Do you remember where we were just two years ago? We were walking out of Papa John’s Stadium having been pillared by Louisville and looking like there was no hope of anything but a coaching change. Now, two years later, Rich Brooks has become a hero in Kentucky and that same Louisville program is in the toilet, contemplating letting go a coach who has been there for 18 months. My how times have changed.
But how did this happen? How did Rich Brooks make the Kentucky program into a respectable mid-level force in the SEC. The answer is simple….recruiting. People dont realize just what Brooks inherited….a thin team, rattled by probation and proped up for years on a gimmicky offense that was ahead of its time, but soon to be surpassed by teams with more talent. Brooks, Joker and the gang realized that in order to make a move in the conference, they had to get better talent and talent that matched the system they wanted to run. So they went out with two objectives…..OWN the state of Kentucky and get the best second-tier guys in the rest of the Southern states….and that they did.
Blessed with an offensive base of Keenan Burton, Andre’ Woodson, Jacob Tamme and Rafeal Little, the Cats had the beginning pieces to make a run. But the real key was the 2006 recruiting class. With that group, Kentucky took ownership of the state. Micah Johnson, Corey Peters and Josh Minton were taken from teams like Ohio State, Michigan, Virginia Tech and Louisville. A guy like Stevie Johnson was brought in from JUCO and the Georgia pipeline was continued, helping keep LeGrange as Lexington south.
Football recruiting is an inexact science. But the Kentucky team now stands deeper than any team in my lifetime. And next year looks to be even better. It will be difficult for Kentucky to ever be a Top 20 recruiting school because of a lack of huge talent in-state. But they can be a mid-level SEC team that every few years comes together for something special. If that happens, Papa Brooks deserves hero status.