There is a significant difference in building a football team and building a football program. Mark Stoops has constructed a sustainable, winning program in Lexington. One measure in differentiating between a team and program is gauging how many elite, or All SEC/All American caliber players are within the same position group on a roster.
The 2020 Kentucky Wildcats will feature two positions that contain such an elite grouping: offensive tackle and inside linebacker. Let’s take a look.
Inside Linebacker – Chris Oats and DeAndre Square
Chris Oats and DeAndre Square entered the linebacker rotation as true freshmen in 2018. The pair contributed key minutes for a defense that finished ranked 6th in the nation after allowing just 16.8 points-per-game. The duo followed up a promising freshmen season with a strong sophomore campaign. Square and Oats combined to make 115 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 QB sacks, 3 QB hurries, 2 pass breakups, 2 forced fumbles, and 1 interception. It’s not a stretch to say that Kentucky will have the best, or one of the best inside linebacker combinations in the Southeastern Conference in 2020. Let’s take a look at the two Wildcats individually:
Chris Oats hails from Cincinnati, Ohio. He attended Winton Woods High School where he was ranked as a 4-star outside linebacker. He totaled 27 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 2 QB sacks and 2 fumble recoveries as a true freshman. His sophomore season was equally impressive: 46 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 1 pass breakup and 1 forced fumble. At 6’3, 232 lbs., Oats possesses optimal size for an inside linebacker. His sideline to sideline speed is exceptional. Oats has gained valuable experience in playing within the tackle box from extensive playing time in his first two seasons.
DeAndre Square is from Detroit, Michigan and attended Cass Tech High School, which is considered one of the best programs in the country. Like Oats, Square was a 4-star prospect. He was also rated as the 20th best outside linebacker in the country.
Measuring 6’1, 217-pounds, DeAndre Square is fast, mean, and did I say fast? He’s extremely physical for his size and effectively navigates the line-of-scrimmage. He played in all 13 games in 2018 and earned All-Freshman SEC honors. Square started 12 games as a sophomore and finished 2nd on the team with 69 tackles to go along with 4 tackles for loss and 1.5 QB sacks.
Offensive Tackle – Landon Young and Darian Kinnard
Landon Young and Darian Kinnard make up the SEC’s top offensive tackle combination and will compete to be the top duo in all of college football in 2020. Both are founding members of UK’s famed Big Blue Wall and came to Lexington with high expectations. Young and Kinnard are consistent, talented, and technically elite. They both started all 13 games during the 2019 season and earned All-SEC honors by various publications.
Landon Young was a 5-star hometown product from Lafayette High School. After missing the entire 2018 season due to a knee injury, Young returned for a resilient junior season both on and off the field. He totaled 64 knockdown blocks and missed just one assignment in 754 offensive plays. Young has excellent balance and athletic ability for a player that is listed at 6’7, 321 lbs. He is extremely smart and fully understands the mental and physical nuances involved with playing left tackle in the Southeastern Conference.
Landon Young was named the captain of the 2019 AFCA Good Works Team and inducted into the Frank G. Ham Society of Character which honors Wildcats who have shown an extraordinary commitment to academic excellence, athletic participation, personal development, career preparation and serving as a role model.
Darian Kinnard played his high school football at St. Ignatius in Cleveland, Ohio. Rated a 4-star prospect, Kinnard was selected to play in the US Army All American Bowl in San Antonio, Texas. He played in nine games as a true freshman and started two of the Cat’s final three contests of 2018. He played at an extremely high level during sophomore season which is the reason that Kinnard is considered to be one of the nation’s top returning offensive tackles. The right tackle started all 13 games in 2019 and registered 32 knockdown blocks. He was only called for one penalty in 706 offensive plays.
How good is Darian Kinnard? If I was a betting man, I’d say 2020 will be the junior’s last season in Lexington prior to his entry into the National Football League. I’d also argue that he could go down in history as the program’s best right tackle. Yes, he’s that good.
I know you’ve grown tired of me saying that Mark Stoops has built a program, not a team. The four players I mentioned had an average recruiting star-rating of 4.25 and have lived up to that billing in college. Mark Stoops has recruited and developed at an unmatched level at the University of Kentucky. That’s evident and is present with the Wildcats’ offensive tackle and inside linebacker duos.