Kentucky put a priority on wide receivers in the 2020 recruiting class. Mark Stoops and Vince Marrow did not have to look far to find an electric athlete.
Jordan Watkins is one of four receivers committed in the 2020 class. Ranked by Rivals as the No. 13 athlete in America, you probably already knew the 6-1 Louisville Butler wide receiver has 4.3 speed, but there are a few other things you did not know about the future Wildcat.
1. Under the Radar
When Watkins received a scholarship offer from Kentucky earlier this year, his first power five offer, many outsiders wondered why the Cats were taking a chance on the unproven athlete. He played running back as a sophomore at DeSales before transferring to Butler. The transfer forced him to miss half of his junior season. Watkins did not have much tape to show college coaches, but Stoops had seen enough.
“The thing with me and Kentucky was I went down to their camp, so they got to see me in person. That was my first actual power five camp that I went to, so they were the first to look at me. That’s what a lot of people kind of raised concerns about whenever I got my Kentucky offer,” he told KSR.
“They were like, ‘Well, nobody’s seen this kid play. Nobody’s got a look at him.’ Nobody had really known that I went down to their camp, Coach Stoops got a look at my speed. I still obviously had some things to work on. At that point it was just natural talent.”
2. A Proving Ground with Another UK Commit
Watkins was one of the stars in that first UK camp following his sophomore year. A year later he returned to Kroger Field. All eyes were on Watkins and cornerback Dru Phillips every time they stepped up to the line.
“Me and Dru were going at it the whole camp. I didn’t go a rep without Dru and Dru didn’t go a rep without me,” he told KSR. “I guess you could say it was a proving ground for I guess really both of us…to see if both of us can compete at that level. Me and him are both high-caliber athletes. He has a tremendous vertical. He can jump out of the blue. He’s long. It was really a proving ground for me.”
One of the many battles between Watkins and Phillips. pic.twitter.com/sPdiT0bnRD
— Nick Roush (@RoushKSR) June 8, 2019
Mark Stoops walked away impressed. Watkins recalled a conversation with Kentucky’s head coach after his performance.
“I’d love to have you in blue and white. You being an in-state kid is great and all, but I don’t want you just for that. You’re a great athlete, I love your speed. That’s what we need. We need dudes like that. You’re a complete receiver and that’s what we need. You’re the dude that I’m looking for to replace Lynn Bowden. That’s high expectations of you, but I think you can come in here and pick up where he left off.”
3. A QB Connection
When Watkins was turning heads at Kroger Field, he was catching passes from Beau Allen. The four-star passer was already committed to Kentucky. That Friday night he could see himself catching passes from Allen for the foreseeable future.
“I felt a really good connection with Beau. We were connecting on all cylinders, him hitting me in stride and things like that. I just felt that I could see myself playing with him for the next three, four years. We picked up that chemistry and we’re still trying to build that chemistry,” he said.
It wasn’t the first time the two had run into one another. As a sophomore running back at DeSales, Watkins rushed for 128 yards on 11 carries, scoring one from 48 yards out to propel the Colts past the Knights 38-26 in Lexington.
4. A Package Deal
While mulling over his impending college decision, Watkins consulted with another close friend, Izayah Cummings. The Male wide receiver trains with Watkins in the offseason. The two planned to officially visit Kentucky together in late June.
“We actually both committed two days before we went down to our official visit. A lot of people didn’t know that,” he said.
Watkins and Cummings had a similar offer sheet that included Purdue and Louisville. Ultimately, Kentucky was the perfect place for both players.
“This is the place we feel like that’s home away from home. You can’t really go wrong playing for your home state and being remembered as being that guy that changed the program.”
Like Allen and Watkins, the two wide receivers have already faced each other on a Friday night. Cummings’ Male Bulldogs earned the victory in 2018. They’ll meet again September 27 at Male High School. There’s a good chance Mark Stoops will be on the sidelines to watch the two go toe-to-toe.
5. Louisville is still Recruiting Watkins
Before Scott Satterfield took over for Bobby Petrino, Watkins was not what you would call a priority for the Cards. He was one of the many local talents Petrino’s staff simply didn’t take the time to recruit. Even so, he understood. After all, he only had a few games of film to share with college coaches.
“Coming in from a 2-10 season, they were kind of a train wreck. So they had to take a step back and look at things.”
Once Satterfield’s staff begins evaluating players, Louisville reached out to Watkins. Even though he’s committed to Kentucky, he still hears from the Cards’ coaching staff.
“Before I committed I was at the top of their recruiting board and still now that I am committed to Kentucky I still am at the top of their recruiting board. I get it. It’s a part of the recruiting process, but if anybody asks, I’m still 110% committed to Kentucky and I don’t plan on changing that commitment.”
6. An Ohio-Louisville Guy
Even though Watkins now calls Louisville home, he considers himself an Ohio kid at heart. He was born in Ashland, but grew up in Columbus, Ohio. He returned the Commonwealth in middle school. By attending Kentucky and playing for Stoops, Watkins gets to represent the two places he’s called home.
7. Not the Only Butler Wide Receiver at UK
Tae Tae Crumes started the Butler pipeline to Kentucky last year. Known for his speed, when Watkins got on campus, Crumes was determined to prove he was faster than the new kid on the block.
“Jordan’s fast, but I got Jordan,” Crumes told KSR. “When he first got there, people thought he was going to be faster than me too. Coaches, they were betting on it. We got up, I said, Bro, we gotta run. We lined up and took flight.”
Watkins corroborated the story, but he wants a rematch.
“He had me. He did,” Watkins admitted. “I wasn’t in the gym or anything like that. We raced and he beat me by like a step. I was kind of shocked but I think if we raced again that it would be a close race.”
8. A Dude
Sure, Watkins is fast, but that’s not all the wide receiver brings to the table. This year he plays every single wide receiver position and even runs a little Wildcat quarterback.
“The thing about Jordan that’s different from a lot of kids, he wanted to learn what was going on,” said Butler offensive coordinator Aaron Nance. “He was in my classroom everyday just trying to learn, trying to figure out where he fit in the offense. It was a difficult adjustment period last year, but I feel like over the spring and in the summer, he’s just been doing a great job trying to learn not only his position but the entire offense so that he can line up in more than one place.”
Before he took up coaching, Nance starred at Seneca High School, earning a spot on Louisville’s football roster.
“He’s a guy,” Nance said of Watkins. “Shawn Watson when I was at UofL, he would call them dudes. He’s a dude. We can’t just put him in one spot or the defense would key on him. I feel like he’s more deadly. He’s going to play slot at Kentucky, but we can line him up where ever.”
Nance added: “He works so hard. It’s different. He wins every sprint. That’s no cliche. Literally, he’s in front every single time. He wins every sprint. Every route he’s running, it doesn’t matter if he’s running against the starting cornerback or if he’s running against the third string guy, he runs every route the same, hard. I think that’s very beneficial because he never takes a play off, so when the game comes, it’s going to be very easy for him.”
9. A Recruiter
Now a UK commit, he’s working on a few others to join the class. He’s already helped the Cats reel in one other commitment, his training partner, cornerback Carrington Valentine. Now he’s joined forces with the other 2020 commits to recruit another talented player from the Commonwealth.
“Another in-state four-star athlete, Vito Tisdale,” is who the 2020 commits are targeting. “I heard that he’s pretty high on Kentucky. I heard the two he’s leaning towards are Oklahoma and Kentucky. I hope that Kentucky is where he chooses. It’d be a huge bump up in our recruiting class and what we’re trying to do at Kentucky next year.”
10. Snapchat Cranks Up the Competition
Watkins has competed against multiple 2020 UK commits already. If he has not played against them or met them on a visit, he interacts with his future teammates daily in a Snapchat group.
“We all keep in touch. From Earnest and Justin in Michigan, all the way to Dru in South Carolina. Even though we’re all in different parts of the country, we still talk to each other.”
When another player rolls the dice, they get added to the private group message. Not every person has the social media app, like Kalil Branham. Instead, the Columbus wide receiver uses Twitter to share his daily workouts. Branham’s work ethic has pushed Watkins to change his habits.
“I try to catch 100 before practice and 100 after practice. That’s what’s really special about this recruiting class too. We all push each other to do some things we wouldn’t think about doing, as far as coming down and catching 200 balls. I know I never did that last year. That’s just something I did this year because I’ve seen Kalil do it. It’s about that competitiveness. I’ve seen him do that. I want to be better than him, so I need to do that too. All of us like to compete and I think that’s what’s going to make this class really special. I think that we can a Natty at Kentucky. That’s the goal.”