High School Sports

State of Kentucky flush with highly touted football recruits

Lafayette’s Walker Wood (9) and Jedrick Wills (73) are two of the top prospects in the state of Kentucky.
Lafayette’s Walker Wood (9) and Jedrick Wills (73) are two of the top prospects in the state of Kentucky.

The recruiting class of 2016 was one of the state’s best in years, boasting such talents as Mr. Football Kash Daniel, nationally pursued offensive lineman Drake Jackson, Lexington’s own Davonte Robinson and Landon Young, and several others who will be on major-college rosters this fall.

Those players are done with high school, but there are still many promising prospects left in the Bluegrass.

This year’s senior class includes two more University of Kentucky commitments, a University of Louisville pledge and one of the top-ranked players in the country.

Beyond the class of 2017, a handful of other Kentuckians are already drawing early interest from major college coaches.

Here’s a look at 12 high-profile recruits to watch this season:

Class of 2017

Cole Bentley (Belfry): The 6-foot-5, 290-pound offensive lineman was a breakout star on the camp circuit this year, picking up scholarship offers from Louisville, Air Force, Army, Cincinnati, Georgia Tech, Navy, Purdue, Virginia and several others. He committed to U of L in June and remains the Cards’ only in-state pledge for the class of 2017. UK likely would have offered Bentley in a normal recruiting cycle, but the Cats haven’t been targeting offensive guards in this class. Rivals.com ranks him as the No. 26 guard in the class.

▪  Closest game to Lexington: At Newport Central Catholic on Sept. 9.

Austin Dotson (Belfry): ESPN ranks Dotson as the No. 2 prospect in Kentucky for the class of 2017, behind only Lafayette star Jedrick Wills. Dotson — a 6-6, 300-pound offensive lineman — committed to Kentucky in March before other major programs extended scholarship offers. He didn’t even have a player page on any of the national recruiting websites at the time of his commitment. Dotson has been a starter at perennial powerhouse Belfry since his sophomore season and has the physicality, length and athleticism to play the tackle position in college.

▪  Closest game to Lexington: At Newport Central Catholic on Sept. 9.

CJ Hayes (South Warren): Hayes — a 6-2, 200-pound wide receiver — committed to Purdue in June over reported scholarship offers from Army, Cincinnati, Navy, Western Kentucky and several other programs. Scout.com ranks Hayes as the No. 68 wide receiver nationally in the class of 2017 and the best receiver in the state of Kentucky. He’ll join up with former four-star QB and fellow Kentucky native Elijah Sindelar when he gets to Purdue.

▪  Closest game to Lexington: At Central Hardin on Sept. 9.

Tanner Morgan (Ryle): Morgan is the No. 2 quarterback in the state behind Lafayette’s Walker Wood, and he earned scholarship offers from Louisville, Cincinnati, Wake Forest and others before making a commitment to Western Michigan this year. The 6-1, 200-pound prospect has thrown for 7,556 yards and 77 touchdowns for his career.

▪  Game in Lexington: vs. Henry Clay (at Lexington Catholic) on Aug. 26.

Jedrick Wills (Lafayette): One of the best football prospects in recent state history, Wills emerged as a national recruiting target early in his career. The 6-4, 315-pound offensive tackle has cut his list to UK, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana State, Michigan, Notre Dame and Tennessee. He’s been the Cats’ top recruiting target for more than a year, but Alabama appears to be the favorite heading into the season. Rivals.com ranks Wills as the No. 17 overall recruit and No. 3 offensive tackle nationally in the class of 2017.

▪  Games in Lexington: Five home games, starting with Trinity on Sept. 2.

Walker Wood (Lafayette): An undersized but gritty quarterback, Wood is a three-star recruit and UK’s only QB commitment so far for the class of 2017. The 6-foot, 190-pound prospect is an exciting player on the field, a dual-threat quarterback who can hurt opposing defenses with his arm and his feet and doesn’t shy away from contact. Wood is often considered a multiple-position “athlete” by the recruiting services, but UK’s coaches have assured him that he will get an opportunity to play quarterback for the Cats.

▪  Games in Lexington: Five home games, starting with Trinity on Sept. 2.

Class of 2018

Jairus Brents (Waggener): Brents popped up on the national radar after UK extended him a scholarship offer following his performance at an on-campus football camp in the summer of 2013. He was just 13 years old at the time. Now a 5-10, 180-pound cornerback, Brents is considered the No. 1 prospect in the state for the class of 2018 and has added offers from Louisville and Tennessee. 247Sports ranks him as the No. 12 cornerback nationally for 2018.

▪  Closest game to Lexington: At Henry County on Oct. 7.

Justice Dingle (Bowling Green): It was announced this month that Dingle was transferring to Bowling Green from his high school in Tennessee, where he had emerged as one of the state’s top recruits. UK, Louisville and Tennessee have all extended scholarship offers to Dingle, who played multiple positions for his high school team but projects as an outside linebacker in college. 247Sports ranks him as the No. 21 OLB nationally for 2018.

▪  Closest game to Lexington: At Grayson County on Sept. 29.

Class of 2019

Stephen Herron (Trinity): UK, Louisville and Tennessee have already extended scholarship offers to Herron, who 247Sports ranks as the No. 15 overall recruit and No. 2 weakside defensive end nationally in the 2019 class. Notre Dame is also showing considerable interest in Herron’s recruitment. The 6-4, 220-pound prospect had 75 tackles, five sacks and three blocked kicks as a freshman last season at New Albany (Ind.).

▪  Game in Lexington: At Lafayette on Sept. 2.

Bryan Hudson (Scott County): UK didn’t waste any time going after Hudson, who picked up an offer from the Wildcats, his first, back in April while he was still a freshman. 247Sports has since ranked the 6-4, 260-pound prospect as a Top 100 recruit nationally and the No. 11 offensive tackle prospect in the 2019 class. He started every game at left tackle for the Cardinals last season.

▪  Game in Lexington: At Bryan Station on Oct. 14.

Shawnkel Knight-Goff (Doss): Knight-Goff isn’t a Top 100 national recruit like the other three 2019 prospects on this list, but he did claim a scholarship offer from Kentucky this summer. The 6-4, 210-pound defensive end also has an offer from Cincinnati and will be a player to keep an eye on in the coming seasons.

▪  Closest game to Lexington: All regular-season games in Louisville.

Jacob Lacey (South Warren): Lacey is yet another sophomore with an early scholarship offer from UK. The 6-2, 290-pound defensive lineman also has offers from Louisville, Notre Dame and Tennessee, with serious interest from several other major programs. 247Sports ranks Lacey as the No. 37 overall prospect and No. 4 defensive tackle in the class. He plays for the same high school that produced UK sophomore defensive tackle Adrian Middleton.

▪  Closest game to Lexington: At Central Hardin on Sept. 9.

Ben Roberts: 859-231-3216, @NextCats

2016 High school football preview

Read more from the Herald-Leader on Kentucky.com today, follow @hlpreps on Twitter for updates throughout the season, and get scores and statistics here every Friday night.

Cover story: Can Lafayette make it back to Bowling Green?

Interactive: Top story lines to watch around Kentucky

Video: Preseason interviews — the blooper reel

Video: Lexington coaches on what to watch from their teams

Video: A snapshot of the state preseason coaches poll

Sixteen Fridays and a ton of memories to come

Which state champs have best chance of repeating?

Kentucky’s top 50 players, as voted on by coaches

Class 6A rankings: The preseason Top 10

Class 5A rankings: The preseason Top 10

Class 4A rankings: The preseason Top 10

Class 3A rankings: The preseason Top 10

Class 2A rankings: The preseason Top 10

Class A rankings: The preseason Top 10

Eleven must-see small-town games this season

Bryan Station: Looking to maintain success despite turnover

Henry Clay: Don’t call Blue Devils a rebuilding team

Lafayette: Can Generals handle all eyes being on them?

Lexington Catholic: Poised for another run to 3A finals

Lexington Christian: Eagles eager to take next step

Paul Laurence Dunbar: New coach wants opponents to dread Bulldogs

Tates Creek: A speedy defense could lead the way

Central Kentucky: Watch out for Scott Co., Western Hills, Madison Central

Next Cats: Kentucky high schools flush with top recruits

Kentucky’s winningest high school coaches

Kentucky’s winningest high school programs

Which schools have won the most state titles?

Mr. Football: 30 years, 30 winners

Pulaski County receiver poised to break state record

Mark Story: Should the state championships move to Lexington?

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader