It’s strange. Outside of the recruitment of 4 star quarterback Patrick Towles, I can’t remember Big Blue Nation erupting over the commitment of a defensive end from a junior college. But that’s exactly what happened today when Za’Darius Smith chose to play his final two years of college for Coach Mark Stoops at the University of Kentucky.
Smith had offers from big-time football programs at Florida State, Texas, Texas A & M, Miami (FL), Mississippi State, Missouri, and West Virginia. Well, Missouri may not be a big-time program at the moment and Miami may not be the program it was a few years ago but when Kentucky beats Florida State, Texas, and Texas A & M, it speaks volumes about what Mark Stoops is doing.
“Its huge, especially when you look at who they beat to get him, said Brandon Huffman, a national college football recruiting analyst for FOX Sports/Scout.com. “His relationship with the coaching staff from when they were at Florida State turned out to be a huge coup for Stoops and his staff.”
“It’s a surprise in that Smith was involved late with Texas and had interest from several other top programs,” said Mitch Sherman, ESPN Recruiting Nation senior writer. “I think, from the outside, Kentucky was viewed as a darkhorse for Smith, but it definitely helps that his junior-college coach landed on Mark Stoops’ staff. Our scouts view Smith as full of potential, though slightly unrefined because of his lack of experience in the game. They believe he’s equally strong as a pass rusher and run defender and could have filled an important role at many of programs that recruited him.
“With almost every coaching hire, there’s a period of excitement that attracts recruits’ attention. Stoops has the added benefit of a name that resonates with prospects. If they don’t know him, they know his family and the success his brothers have had, particularly at developing defensive talent. That will help initially. Of course, time will tell if that early momentum produces results. The two junior-college signees were a nice start, but we’ll learn a lot more over the next six weeks. It bears watching, though I think it’s unfair to judge Stoops too much on the results in February. It may require some time beyond this recruiting cycle, because the only arena in college football that’s more competitive than the field of play in the SEC is the world of recruiting in the SEC.”
Of course, Smith was not the only big news for the football program today. Steven Borden, a tight end at Kilgore College, committed to play the next two seasons at Kentucky. Borden previously looked at Texas Tech but with part of that staff going to Kentucky and Cincinnati, it’s not as big of a surprise.
At Kilgore, Borden had 11 receptions and 4 of those were touchdowns.
Coach Stoops announced their signings this afternoon prior to a press conference.
“This is a great start to our recruiting class,” Stoops said. “Being able to sign such impact players with a short amount of time to recruit gives me great optimism for the future.
“Steven brings us a player who is very versatile and brings the physical presence we need at the tight end position. We can move him around in the offense and play different positions. We’re excited to have him join us.
“Za’Darius has great size and is an `every down’ player – a physical player who can stop the run and also can rush the passer,” Stoops continued. “We’re very happy to sign him.”
The above link also links to the press conference transcript, which is a must-read for Kentucky fans.