When the Kentucky football team receives early commitments from quarterbacks, fans don’t know how to react. The last two times it did not take long for excitement to turn into disappointment. This time, it should be different.
Mac Jones was the first quarterback Kentucky fans fell for. Unheralded as an uncommitted recruit, he climbed the rankings shortly after his commitment to Kentucky in July of 2015. The following spring he reaffirmed his commitment with an infamous hard-hat Tweet from UK’s campus. Just a few months later, he flipped to Alabama on an official visit.
The decision soured many fans to football recruiting, but it was easy to rationalize. “After all, it is Alabama.” Stephen Johnson’s success and another highly-touted quarterback helped erase that bad memory, momentarily.
The day after Jones de-committed, Jarren Williams camped at Kentucky. Not seen by power programs as a quarterback at the college level, when the Cats fell in love with his arm, he fell in love with Kentucky. Williams committed two weeks later.
Williams’ initial decision sparked interest from the programs that once spurned him. Like Jones, he grabbed scouts’ attention on the camp circuit and sky-rocketed to a four-star ranking. He remained faithful through the spring, until about every SEC school extended a scholarship offer. Williams de-commited from Kentucky in April of 2017, then recommitted six weeks later on Kentucky Sports Radio.
“I prayed about it and my heart has always been with Kentucky, so I’m making that move,” Williams told Matt Jones. “I’m shutting it down. This is it now. I know where my heart belongs. I’m committed 100%. I’m shutting it all down.”
Two weeks before he was set to sign with UK, Williams flipped to Miami.
Those are just two reasons why Kentucky football fans are jaded with recruiting. When news broke last night that Nik Scalzo committed to UK, instead of being overwhelmed with optimism, the decision was met with skepticism. However, Scalzo is different from Jones or Williams.
Scalzo is like the previous two quarterbacks in some ways. He plays in a high-level high school football league and has had plenty of success on the camp circuits. Scalzo was spotted early by UK’s coaching staff as an unheralded recruit. What happens next is what separates Scalzo from Williams and Jones.
Unlike his 6’3″ predecessors, Nik Scalzo is only 5’11.” He may have the athleticism and arm talent of a four-star prospect, but he does not have the size. Nick Saban, Dabo Swinney and Kirby Smart are incredible coaches, but they can’t coach size. That’s exactly why Scalzo’s offer sheet is only 15 schools long and is filled with Ivy League and Florida directional schools.
Scalzo is not alone. Johnny Manzeil was infamously recruited by Mack Brown to play safety, before the Texas high school football star caught Kevin Sumlin’s eye at Texas A&M. Sumlin’s risk turned into a Heisman Trophy. Texas Tech didn’t even risk a scholarship on Baker Mayfield. He started as a true freshman walk-on before transferring to Oklahoma to win a Heisman and play in the College Football Playoff.
Mark Stoops, Eddie Gran and Darin Hinshaw were willing to risk a scholarship shortly after watching Scalzo throw for the first time, despite his lack of size and notoriety. “Coach Gran believed in me before just about any other coaches did,” Scalzo told Justin Rowland after he received his UK offer.
Even if that risk does not pay Heisman-winning dividends, Gran’s early evaluation and Scalzo’s size all but ensure the power programs will not cherry-pick him from Kentucky before the early December signing period. A lot can happen over the next seven months, but this time the quarterback commit should stick.