Before Mark Stoops came to town previous Kentucky football staffs relied on finding “diamond-in-the-rough” recruits. The boom or bust strategy produced players like Randall Cobb, Derrick Locke, Keenan Burton and Jacob Tamme. It also produced a litany of forgettable careers that I won’t name here. Then Stoops and company showed up and started reeling in four-stars. The days of digging for gems in the dirt seemed to be over. But with a year to evaluate and develop relationships with the 2015 class, you can see that the UK staff doesn’t fall for the star rankings as much as their own evaluations.
They seem to have a pretty good eye for talent. So many players got their first big offer from Kentucky in the past year and other schools quickly followed suit. Some teams seemingly waited to offer whomever the Wildcats did as a strategy. A prime example would be offensive lineman Derrick Kelly, who was committed to Kentucky for months. Stoops’ staff identified Kelly early , before he blew up from a two-star to a four-star and signed with Florida State. UK was one of the first offers for a few different 2014 signees as well.
This year’s class is shaping up to be no different. First commit Montrell Custis recently picked up an offer from Alabama. Kentucky also got in early on ATH Ray Ray McCLoud, LB Anthony McKee, LB Richard McBryde, QB Lorenzo Nunez and DB Ugo Amadi. Ohio QB Joe Burrow is on Neal Brown’s wanted list but has gained a lot of offers in the past month. OL George Asafo-Adjei favors the Cats and has been hearing from them since they started recruiting former teammates Kyle Meadows and Mikel Horton. His current teammate, LB CJ Stalker, is high on Kentucky as well after so much attention from the staff. This week Kentucky became the first SEC offer for WR Alex Stump, an Ohio sleeper whom all of the recruiting analysts were buzzing about afterward. Again, they said, again Kentucky gets an early offer to a player who is about to get a lot more.
The staff has an early jump on 2016 as well. Several offers have gone out to rising juniors this offseason. The lone commitment, Landon Young, will likely stay underrated due to where he plays and his early commitment. But another name to watch is Kentucky OL Drake Jackson, whom UK offered first and who has been very impressive on the early camp circuit. His offer list grew quickly. Jackson could be key to the 2016 class as he has built relationships with many of the top players in-state for his class. If the Cats can pick up a commitment from him they would not only be getting an emerging player but a recruiter and personality.
It may sound like the same old song and dance, but the truth is that a key part to building this program will be identifying under-the-radar talents. Kentucky has entered a new age of recruiting, but they still aren’t going to sign a class full of five-stars. The good news here is that there is now a staff in place that has a proven, albeit short, track record of identifying talent.