Mark Stoops’ 2018 recruiting class did not sign one player from the state of Kentucky, something that had not happened in 78 years. Kentucky’s head coach said on Signing Day that he does not expect that phenomenon to repeat itself in 2019.
“We’re recruiting hard on the 19s right now, out there beating the pavement, making sure we’re evaluating the right guys,” he said.
Well, one of those 2019 guys committed to Virginia Tech yesterday. UK had recruited Bryan Hudson since he was a freshman, but he decided to take his talents elsewhere.
In a normal year, it’s devastating to see a Top 200 player leave the state, but Hudson was just the fourth-ranked player in Kentucky. The 2019 class is absolutely loaded with some of the nation’s top talent.
- DE Stephen Herron, No. 72 in the Nation
- ATH Milton Wright, No. 137
- DT Jacob Lacey, No. 154
- OT Bryan Hudson, No. 212
- OT Tanner Bowles, No. 282
Five Kentuckians are ranked in the Top 300. Great news for UK, right? Well, not exactly. Herron is committed to Michigan, Lacey to Notre Dame, and Hudson to Va. Tech. It’s unlikely UK will land Wright and they will have to fend off Alabama to bring Bowles to Lexington.
Early in his tenure Stoops said he wanted to build a wall around the state, but in arguably the Commonwealth’s best class, that wall is too small.
Kentucky can still salvage the big losses with other talented prospects, most notably Wandale Robinson. The Western Hills athlete is a frequent visitor to campus and UK is at the top of his leaderboard. Three prospects from Louisville — JJ Weaver, Shawnkel Knight-Goff and Demontae Crumes — are in play for the Cats, but they will have to pry them away from UofL.
The last time the state produced this much talent, Kentucky was in the driver’s seat before landing the state’s top three recruits, All-Americans Kash Daniel, Landon Young and Drake Jackson. All three will be starters on the season-opening depth chart.
This time around, Kentucky is in an uphill battle for the state’s top talent, but why?
One could argue the 2019 class hit the camp circuit earlier. By venturing to camps out of state, top programs are able to spot elite talent just as quickly as Kentucky. However, I don’t think that’s entirely the case.
In the 2018 class, Purdue signed more players from the state of Kentucky than any other school. This morning on Kentucky Roll Call, head coach Jeff Brohm explained how (and took a shot at Stoops and Bobby Petrino).
“I don’t know if (we’re stealing them), or teams there just don’t think as highly of them. But we feel like we have a good heartbeat of where the talent is. We’ve got good relationships with the coaches and we want to make sure we recruit all the top talent in the state of Kentucky.”
One might see it as a small slight in a quote on a morning radio show, but Brohm hits an underlying notion that might be UK’s problem: how connected is UK to the state?
For Brohm, he’s a household name. A former Mr. Football at Trinity, it’s not difficult to find a connection to Rondale Moore, Trinity’s All-American receiver that will play in West Lafayette this fall. Before taking the Purdue job, he developed connections at other schools while recruiting for Western Kentucky.
Stoops and Marrow used comparable connections to create a pipeline in the state of Ohio. It’s given the Cats a large number of players, and helped them steal an elite recruit or two (see Lynn Bowden). The tactic has been extremely successful, but does Stoops’ staff still have similar connections within the state?
In Stoops’ first two years, Neal Brown took care of that problem. In fact, he recruited Purdue’s quarterback, Caldwell County’s Elijah Singular, before departing for Troy. That responsibility was passed to John Schlarman. A former UK offensive lineman and current O-line coach, Schlarman has an excellent track record recruiting elite Kentucky offensive linemen. As for the rest of the state’s athletes…the jury is still out.
It would be unfair to criticize UK’s recruiting efforts within the state up until this point. You can’t get them all. However, the 2019 Kentucky class presents a very rare recruiting opportunity, one the Cats cannot afford to miss. If they do not act quickly, it could be gone.