Mark Story

In-state football recruiting in Kentucky is about to go thermonuclear

How important was it for Kentucky football to sign in-state players?

At a press conference on Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018, Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops talked about the importance of signing players from inside the state. UK signed five players from Kentucky, including four from Louisville on Wednesday.
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At a press conference on Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018, Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops talked about the importance of signing players from inside the state. UK signed five players from Kentucky, including four from Louisville on Wednesday.

In his first hours as West Virginia head football coach, Neal Brown reached out to some of the best high school junior football players in Kentucky with scholarship offers from the Mountaineers.

Over the weekend, the former University of Kentucky wide receiver and assistant coach offered a WVU scholarship to Lexington Catholic star quarterback Beau Allen.

“It was exciting,” Bill Allen, the former UK quarterback and Beau Allen’s father, said. “We’re happy for (Brown).”

Meanwhile, the new West Virginia head man also extended offers to Reese Smith and Landen Bartleson. Like Brown was in his own playing days, both are stars at Boyle County High School.

If you thought having native Kentuckian Jeff Brohm as head man at nearby Purdue had made college football recruiting in the commonwealth hypercompetitive, you might not have seen anything yet.

Now, you will have Brown — who was a high school standout for Chuck Smith at Boyle County; who played wide receiver at UK for Hal Mumme; and who was Mark Stoops’ first UK offensive coordinator — as the head man at another major university in a state contiguous to Kentucky.

If any coach can match Brohm — the former Trinity High School and University of Louisville quarterback star; ex-U of L assistant; and former Western Kentucky head coach — for ties to football in our state, it is Brown.

Neal Brown
New West Virginia head man Neal Brown went 31-8 over the past three seasons at Troy University, with three bowl victories and a Sun Belt Conference championship. Andres Leighton AP

The new West Virginia head man comes from a family line of Kentucky high school educators and coaches. In the two years (2013 and ‘14) that Brown spent coaching for Stoops at UK, he was the Wildcats’ primary in-state recruiter.

In his three Purdue recruiting classes since he left WKU for West Lafayette after the 2016 season, Brohm has signed 10 Kentuckians.

Cornerback Kenneth Major, who led the Boilermakers in interceptions this past season (three), is a Christian County product.

Linebacker Derrick Barnes, Purdue’s third-leading tackler (92 stops) in 2018, is an alumnus of Covington Holy Cross.

Wide receiver Rondale Moore, who as a true freshman in 2018 was one of college football’s breakout stars (114 catches for 1,228 yards and 12 touchdowns), played his high school football at Trinity.

In Purdue’s 2019 early-signing class, Brohm inked four-star wide receiver Milton Wright of Louisville Christian Academy.

Jeff Brohm
Since becoming Purdue head coach before the 2017 season, Jeff Brohm has signed 10 high school players from Kentucky for the Boilermakers. Charlie Neibergall Associated Press

Most of Brohm’s early Purdue signees from the commonwealth did not have UK or U of L offers. However, Moore and Wright were national-level recruits that eschewed offers from Kentucky and Louisville.

For the in-state football programs, it is not just rival head coaches with local ties making recruiting inside the commonwealth challenging.

Starting with Madison Southern’s Damien Harris in 2015 through 2020 prospects Vito Tisdale (Bowling Green) and Michael Mayer (Covington Catholic), Alabama has offered football scholarships to 12 Kentucky high school football players.

In addition to the Saban-ic forces, Nebraska, Stanford and Virginia Tech each signed a top prospect from Kentucky’s class of 2019.

Of course, with UK coming off its best season in decades (10-3, Citrus Bowl champions) and U of L (Scott Satterfield) and WKU (Tyson Helton) offering the hope that comes with new head coaches, the in-state schools have viable sales pitches of their own to make.

Now that Brown is a Power Five conference head coach at age 38, it will be fascinating to see if he puts as much emphasis on recruiting the commonwealth as Brohm did as he was getting started at Purdue.

After leaving Stoops’ staff at UK to become head coach at Troy, Brown went 35-16 in four years (31-8 over the past three seasons). Included were three bowl victories, road upsets of LSU and Nebraska, and the 2017 Sun Belt Conference championship.

The 2020 class of high school football recruits in Kentucky is considered strong.

According to the Rivals.com recruiting database, at least 10 home-state players in that class already hold scholarship offers from UK — including the trio who West Virginia offered over the weekend.

Besides his hometown connection with Boyle County stars Smith and Bartleson, Brown has a tie to Lexington Catholic’s Allen, too.

Last January, Brown hired then-Lexington Catholic head coach Mark Perry as his director of football operations at Troy. It is expected Perry will accompany Brown to Morgantown.

When Beau Allen was a Lexington Catholic freshman, Perry — another former UK player — installed him as the Knights’ starting QB.

“Coach Perry really gave Beau his shot as a freshman,” Bill Allen said. “He’s a great guy.”

Having Brohm at Purdue made in-state recruiting in Kentucky a more demanding task for the in-state schools.

Now, with Brown at WVU, there will be a second “Kentucky guy” fronting a major football program within driving distance from the commonwealth.

This thing will be really interesting to watch going forward.

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Mark Story has worked in the Lexington Herald-Leader sports department since Aug. 27, 1990, and has been a H-L sports columnist since 2001. I have covered every Kentucky-Louisville football game since 1994, every UK-U of L basketball game but three since 1996-97 and every Kentucky Derby since 1994.

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