Keep the momentum going. Strike while the iron’s hot. That’s the thing for Kentucky football. Nine wins. National ranking. New Year’s Day bowl game. Translation: More success means more of a chance at recruiting better players. And recruiting is what it’s all about.
“I think it definitely had an effect,” UK head coach Mark Stoops said Wednesday, the first day of the early signing period in college football, a day in which the school announced its first group of signees for 2019.
“You look at the battles that we had with some of these kids, down to the wire again last night,” Stoops said. “I’m not going to mention any names . . . but there were traditional top-10 powers calling our kids up until last night. We fought them off and got the signatures this morning.”
Players once poached are staying put. Doors once closed have suddenly opened. Three of Wednesday’s signees hail from Georgia, a state that annually produces a boatload of college football talent. Stoops said Wednesday that the team’s success undoubtedly played a role in getting top-shelf players from the Peach State interested in Kentucky football.
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There figures to be more of that. Yet here’s the question: How does an up-an-coming program like Kentucky balance going toe-to-toe with college football’s big boys over star talent without neglecting the type of recruits that helped get the Cats to this point in the first place?
An example? Oh, I don’t know, how about Josh Allen? You know the story. Two-star recruit out of New Jersey. Monmouth was his only other solid offer. Allen came, worked, worked some more, and conquered. He spent the past few weeks flying around the country collecting awards for on-the-field excellence.
Yes, to continue that climb up the conference ladder, the Cats need players everyone knows can compete for an SEC East title. But they also need those players many others may not know about it — players you find, sign and develop.
“Yeah, I think that’s a great point, and that’s something that we will always do,” Stoops said Wednesday. “We’ll always trust our evaluations and what we do and when we go on kids.”
Signing a talented player is good. Signing the right player is better.
“Jimbo used to call those guys the glue,” said Stoops of his old boss, Jimbo Fisher, at Florida State. “The glue guys and the guys that are just solid and excited to be here and are going to work extremely hard, do things right and you can win a lot of football games with them.”
Under Stoops, Kentucky has won a lot of football games with those types of players. And Stoops and Company have helped several of those types of players develop into something more — players like Allen, Benny Snell, Bunchy Stallings, C.J. Conrad, Mike Edwards, Derrick Baity. That’s just to name a few.
And yet Kentucky didn’t have enough. When it came down to the biggest game of the year, Georgia vs. Kentucky for the SEC East title on Nov. 6 at Kroger Field, the Bulldogs had more. Final score: Georgia 34, Kentucky 17. And you don’t have to tell that to Vince Marrow, UK’s recruiting coordinator.
“When we get to a certain point where we want to take this football program that we are — you want to be like Ohio State, you want to be like ‘Bama, like Georgia, like Florida,” Marrow said Wednesday. “You’re going in and getting the Jimmies and the Joes. When you get to that point where you can take a 235-pound linebacker coming out of high school, running a 4.6, 4.5, it’s easy to project what you’re going to get out of that. But you still can find a guy like Josh Allen. You can find a guy like Benny Snell.”
A mixture of the two, those are the players, and more of them, that will get Kentucky football where it ultimately wants to go.