A week after asking What If? Kentucky Sports Radio will explore a version of the what if question by examining some of the biggest whiffs on the recruiting trail. Super Bowl Champions and first round draft picks could have altered the trajectory of the program if they picked Kentucky on decision day.
5. Jarren Williams
Not every big recruiting miss is actually a miss. Not every recruiting win turns out to be a win either (just ask Matt Elam). In Jarren Williams’ case, the drama that unfolded throughout his recruitment followed him to college.
Williams was relatively unheard of when he initially committed to Kentucky in the summer of 2016. After a few exceptional camp performances, he was a four-star recruit receiving offers from every big school in the country. UK held onto his commitment for a lengthy time before he reopened his recruitment in the spring of 2017. Only three weeks later he re-committed to Kentucky, a pledge he would keep until he visited Miami in the fall to watch Mark Richt’s Canes take down Notre Dame.
Once Williams got to campus, the luster of ‘The U’ and the hype that followed the quarterback faded. A reserve throughout his freshman season, Manny Diaz named him the starting quarterback as a sophomore. He had a few bright moments, like a six-touchdown performance vs. UofL, before the wheels came off as Williams served as the source of turmoil in the Canes’ locker room. He entered the transfer portal this offseason and has yet to find a destination. Western Kentucky is rumored to be in contention for his services.
Williams could have brought those problems to Lexington. If he’s a Wildcat, Kentucky probably does not seek out the services of Terry Wilson, jeopardizing the fate of UK’s historic 10-win season in 2018.
4. Frank Jacobs
Kentucky’s first Mr. Football was an All-American in 1986, narrowly losing National Player of the Year honors to a guy named Emmitt Smith. The Newport Central Catholic tight end chose to play for Lou Holtz at Notre Dame instead of Jerry Claiborne at Kentucky. In his second collegiate season Jacobs helped the Fighting Irish win a National Championship.
An ankle injury ended his football career the following year, but it didn’t stop him from starring on the baseball team. He set the school’s single-season home run record before playing five years professionally, making it all the way to AAA in the Mets’ organization.
3. Zack Martin
In the last decade two legacy recruits could have been Kentucky Wildcats. Jamal Adams, former UK running back George Adams’ son, is the most famous, currently stealing headlines as a safety for the New York Jets. Bringing the five-star recruit to Lexington in 2014 was probably out of the question for the eventual LSU Tiger. The same cannot be said for another future Pro Bowler.
Keith Martin helped Jerry Claiborne win a Hall of Fame Bowl as a defensive lineman for the Wildcats. More than 25 years later his son was a four-star recruit out of Indianapolis. Joker Phillips could not convince Zack Martin to follow in his father’s footsteps. Instead the offensive lineman went to Notre Dame, played in a National Championship Game and earned a Pinstripe Bowl MVP award (what kind of offensive lineman wins a bowl game MVP?) before he was selected in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft.
Martin was a Pro Bowler in each of his first six seasons as a Dallas Cowboy. Want to feel even worse? His letter brother, Nick, followed him to Notre Dame before he became a second round NFL Draft pick. Nick Martin recently signed a three-year extension to continue serving as the Houston Texans’ starting center.
2. Wan’Dale Robinson
The record-setting playmaker was Kentucky’s Mr. Football in 2018. Recruited heavily by the Wildcats, the Frankfort native was a longtime lean to Nebraska. In a shocking twist, he committed to Kentucky during a ceremony at his high school. The even bigger shock was his de-commitment weeks after he completely ingratiated himself into the Wildcats’ program. A Lynn Bowden 2.0, luckily UK landed a similar playmaker when Michael Drennen joined UK’s 2020 recruiting class.
1. Drew Brees
Kentucky was one of two schools that offered a scholarship to one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. Unfortunately, Purdue’s academics won over the undersized gunslinger from Texas.
Brees became Joe Tiller’s starting quarterback at Purdue in 1998, the same year Tim Couch was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. Even though they slightly overlapped, a redshirt year from Brees at UK could have given Hal Mumme’s Air Raid the ultimate quarterback triumvirate — Couch, Brees, Lorenzen.
Instead of firing up the siren at Commonwealth Stadium, Brees nearly eclipsed 4,000 passing yards in all three of his seasons as a starter. He was a two-time Heisman finalist and in 2001 he took the Boilermakers to the Rose Bowl, falling to the Washington Huskies in his final collegiate football game. After rearranging college record books (his 83 passing attempts in a single game is my personal favorite) he’s done the same in the NFL and won a Super Bowl with the New Orleans Saints.