Signing 21 players wasn’t easy.
Mark Stoops called in the Big Dog for a reinforcements a few times. Back in the spring, he sent Vince to the city of Louisville. He gave a pitch four highly-touted recruits — Jared Casey, J.J. Weaver, Shawnkel Knight-Goff and TaeTae Crumes — could not deny.
“Three of the top linebackers we took out of there were top guys in the country,” Marrow said. “I think they saw success of our linebacker group. A lot of people don’t know that we’ve been pretty good in the NFL for the last couple of years with linebacker play. It was just getting these guys here to come play in the best conference in the country and come play with the best school in the state. It wasn’t a hard sell.”
To lock up Cavon Butler, Stoops asked Marrow to stay up late to talk to the sought after defensive tackle.
“I was on the phone texting back and forth with Cavon until about 10:30, 11:00 last night,” Stoops said. “I’ve got to get up early tomorrow, Big Dog, I’ve got to get to bed.”
Keeping Butler and Isaiah Gibson took extra effort. Big Ten powers pulled at the Ohio natives until the very end because there isn’t a more difficult position to recruit than defensive line.
“D tackles are just so important,” Stoops said. “Everybody wants the big, long, athletic guys. They’re difference makers, and in this league, that’s one of the positions that really changes. That’s one of the positions that separates the top from the bottom.”
Stoops signed two quarterbacks in the 2019 class, Nik Scalzo and Amani Gilmore. The latter, a lefty from Louisiana, plans on playing baseball at Kentucky. Stoops’ willingness to let Gilmore play two sports helped seal the deal (and helps Nick Mingione).
“I encouraged him (Gilmore) to do that. He was football all the way, but I felt like Nick owes me one on that because I told him, I really did, I felt like he was too talented. I felt like he’d regret it,” Stoops said.
Baseball prevented Gilmore from attending the recruiting camps that generate buzz and catapult players up the rankings. Flying under the radar helped them land a few players, including Vince Marrow’s sleeper in the class, Shawnkel Knight-Goff.
“He can play safety, he can play linebacker, he can play receiver, and he can play running back,” said Marrow. “He’s so athletic. I think this kid would have been a high four-star but his circumstances; he worked in the summer and never went to really any camps, but he came to our camp and ran real well for a guy that big. I think he’s going to be a guy that surprises a lot of people. I really do.”
One of the biggest surprises came this afternoon. JUCO defensive back Quandre Mosely committed to Kentucky, becoming the sixth player from the state of Georgia to join UK’s 2019 recruiting class. Recruiting the state is not easy, but Kentucky’s 9-3 season made the talent-rich state pay attention.
“Georgia is the number one state that really produces college football players right now and I think even pros. When you have success, you’re not looked at as a joke going in there,” Vince said.
When Marrow recruited Jarren Williams, he wasn’t taken seriously. That changed this year.
“Kentucky was looked at as, ‘Why you want to go there if you’re from the South? Why do you want to go there? You’re going to skip over all of these schools to go to Kentucky?’ But, when you starting beating those schools. When you start beating South Carolina, Florida, Missouri and all of those schools, Mississippi State, well, oh, this is a school I really want to go to. That’s what happened with us in Georgia now.”
If Kentucky beats Penn State in a New Year’s Day bowl, the Cats’ credibility will become even more significant. Today UK reaped some of the rewards from a 9-3 season, but there’s even more to come next year.