The Depth Chart Podcast returns with Freddie’s favorite college football analyst, the SEC Network’s Cole →
Football Season Coverage
Conversation now surrounds the new Wildcats of 2017, but let us not forget about the players that redshirted last season and will be available for game action against Southern Miss.
Below is a list of last season’s redshirts:
Jaylin Bannerman, Outside Linebacker
6-5, 220, Fr.-HS, Pickerington, Ohio (Pickerington Central)
A tall and speedy linebacker/defensive end who is a consensus three-star prospect PHS posted an impressive 34-10 record and won four straight Ohio Capital Conference Championships during his career. Coached by Jay Sharrett. Earned first-team All-Conference and second-team All-Central District honors in 2015.
Chose UK over: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan State.
Ja’Quize Cross, Defensive Line
6-3, 315, Fr.-HS, New Market, Ala. (Buckhorn)
Talented defensive tackle is a three-star prospect by ESPN, Scout and 247sports Finished his three-year career with 84 total tackles, 10 tackles for a loss and eight sacks, adding 14 QB hurries and causing a fumble. Three-star prospect by ESPN.
Chose UK over: Minnesota and Purdue.
Luke Fortner, Offensive Line
6-6, 305, Fr.-HS, Sylvania, Ohio (Sylvania Northview)
A three-star offensive tackle by ESPN, Rivals and 247sports. Rated as the 69th best offensive lineman nationally and the 36th best prospect in Ohio by 247sports. Coached by Doug Downing. Earned third-team All-Ohio for Division II. Named second-team All-Northwest Ohio in 2014.
Chose UK over: Akron, Cincinnati, Marshall, Maryland, Toledo and Western Michigan.
Tobias Gilliam, Defensive Back
5-11, 190, Fr.-HS, Dayton, Ohio (Wayne)
Consensus three-star cornerback Scout has him ranked as the 87th best cornerback in the nation and the third-best corner in Ohio. ESPN rates him as the 59th best cornerback in the nation and the 36th best prospect in Ohio Rated by Rivals as the nation’s No. 46 cornerback. Recorded 77 tackles with 1.5 sacks as a senior. AP First Team All-Ohio, the Southwest District and the GWOC Central Defensive Player of the Year.
Chose UK over: Minnesota, Pittsburgh and West Virginia.
Gunnar Hoak, Quarterback
6-4, 190, Fr.-HS, Dublin, Ohio (Dublin Coffman)
Tabbed by ESPN.com as a four-star prospect, ranking No. 14 among quarterbacks nationally and No. 12 among prospects in Ohio. All-Central District Division I special mention as a senior. A three-star prospect by Rivals.com. Ranked by 247sports.com as a three-star prospect, as the No. 37 pro-style quarterback in the nation and as the 36th best prospect in Ohio.
Hoak is expected to compete for the starting quarterback job along with Stephen Johnson and Drew Barker.
Dakota Holtzclaw, Receiver/Tight End
6-7, 215, Fr.-HS, Columbus, Ohio (Worthington Kilbourne)
A three-star prospect by all four major recruiting services. Totaled 28 catches for 421 yards and a touchdown as a senior for Worthington Kilbourne. Had five catches for 141 yards and a TD in a week-four win. All-Central District Division II special mention as a senior, helping lead his team to an 11-2 overall record. Three-star prospect by 247sports.com, which ranks him as the 39th best tight end in the nation and the 31st best prospect in Ohio. Ranked by Rivals as a three-star prospect and the 37th best player in the state. A three-star prospect by ESPN.com, ranking No. 20 among tight ends and 22nd in the state of Ohio.
Chose UK over: Indiana, Louisville, Virginia Tech, Cincinnati, Duke.
Zy’Aire Hughes, Receiver
6-1, 190, Fr.-HS, Paducah, Ky. (McCracken County)
A three-star recruit by all the major recruiting services. Can play multiple positions after seeing time at running back, quarterback, wide receiver and defensive back in high school. Concluded his prep career with an outstanding 4,914 passing yards with 46 touchdowns, 2,779 rushing yards with 53 touchdowns and 1,128 receiving yards on 89 receptions for another 10 scores. After playing quarterback and receiver most of his high school career, he moved to running back his senior season and was named the 2015 Purchase Area Player of the Year by the Paducah Sun. Compiled 1,170 rushing yards, 374 receiving yards and combined for 21 touchdowns he ran 61 times for 390 yards and nine TDs.
Chose Kentucky over: Louisville and Purdue
Drake Jackson, Offensive Line
6-2, 302, Fr.-HS, Versailles, Ky. (Woodford County)
U.S. Army All-American, named a team captain for the West squad. Helped the West win the game, 37-9. Two-time first-team all-state selection by the Courier-Journal and The Associated Press. A 2015 Herald-Leader “Class of Commonwealth” honoree. A four-star prospect by all four major recruiting services who is tabbed by Scout.com as the nation’s top center recruit. Invited to Nike’s The Opening – the most prestigious football recruiting camp of the 2015 summer – and the Rivals 100 Five-Star Challenge. The nation’s second-best center, according to 247sports.com, which also ranks him as the second-best prospect in the state and the 140th best in the nation. Ranked as the second-best center and the second-best prospect in the state by Rivals.com after recording 163 pancake blocks as a senior.
Chose UK over Alabama, Florida, Mississippi State, Ohio State, Penn State, South Carolina, Tennessee and LSU.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©February 01st, 2017 @ 5:00pm
Kentucky’s 2017 class is complete, and as the sun sets on an exciting National Signing Day, where does it rank with the rest in the country? Here’s a quick overview, as of 5:00 p.m. ET:
Rivals: #26 (#10 in the SEC)
247 Sports Composite: #29 (#11 in the SEC)
Scout: #35 (#12 in the SEC)
The class may not have ended up as highly ranked as we anticipated, but according to Lemming Prep Insider, Kentucky’s class is the second most underrated in the country:
— Lemming Prep Insider (@Lemmingprep) February 1, 2017
I’ll take it.
Did you miss Mark Stoops’ National Signing Day press conference? Have no fear, the transcript is here. Read every single word Stoops had to say this morning below, or watch the replay of the live stream:
COACH STOOPS: I’d like to start by thanking our coaching staff. Our guys have logged a bunch of miles. So I appreciate their effort. It’s a great group. The biggest thing about this class is a bunch of character, leaders and winners. It’s a heck of a group. Very proud to have them. So I’ll open it right up to questions.
Q. This year seems to be a surprise. I wonder if you’re surprised that you didn’t lose a senior. How hard is that?
COACH STOOPS: It’s very hard. I think that’s the big thing about this group. They’re winners. They got great character. We didn’t lose one guy since the start of the season, not one player. And that’s a special group.
Q. Abule was I guess maybe the last choice of you all.
COACH STOOPS: Yeah.
Q. Talk about him a little bit.
COACH STOOPS: Well, he was the last commitment. I could remember back to my days at Florida State with Coach Jimbo Fisher, and he always talked about, you know, it’s one thing about your top-end guys or the guys that were committed and the guys that were at the top of the stars and all that, but when you’re signing a group of 24 players, and he really made a big impact on myself and a big emphasis on this. It’s not so much about the top of that class. It’s not so much about the one, two, three, four guys that everybody likes to talk about. It’s about the guys at the end that you sign.
If you look at our guys through the years, we’ve had some great success with adding some players late and doing some proper evaluation. Again, with our staff, they do a phenomenal job of identifying players very early, and that’s been the key to our success is identifying the right guys early, staying on them and building that relationship. But it’s also about finishing and closing. And a guy like Abule was a very strong finish for us. He’s a guy that kind of blew up a little bit late, got an offer by us, got an offer by Florida late in the process was recruited by a lot of other mid-level schools, and Abule is a terrific young man with unbelievable upside.
When you look at a guy like that that you get committed late in the process who’s all of 6-5, 6-6, 250 pounds, with unbelievable upside, that’s what you’re looking for. And again, I look back to my lessons from Jimbo and making sure you’re getting the right guy at that 22, 23, 24 slot because that can make all the difference in your program as you move forward. So very proud of Abule. Unbelievable story, one believable young man. Great student. He’ll be a great addition to our program.
Q. Would you say it’s by far the best class when it comes to athletes?
COACH STOOPS: I’d say it’s by far best class, period, but by athletes as well. I just feel so good about this class top to bottom the biggest thing, and I may be a bit redundant when I talk about this, but it is about their character, about their leadership. You look at these guys and a bunch of these guys are captains on their football team, they’re very, very good students. They’re competitors, they’re winners. You just look at the two quarterbacks that we have in this class, and if I’m talking about one, I’m talking about both of them. They are unbelievable leaders. They’re winners, they’re competitors and you could say that about the whole group.
Q. Did you have a Benny Snell in this class?
COACH STOOPS: I don’t know, because we gotta wait and see; right? A year ago we didn’t know what we had in Benny. We knew the characteristics that we identified, about him being a tough, strong competitor, a guy that we had confidence that would make our running back room better, a guy that was very mature, and that’s what he is. But he also produced maybe a little bit more than we realized as well.
Jimmy Brumbaugh says UK signee DT Phil Hoskins will not miss any significant time with shoulder surgery
By Jack Pilgrim on ©February 01st, 2017 @ 4:00pm
In an interview several weeks ago, Phil Hoskins told KSR he was anticipating a shoulder surgery that would likely keep him out a few games in the 2017 season for Kentucky.
Following the news, many were worried about UK’s depth at defensive tackle, considering Hoskins is expected to come in and make an early impact for the Wildcats as a JUCO stud.
When asked about Hoskins’ status, UK DL coach Jimmy Brumbaugh said the newly-signed Cat would not miss any games this season.
“Oh, he won’t be out any games, he’ll be back. He’s working through some things now.”
He then went into depth on Quinton Bohanna’s last-minute Ole Miss offer, Josh Paschal and Jordan Wright on the outside, and whether or not Wright would walk-on to play basketball for Coach Calipari.
Check out the entire interview with Brumbaugh here:
Top to Bottom
The Class of 2014 is widely considered the best class in the history of the school, but they were top heavy. From Bowden to Abule, Stoops believes each play will contribute.
“I just feel so good about this class top to bottom,” he said. That’s no disrespect to the other guys, because I love them and they’re going to be great players, and we’re going to win a bunch of games. But it just takes a lot of great classes, and we want to continue to build on that, and we hope next year’s class is even better. And we anticipate that it will be.”
Stoops has suffered some late attrition in the past, but not this year. In this year’s recruiting calendar they didn’t lose any commits. After beginning with a “strong nucleus” of players, beating Louisville and finishing the season strong “certainly didn’t hurt” to help keep everyone in the fold.
“They’ve been so loyal to us,” he said. “These guys could have gone a lot of places, and they’ve been very solid with us.”
Versatility at a Variety of Positions
The “athlete” title is given to three players — Lynn Bowden, Joshua Ali and Tyrell Ajian — but they are not alone. The best part about this class — other than being bigger, faster stronger — is their versatility. Most of the receivers can play inside or out, most of the defensive backs can play corner or safety, and the defensive linemen can play all across the line of scrimmage.
The most versatile big man is Joshua Paschal, who will start as an outside linebacker.
“Josh is a guy that definitely can play more positions, and you’ll see how his body grows, but I’d like to start him in a role like a Bud Dupree and play him standing up,” Stoops said. “He has the ability to drop, but he has exceptional bursts in pass-rushing ability, so he’s very versatile.”
Mark Stoops called for more support from the fans on today’s edition of KSR and in his press conference. He told the group of reporters:
“We need to fill this place, because let me tell you, the guys that came here late in the season and watched our Georgia game and see that environment, that’s the environment that we have to play in front of every week, and that’s what we’re competing against. You guys know, you travel around and go look at the other SEC schools, winning or losing they are packing them in.”
Vince Marrow said the environment for the Georgia game is why Paschal came to Kentucky. After seeing TreVaughn struggle through the Joker Phillips era, their father needed to be convinced Kentucky has changed. After Josh attended the Georgia game, he was sold. He immediately called his father and said, “This is not what you think, Dad.”
An Eloquent Closing Remark
After an exhausting few months of busy recruiting, Stoops ended with an eloquent and optimistic message:
“Thank you to all you. Thanks for your interest, thanks for your coverage. I appreciate our staff, our wives, our families for the sacrifice that they make. It’s been a long year, culminating with this class here today that’s going to represent this university the right way.
The fans are going to be very proud of this group. It’s a great foundation for a freshman class for next year. And it’s definitely going to help us in the future. We’re excited about this year. I’m really happy to get this wrapped up, to be honest with you, and onto developing our players and getting to work with our players next week. So thank you all very much.”
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©February 01st, 2017 @ 2:35pm
The gem of this year’s recruiting class has to be four-star athlete Lynn Bowden. Not only is the Youngstown, Ohio native is the highest-rated and most explosive athlete in Kentucky’s 2017 class, Vince Marrow thinks he’s the best player from the state of Ohio, period.
“I will go on the record as saying this: we signed the best player in Ohio. Lynn Bowden is the best player in Ohio. And if you ask probably 30 reporters that cover Ohio football, they’ll all say he’s the best player in Ohio. Sometimes when they don’t go to that other school, now he may be the second best or the third best player.”
Like Bowden, Mark Stoops and Vince Marrow are Youngstown natives and Marrow said when he heard his friends back home talking about Bowden, he knew he had to get him.
“How good is Lynn Bowden? You know, I’m like Coach Stoops, I was a good player too coming out of Youngstown, and I remember my brother told me, ‘This guy is better than [anyone in] probably 30 years.’ I started to thing of Maurice Clarett, who’s the number one player in the country, Mario Manningham, man there are so many guys that come out of there. You know, everybody in their hometown, you have a guy you check references with and everyone I’ve talked to said this kid is just unbelievable.”
When four-star offensive tackle Thayer Munford visited UK, his high school coach raved about Bowden to Marrow, recalling how he scored seven touchdowns in the second half to upset Massillon, one of the top programs in Ohio.
“He saw Lynn on his official visit, and said, ‘That kid, we were up 21-7 at halftime, we ended up losing 41-38, he had seven touchdowns in the second half.’ Now, Massillon football, that’s the mecca of Ohio, Massillon and Canton. That told me right there how good that kid was. He’s good. He’s still gotta come in and improve, but he’s good.”
How loyal is Bowden? This morning, he told Ryan Allison of WKBN in Youngstown that Ohio State — a program from which he’s coveted an offer for years — reached out to him at the last minute and he turned them down:
— Ryan Allison (@Ryan27WKBN) February 1, 2017
Not one to heap expectations on teenagers, but this kid has folk hero written all over him.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©February 01st, 2017 @ 1:50pm
I already have a frontrunner for my favorite player in the 2017 class: Belfry’s Austin Dotson. The three-star offensive tackle led Belfry to four consecutive state championship games and if he’s anything like his grandmother, we should expect great, great things. This afternoon, Mark Stoops told reporters that during his in-home visit with Dotson, his grandmother gave him grief over not winning the TaxSlayer Bowl.
“We’ve watched him and known him for a while. Great young man. I always get a smile when I talk about him because I just get a kick out of him, you know, Eastern Kentucky, winning high school tradition. I really enjoyed my home visit with him. I don’t know if I should say it or not, but I can tell you what grandma said to me in my first five minutes in the house, but I’d embarrass myself more than I normally do.”
After some mild peer pressure, Stoops caved and told the story.
“So, we left the high school and we’re driving up there — he lives 30 minutes from the high school, very hard to get to. I’ll just leave it at this: he took a lot of pleasure in just spitting up a lot of dirt on Coach Schlarman’s car, just spun his tires, got mud all over it. Grandma — I guess I have to say it — I’m not in the house five minutes and she’s wonderful, gives me a big hug, very inviting, and then she gets right into the bowl game, ‘What were you all doing, you looked so stupid!’ I said, ‘Hi, Grandma, I’ve heard about you.’ She makes some great fried chicken though.”
As you can tell in the GIF below, Stoops thought the whole thing was hilarious:
We’ve gotta get Grandma on the show, right?
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©February 01st, 2017 @ 1:19pm
Mark Stoops is currently addressing reporters about his 2017 class, which he says is complete.
“This is our class, yes it is,” Stoops said, adding that knew of all his prospects’ final decisions last night. “I got a phone call I didn’t really enjoy about 10 p.m.”
This morning, Jedrick Wills signed with Alabama, ending speculation that he would flip to Kentucky at the last minute, and based on Stoops’ comments, it sounds as though four-star wide receiver Danny Davis will end up at Wisconsin. Regardless, Stoops said he’s not going to stop going after elite talent, even if people think they’re too good for his program.
“We’re not gonna win them all, but we’re gonna win our fair share,” Stoops said. “Anybody we recruit, it’s our job to make it difficult for them to say no.”
Make no mistake: Stoops is very, very happy with his class of 24, which he says is full of winners.
“I’d say it’s by far my best class period,” Stoops said. “The biggest thing is, it’s about their character, it’s about their leadership. You look at these guys and a bunch of these guys are captains on their football game, they’re very, very good students, they’re competitors, winners. You just look at the two quarterbacks we have in this class, if I’m talking about one, I’m talking about both of them. They’re unbelievable leaders, they’re winners, they’re competitors, and you can say that about the whole group.”
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©February 01st, 2017 @ 1:00pm
Mark Stoops is about to address reporters about his 2017 recruiting class, which is signed, sealed, and delivered, barring a last minute surprise. Enjoy the live stream below, and check back after for a full recap.
By Drew Franklin on ©February 01st, 2017 @ 11:14am
It sounds like Kentucky’s Class of 2017 is done at 24 signees, according to Mark Stoops.
When asked if he expects to add anyone else to the class, Stoops told KSR, “I doubt it. It looks like that is about it right now.”
“The nice thing is we had no surprises today,” he continued. “We were very solid, these players have been solid for a long time, and it was a really great group to recruit. So we’re very, very happy with that.”
“Remember, we always embrace the ones you got. You got the ones you were meant to get, and we are very, very excited about this group… You never worry about the ones that got away; you embrace the ones you got.”
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©January 31st, 2017 @ 8:20pm
Tonight, Brent Musburger will call Kentucky vs. Georgia, his final game for ESPN before he embarks on a new venture in Las Vegas. The setting is especially fitting; in 1985, Musburger called Villanova’s win over Georgetown in the NCAA Championship in Rupp Arena, considered one of the biggest upsets in sports history. Musburger joined John Calipari on his call-in show last night to look back on his career, which has spanned almost 50 years, and if you missed it, I suggest going back and listening to it.
In the spirit of the day, let’s “look live” at some of the best moments of Musburger’s career, starting with that game in Rupp over 30 years ago.
1985 NCAA Championship: Villanova upsets Georgetown (Rupp Arena)
Ed Pinckney and Dwayne McClain helped Villanova beat Patrick Ewing and 1-seed Georgetown at Rupp Arena, an upset for the ages. Last night, Musburger recalled how Villanova coach Rollie Massimino bet Musburger his sports coat that the Wildcats would win the game; improbably, they did, and to this day, the 82-year-old Massimino still has Musburger’s suede sports coat. Fun fact: John Calipari was in the back row of Rupp for that game as a volunteer assistant for Kansas.
In 2010, Musburger did this retrospect of the game for ESPN:
1984 Orange Bowl: Doug Flutie’s Hail Mary
Whenever I hear Musburger’s voice, I think college football, and his call of Doug Flutie’s Hail Mary vs. Miami in the 1984 Orange Bowl is probably his most famous.
1976 NBA Finals: Celtics vs. Suns
Last night, Musburger listed Game 5 of the 1976 NBA Finals as one of his most memorable calls, reminiscing about the three-overtime thriller at the old Boston Garden.
1979: Magic Johnson’s debut
Musburger was there for Magic Johnson’s NBA debut, back when Magic was just “the new kid on the block.”
1988: Catholics vs. Convicts
Few broadcasters set a scene as well as Musburger, and his intro to the 1988 showdown between #4 Notre Dame and #1 Miami, aka “Catholics vs. Convicts,” set against the iconic CBS fanfare should be the dictionary definition of college football on a Saturday night.
1990: His final CBS appearance
In 1990, Musburger attempted to negotiate a new contract with CBS, but apparently asked for too much money and the network dumped him during the Final Four. His final broadcast for CBS was the 1990 National Championship between UNLV and Duke, which he called alongside Billy Packer:
1991: Desmond Howard’s touchdown catch vs. Notre Dame
After parting ways with CBS, Musburger went to ABC, where he delivered this great call of Desmond Howard’s touchdown catch on 4th and one vs. Notre Dame.
1997: The Flea Kicker
Musburger and Dan Fouts’ reaction to one of the craziest moments in college football history is priceless.
2002: “Holy Buckeye!”
Musburger perfectly captured the excitement of Ohio State quarterback Craig Krenzel’s 37-yard pass to Michael Jenkins on 4th and 1 to take the lead vs. Purdue. “Holy Buckeye!”
2008: When he didn’t know who Beyonce was
Musburger may know every point spread in sports, but give him a pop culture reference and he’s lost. In 2008, Musburger hilariously mispronounced “Beyonce” in a promo for the American Music Awards, prompting Kirk Herbstreit and the ABC crew to give him all sorts of grief.
2011: “This is for all the Tostitos”
Musburger can get cheesy at times and couldn’t help himself when Auburn kicker Wes Byrum lined up for the game-winning field goal in 2011 Tostitos BCS Championship game, uttering dramatically, “This is for all the Tostitos.”
2013 BCS National Championship: Katherine Webb fixation
Musburger made headlines in 2013 when he ogled AJ McCarron’s girlfriend Katherine Webb, propelling her to minor stardom. Webb, now a model, congratulated Brent on his retirement on Twitter last week:
Cheers Brent, you were good to me. https://t.co/GFYECtbdW2
— Katherine McCarron (@_KatherineWebb) January 25, 2017
This was not Musburger’s finest moment, but would Katherine be where she is without his comments?
2013: Awkward times with Eminem
Who can forget Eminem’s bizarre interview with Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit during the 2013 Notre Dame/Michigan game? Man, that was awkward.
2014: “Boom Goes the Dynamite!”
Musburger’s called a lot of Kentucky games in recent years for the SEC Network, and in 2014, delivered the classic line, “Boom Goes the Dynamite” after a Boom Williams touchdown vs. Florida. That call was great; however, he got on BBN’s bad side later that season when he seemed a little too happy and chatty while Boom was injured on the field vs. LSU.
2016: That time he made a motorcycle joke about Bobby Petrino
Musburger got back in the BBN’s good graces when he made a joke about Bobby Petrino riding a motorcycle during the Clemson/Auburn game this past season.
All of the years: “You are looking live”
Musburger begins each broadcast with his signature line, “You are looking live at,” which has become so iconic that someone made a four-minute supercut of his intros and his most famous calls over the years.
Between his comments about Joe Mixon, mispronouncing Bam Adebayo’s name, and his endless fixation with the spread, Musburger may have had more missteps than home runs lately, but you have to respect his career, which has spanned nearly five decades and almost every major sports network. How fitting is it that the man who helped popularize the term “March Madness” will end his college sports broadcasting career at the arena which helped make him a household name in the 1980’s.
As Musburger himself put it last night, “What a wonderful place to end it, Rupp Arena.”
Rewind to a year ago. Who could have guessed that an unheralded JUCO quarterback with zero Power 5 offers other than Kentucky would lead the Cats to a Governor’s Cup road victory, a 7-5 regular season record, and a New Year’s Bowl?
How about this guy with one non-Kentucky Power 5 scholarship offer? Benny Snell was the ranked as the nation’s 73rd best high school running back. The rookie shocked and awed the Southeastern Conference, named 1st Team Freshman All-American while rushing for more than 1,000 yards and breaking UK rushing records.
5-star, hometown hero Landon Young committed to Mark Stoops early on in the recruiting process and never wavered. Young performed like a high school All-American in his freshman college season by earning mid-season starts and becoming a key component of UK’s 9-deep offensive line rotation. The rising sophomore’s expectation ceiling remains extremely high.
Will tomorrow produce another Benny Snell, Landon Young, or Stephen Johnson? How will this class stack up against Stoops’ prior hauls? Let’s take a look:
Immediate Need: Receivers and Playmakers
Lamar Thomas should be all smiles while eating his morning Skittles on Wednesday. Kentucky’s pass catchers will significantly improve following a few strokes of the pen.
Inside receivers Clevan Thomas, Joshua Ali and possibly Lynn Bowden are bigger, more powerful, as fast, and more fluid than any collection of slot targets that Stoops has signed in five classes. This news should be pleasing for the BBN as UK lost Ryan Timmons to graduation and Jeff Badet to an unknown future destination.
If called upon, the trio is physically ready to play now. This group projects increased YAC (yards after catch) which could bring back the short to intermediate screen game that was sorely missing from Eddie Gran’s play sheet in 2016.
Outside WR’s JaVonte Richardson and Isaiah Epps equal their inside counterparts in athleticism and readiness to contribute. Epps is an accomplished and polished route runner with tremendous potential. Richardson is an Alpha Dog competitor that wins 50/50 plays and increases the receiving corps toughness by three fold. One factor that separates the 2017 receivers is that blocking seems to be important.
The Wildcats desperately needed playmaking receivers in this class. It appears as if that task will be successfully accomplished.
Required Need: Running Back
Bryant Koback is a fast, multiple-cut running back that can also catch the football out of the backfield. In other words, Eddie Gran landed the perfect accompaniment to Benny Snell, AJ Rose, and Sihiem King.
Program Needs: Offensive Line and Quarterback
These two positions rely more on player development than pass catchers and running backs. Early enrollee QB’s Danny Clark and Walker Wood will both benefit from an additional spring practice.
John Schlarman has had himself quite the offseason as the SEC Network’s Cole Cubelic rated his unit as tops in the conference. Cubelic’s list acted as validation for persistent up-front progress.
Kentucky’s offensive line returns all but one out of its top nine 2016 contributors. Sebastien Dolcine, Austin Dotson, and Naasir Watkins will have time to add required strength and technical proficiency as a redshirt season seems imminent. Dolcine is my offensive sleeper and has recently sustained a significant bump in the star rating system.
Rest assured, you’ll hear much more about these three tomorrow as I’m extremely high on the 2017 big guys.
Immediate Need: Defensive Line/Defensive End-Outside Linebackers
Defensive line remained an immediate and imperative need, much like receiver. DL Coach Jimmy Brumbaugh only loses defensive end Courtney Miggins. But, a late-season lack of Nose Tackle depth spelled doom in the Taxslayer Bowl as the Georgia Tech B-Back ran through and over the Wildcat defense for 169 yards.
Assigning exact positions for defensive line signees can be difficult as projection must include anticipated weight and strength gain. At 6’4, 320-pounds Quinton Bohanna fits the mold of a traditional Nose Tackle. JUCO DL Phil Hoskins hopes to factor early and is experienced in all three defensive line positions.
Abule Abadi-Fitzgerald is a raw, yet physically gifted defensive end with room for positive development. The late commitment/signee fits the undervalued/underrated role similar to Class of 2015’s Josh Allen.
Chris Whittaker has the preferred projected size, skill set, and demeanor to play inside and is not opposed to the dirty work required in eating up blockers. Whittaker is nasty; in a football good kinda way and can be seen in film chasing ball carriers 30 yards downfield and playing until the whistle blows. Tough guy; 260 right now, will be 290 in the blink of an eye.
Elite pass rushing, DE/LB combination was another vital need. Jordan Wright could potentially become a standup, pass rush OLB that wreaks havoc for opposing quarterbacks. Joshua Paschal is in an exclusive situation of possibly being the most dynamic and explosive edge rusher that Mark Stoops has signed. He also factors as a Bud Dupree type player. Both Paschal and Wright could also grow into a permanent role at defensive end with additional weight/strength training. Regardless of position, Wright and Paschal could become a lethal duo much like Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith.
Required Need: Safety/Nickel
Gone are three highly influential and active defenders: Blake McClain, Marcus McWilson, and JD Harmon. Tyrell Ajian and Lonnie Johnson could provide immediate depth and a potential spark for Steven Clinkscale. Johnson is actually a cornerback but can foreseeably play all three defensive backfield positions.
Program Needs: Linebacker, Cornerback
UK’s 2017 cornerback class is flat out loaded. Actually, we could list Yusuf Corker, Cedrick Dort, and Michael Nesbitt in the above “Required Need” column as all are diverse talents with the capability to play CB, Safety and Nickel.
This group may not be receiving the same accolades as the defensive line and edge players, but rest assured; this is a quality collection of talent that could immediately factor if necessary.
Jamin Davis is diverse and skilled linebacker that can play in the middle or on the outside. Weighing approximately 210-pounds, Davis is a few biscuits away from being a Thumper at 240. By all accounts the kid is a leader.
Alex King is an early commit that Vince Marrow had to fight off Notre Dame and the likes for the services of an outside linebacker that has been described as the best “Jack” pass rusher in the Midwest. With adequate depth at both positions, both will have the luxury to develop and add weight/strength and technical progression. King and Davis join Whittaker as my defensive sleepers of the class.
What does all this mean?
Simple, Mark Stoops and Vince Marrow filled immediate and pressing needs at receiver and defensive line, while potentially collecting his best recruiting class. Those signing their pledge to the Cats tomorrow are bigger, stronger, faster, and in several cases meaner, than their predecessors.
This class is full of fiery, multi-sport athletes that appear to love the game of football and are not scared of competition. If you think about it; this class takes on the personality of its new head coach Mark Stoops and defensive leader Jordan Jones.
Former Kentucky running back Boom Williams received an invitation to the 2017 NFL Combine, he revealed on Twitter.
The combine invitation is fantastic news for Boom. In a draft class loaded with running back talent, Williams is ranked in the top 25 in only one of five the major draft outlets. To move up teams’ draft boards, Boom needed a platform to prove himself. Kentucky’s Pro Day will be an important opportunity, but there’s no better place to prove your worth than the NFL Combine. If Boom can run an exceptional 40-yard dash and display his agility in the L/cone drill, his stock could soar.
Congrats and good luck, Boom. The BBN will be watching when the combine begins in Indianapolis on February 28.
“It feels amazing. It’s a dream come true for real. I’ve been waiting my whole life for this opportunity.”
Before Lonnie Johnson Jr. became a Kentucky Wildcat, before he went to one, then two junior colleges, before he committed to Ohio State, Johnson was just trying to stay alive. “What I’ve been through, most people probably wouldn’t survive.”
On the drive to Chicago, you’ll pass miles of cornfields, followed by miles of wind turbines. Just before reaching the Windy City, there’s one final part of Indiana that’s much different than the rest of the state: Gary, Indiana. A Google search describes Gary as “deteriorating,” “a ghost town,” and “a serial killer’s playground.”
Johnson’s talents on the football field provided him opportunities to leave the rugged, urban area. Even early in high school, he could’ve attended school in the nicer suburbs, but chose to fight through and prove himself in Gary’s tough terrain. Against all odds it worked out for Johnson, but not without enduring plenty of pain in the process.
As a high school junior, he caught the eye of Urban Meyer. Johnson committed to Ohio State before the school year ended in May. However, grades prevented him from ever making it to Ohio State.
“Where I come from, don’t nobody teach us that, to take care of your academics, get it done right now,” Johnson said last week. “I’m from a city where you can get killed, like that (snaps his fingers). It really wasn’t about academics for me in high school, it was about staying out of the way.”
Unfortunately, two of Johnson’s best friends couldn’t stay out of the way. Two months after committing to Ohio State, he had to attend two funerals in a week.
“I tried my best not to cry but I couldn’t,” Johnson told The NWI Times back in 2013. “One day I saw them in school and then I saw them in a casket. Every touchdown I score is for them. Every touchdown I score I’m going to get on my knee and pray to God.”
Johnson eventually made it out of Gary, but there were many obstacles in the way before he could play Division I football.
JUCO is no Last Chance U
After failing to academically qualify to play at Ohio State, Johnson attended San Bernardino Valley College in California. After a year in California, he transferred to Garden City Community College in Kansas. He immediately excelled, totaling 35 tackles five interceptions and a fumble recovery in 2015, earning him an opportunity to play at Iowa State. He committed and was prepared to sign, when once again he couldn’t academically qualify.
Johnson was running out of opportunities. Needing to make the grade, he decided not to play football in 2016 to strictly focus on academics.
“Forget the football part. The football is gonna be there. I needed to focus on my academics, and look where it got me.”
Johnson said it wasn’t easy. He couldn’t bear to watch football on TV, but he continued to watch Garden City from the bleachers.
“That was probably the hardest part. The academics part wasn’t that hard once I got into the flow of it. It was actually me not playing and watching people make plays. I’m in the crowd like, ‘Dang, he should’ve made that play. I could’ve did that,'” he said. “I know I can play with the best of them. I could’ve played, but I had to watch. It was tough for me.”
It was so tough, he almost gave up.
“I actually thought about giving it up. The last year when I sat out I was like, ‘I’m probably not gonna do this no more.’ Then seeing my mom work two jobs and her crying and everything. ‘Now it’s time to get it together.’ I got it together and now I’m out.”
Not playing was difficult, but even when he was playing it wasn’t easy. Most people are acquainted with JUCO football from watching Netflix’s Last Chance U. If you thought they had it bad, Lonnie had it worse.
“I think ours was worse. They were eating off plates. In my room, I didn’t have plates. We’re eating off bags and putting hot sauce on bags and all type of stuff. It was a struggle.”
The documentary crew planned on filming season two at Garden City, but opted to return to East Mississippi. “We ended up winning the whole thing, so they felt stupid about that.”
Johnson couldn’t be happier to be finished with JUCO life. “Life in junior college is terrible. We don’t eat. The beds are small. It’s just like the difference between poor and rich. This is rich right here. I love it here. There’s no better experience.”
A New Kentucky Home
Many schools stayed away from Johnson in the last year, worried about his ability to fulfill academic requirements. Steve Clinkscale and Vince Marrow were confident Johnson could make the cut. Before Alabama and others got on the bandwagon, Kentucky’s coaches contacted him. After being treated like a number at other places, Kentucky felt like family. Coach Clinkscale and the others are like uncles, and Marrow is like another father.
“He’s like a father. He’s not going to tell you bull. He’s going to be on you straight from the jump. That’s what you need. You need a coach that’s going to be real with you,” Johnson said.
Once he heard from Coach Stoops and learned his background, it was an easy decision. “It played a big part because I didn’t know he coached the Miami dogs. Once I seen that, it was pretty much wraps.”
Johnson’s enjoyed his first two weeks at Kentucky. He’s befriended his fellow defensive backs. They ride to campus together, workout together and exchange tips of the trade inside Nutter Field House. Still, he’s adjusting.
“The first two days I threw up,” after failing to eat before working out. It’s simply not something he’s used to. “I’m still in my JUCO mindset. I’m trying to break myself out of that, but I really can’t. That’s where I’m from.”
After years of struggling, when Johnson received final clearance he thanked God. He made it.
“It still hasn’t hit me yet. I’m here, but probably in the spring. The Spring Game I’m gonna see the crowd and actually start making plays and hear the noise.”
When Johnson does finally take the field, years and years of hard work and perseverance will finally produce results, results that will terrify opponents.
“Going through all that, it just makes you hungrier. It’s like if you don’t feed a dog for so long, then you let him out the cage and see what he does,” Johnson said. “Now I’ve got a huge chip on my shoulder. There’s about to be some terror here.”
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©January 30th, 2017 @ 5:00pm
This news leaked out earlier today, but Kentucky just made it official: Matt House has been promoted to Defensive Coordinator. He will also continue to serve as the inside linebackers coach.
“I’m very excited to name Matt our defensive coordinator,” Stoops said. “He brings a wealth of experience and great passion for the game. In just one year, Matt has made a very good impression as the special teams coordinator and as a defensive coach. As the special teams coordinator, I’ve seen Matt’s leadership in front of the entire team.”
This is House’s third stint as a defensive coordinator. Prior to coming to Kentucky as the inside linebackers and special teams coordinator, he spent two seasons as the defensive coordinator at Pittsburgh and one at Florida International.
“I appreciate the opportunity Coach Stoops is giving me,” House said. “I’m excited to continue building the vision he has for the program and I’m excited to continue to grow and improve as a defensive unit.”
Stoops says he will hire a special teams coordinator/outside linebackers coach to fill the vacancy on the staff (former defensive coordinator DJ Eliot coached outside linebackers). Woohoo, more coaching searches!