Since he set foot on UK’s campus seven months ago, Mark Stoops has totally changed the culture surrounding UK football. Recruits that would have never given the Cats the time of day are now giving the program a second look thanks to some big commitments and undeniable buzz. The best example of how much the environment around the program has changed may have come over the weekend during UK’s Saturday Night Prime Time Camp, which featured 350 of the top rising juniors and seniors in the nation. Whereas UK football recruiting events formerly resembled church functions in terms of atmosphere (the haunting picture of the “recruiting area” at Nutter Field House comes to mind), now they are actual events kids want to go to, with DJs spinning, videos on the jumbotrons, and a young, hungry energy. This is not your father’s Kentucky football.
On paper, Mark Stoops’ recruiting over the past seven months has been impressive; but it’s the intangibles that are really jaw-dropping. What has he done that Joker Phillips could not? Let’s examine Mark Stoops’ “sales pitch” for the new era of Kentucky football:
Early playing time in the best conference in the country
This one’s easy. Kentucky is a member of the SEC, which means its players will have eight opportunities to play against the best competition in the entire country. The SEC not only offers elite programs, but a brand name with a history of winning championships and putting players in the NFL draft. To be the best, you’ve got to play against the best, right? If you’re a big time high school football player, the ultimate destination right now is the Southeastern Conference. Football rules the South, and SEC players are considered the elite of the sport; however, because of that, rosters are already crowded with top talent. At Kentucky, Mark Stoops can offer players the chance to be a part of an SEC program right away, instead of redshirting or being at the end of the bench. There’s nothing more appealing than the chance to play immediately in the best and most widely televised football conference in the nation. For that reason, Stoops can sell that exposure better than anyone in the conference, save maybe Vandy.
We making history out Lexington
— K. Walker Jr (@KobieWalker) June 10, 2013
The chance to build a program
In his first diary entry for the site, Drew Barker said that one of the the main reasons he chose Kentucky over South Carolina was the “what if” factor, meaning what if he had committed to South Carolina only to look back a few years later to see that he has missed the chance to rebuild the Kentucky football program. Although these kids are only 17 and 18 years old, the importance of building a legacy is not lost on them. Being “trailblazers” gives recruits a sense of pride for the program that was missing before.
The Stoops legacy
Even though he’s not as well known as his older brother, Mark Stoops’ name is instantly recognizable in college football. Although a recruit may have no clue about the Kentucky football program, odds are he probably knows the Stoops name, which has quite the legacy behind it. “Stoops” helps offset Kentucky’s disappointing record under the previous staff and increases the hype surrounding the team.
Mark this one down as a lesson from John Calipari: your best recruiters are the players who’ve already committed. Like their basketball counterparts, UK football’s 2014 commitments have done more than their share to bring the top talent with them to Lexington. You’ve seen how hard Drew Barker’s recruiting, and he’s not alone. Better than anyone, these kids know who the good players are in their class and who they want to be on a team with. Through social media, they can connect 24/7 and interact with fans. Like Drew said, the players love getting attention from the fans, and the Kentucky fan base is notorious for doling out their love (and sometimes hate) via Twitter. With a common mission of helping their class finish with a Top 15 ranking, the 2014 commits are already working together a full year before they get to campus. They’re so determined that they took time out of their summers to convene in Lexington over the weekend and early this week to meet with the staff, recruits, and get to know each other better. I can’t wait to see that translate on the field.
The Air Raid
Even though he left UK with more problems than Claude Bassett on a diet, Hal Mumme was cool. So cool that my dad bought a pair of Oakleys like his and renewed his season tickets. And while his game plans really were just scratches in the dirt sometimes, it was exciting and successful. The Air Raid offense revolutionized college football, and hasn’t really been seen in the SEC ever since Mumme left. Not anymore. If you’re a big time quarterback or receiver, there isn’t a more desirable offense in the country. The Air Raid is back, but this time, there will be an equal focus on defense. Plus, those sirens…
The Cool Factor
Stoops’ staff is young and motivated. When you listen to them talk, they are upbeat, positive, and generally make you long for football season to be here. They also understand what kids these days want in a football program. Ever since Stoops took over, you’ve seen some major changes in the marketing of the program, from the videos being released by KyWildcatsTV, the graphics, the spring game atmosphere, and more. Even the season tickets look cool now. From the press conference announcing his hiring to the recent Saturday Prime Time Camp, there is a fun buzz around UK football that makes you want to be a part of it.