In Mark Stoops short tenure as a head coach his staff has shown as knack for landing recruits that weren’t expected to be Wildcats. Each class so far has been headlined by Kentucky talent that decided to stay home and build the program, despite holding offers from traditional college football powers. Last year the Wildcats landed three of the state’s top four players. All Americans Matt Elam and Drew Barker chose Kentucky over offers from the likes of Alabama, Notre Dame and Tennessee respectively. (Elam over Bama specifically and Barker of South Carolina). UK also flipped defensive end Lloyd Tubman from Penn State late in the process.
Stoops also won major battles in his first season. While James Quick was the best player in state and chose the rival Cardinals, the Cats got commitments from the next two best in state. Receiver Ryan Timmons stayed home rather than enrolling at Ohio State or Florida. Defensive end Jason Hatcher flipped to the Wildcats from Southern Cal at the very end. That signing was huge after Hatcher openly mocked UK during his recruitment until Stoops and DJ Eliot were hired on.
So the question is if the trend will continue. The Commonwealth again has some excellent football prospects at the top this year. Kentucky already lost out on quarterback Elijah Sindelar, who picked Purdue for their engineering program. Luckily there is another four-star QB in Lexington named Reese Ryan, he doesn’t hold a Kentucky offer yet but you have to think that the Cats would be a player if they offer. There are also a pair of in-state four stars at linebacker. Eli Brown was committed to Vanderbilt but opened his recruitment up late last year, he has interest from several top programs but ultimately I think he signs with Kentucky. Emmitt Smith is a guy who shockingly doesn’t hold a Kentucky offer at this point, despite being a highly rated prospect at a position of need. The knock on Smith is that he is a bit of a tweener, his build is somewhere in between a middle linebacker and a defensive end. On the other hand, Micah Johnson was the same mold and that worked out pretty well didn’t it. If Smith get the Kentucky offer, they’ll be the front-runner.
Running back Damien Harris is definitely the guy that nobody expects Kentucky to land, as the best running back in the country he has offers from everyone. He was previously committed to Michigan but opened things up a while back, leading many to think that he was listening to what Kentucky had to say. Well there is some truth to that, because his head coach has a rule that committed prospects aren’t allowed to meet with other schools, UK RBs coach Chad Scott was turned away. Shortly after, Harris opened things back up. Now that doesn’t mean that he is a Wildcat, he is taking his visits and really exploring his options. (He just recently visited Florida State) But every time he lists the schools that he is considering, Kentucky keeps hanging around so he is open to the idea, which he almost certainly wasn’t two years ago. At this point I still can’t say that I feel good about UK’s chances with Harris, but Stoops and company keep proving me wrong, so I won’t count them out of this one until the ink dries on Signing Day.