the son of a former UK quarterback and threw for 3,729 yards and 42 touchdowns in 12 games as a junior this past season. He isn’t the only Kentucky high school star West Virginia is trying to pluck away from the state.

Within a couple of weeks of his hire, Brown had also extended scholarship offers to Boyle County teammates Landen Bartleson and Reese Smith, Male wide receiver Izayah Cummings, and North Hardin defensive tackle Octavous Oxendine.

All four of those players are also among UK’s top recruiting targets for the 2020 class, setting the stage for some interesting battles between Stoops and Brown, who — like Brohm — has a history overseeing high-octane offensive attacks that catch the attention of recruits.

Two of Lexington’s top young prospects — 2021 recruits Jager Burton and Dekel Crowdus of Frederick Douglass High, both UK targets — have early offers from the Mountaineers, too.

During Wednesday’s national signing day press conference, Brown also specifically mentioned Ohio — another border state and the site of so much UK recruiting success in recent years — as a location of interest to WVU’s recruiting efforts moving forward.

With a new coaching staff at Louisville, the continued presence of Brohm at Purdue, and now Brown at West Virginia, the UK coaching staff will be fighting on multiple recruiting fronts to keep the best players close to home.

“You can’t not notice that you have Neal Brown at West Virginia and you have Jeff Brohm at Purdue. You just have to be on your game,” Marrow said. “We were fortunate to have about 90 percent of our class signed in December, so we got a head start on the 2020 guys in Louisville and the state of Kentucky.”

Ben Roberts covers UK basketball, football and other sports for the Lexington Herald-Leader and has specialized in UK basketball recruiting for the past several years. He also maintains the Next Cats recruiting blog, which features the latest news on the Wildcats’ recruiting efforts.
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