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Ohio is becoming less important for Kentucky football

When the University of Kentucky decided to part ways with Joker Phillips at the end of the 2012 football season, one of the main boxes they needed the next head coach to check was the ability to bring Ohio high school talent to Lexington. For a very long time, UK was unable to cash in up north and it meant a major talent disadvantage on Saturdays.

When Mitch Barnhart, along with some assistance from Tim Couch, started the interview process every candidate was likely pressed on how they could recruit the state of Ohio. No one had a better answer than Mark Stoops and the ability to mine the Buckeye State for talent likely played a major factor in him getting the job. The results were immediate.

UK reeled in 14 signees from Ohio in the first two classes and have gone on to sign 51 players from the state in eight seasons with a record-high 13 signees in the class of 2016. We’ve seen both Lynn Bowden Jr. and Benny Snell Jr. come south to Lexington and become All-Americans and NFL draft picks. Nationally, this success has given the program a ton of buzz as Kentucky has been labeled a ‘Big Ten Killer‘ for taking players that programs such as Michigan State used for decades to build their roster and compete at a top-25 level with. There is no denying the success, but we’ve seen some changes recently.

In the 2019 and 2020 classes, we saw UK sign just eight players from the Buckeye State, highlighted by blue-chippers Mike Drennen II and Moses Douglass in addition to high three-star running back JuTahn McClain. While seen as an anomaly at the time, we look into the 2021 class and the Wildcats have just three players from Ohio pledged with none of them ranking in the state’s top-15. There are some reasons for that and they are important factors to know when looking at the program’s recruiting strategy.

Kentucky’s Talent Boom

In the class of 2018, UK signed zero players from its own state and that acted as a warning sign to many who followed the program. However, when you looked closer, it wasn’t a huge deal. Rondale Moore was highly unlikely to stay in-state while Louisville natives Jairus Brents and Tahj Rice are no longer with the programs they signed with (Louisville, Duke) after just a couple seasons. The state produced just three players that would be considered a mid three-star prospect or higher. In its place Kentucky would hammer Florida by getting nine players from the Sunshine State.

The following season we started to see things change. In the class of 2019, the state of Kentucky produced an unprecedented eight blue-chip prospects and about halfway through the season they found themselves trailing in every recruitment. From that point forward, Vince Marrow became the head recruiter in the home state. Marrow made an immediate impact.

The Wildcats lost a heated recruiting battle for top-100 prospect Wan’Dale Robinson with Nebraska, but they were able to score some big wins. UK flipped four-star linebacker Jared Casey from Oregon and beat out Louisville for edge player J.J. Weaver. The Wildcats cashed in while UofL was firing Bobby Petrino and won four recruitments from the state’s biggest city in that cycle. From that point forward, UK has won the majority of recruiting battles in its own state.

Clemson came in and defeated Kentucky for top-50 tackle Walker Parks while Notre Dame scooped up five-star Michael Mayer, but UK cleaned up after that securing signatures from five of the top eight players in the state in 2020. Fast forward to 2021 and UK has verbals from four of the top eight and appears to have a great shot at the state’s best player and top-120 prospect Jager Burton. Looking ahead to 2022, it could be another unprecedented year and UK is trying to beat everyone to the punch in the recruitment of blue-chip quarterback Gavin Wimsatt.

Ohio has acted as a home base for the program since Stoops arrived, but as Kentucky has produced more Power Five talent, Vince Marrow has spent more time traveling the state of Kentucky and not as much time traveling north to his home state.

Lean on your Recruiters

Following the 2015 season, Stoops hired Eddie Gran and Darin Hinshaw to fix the offense, but another assistant that came over from Cincinnati that same offseason is becoming a very integral piece of the coaching staff. In the class of 2018, Steve Clinkscale was able to build some relationships in the Detroit area that resulted in landing top-200 prospect Marquan McCall and high three-star DeAndre Square. Two years later, they would dip back into the Detroit area to land top-60 prospect Justin Rogers, blue-chip offensive lineman Jeremy Flax in addition to high three-stars Deondre Buford and Earnest Sanders IV. Clinkscale has built a pipeline to another state in addition to being the staff’s best junior college recruiter and the guy who got win for blue-chip defensive back Yusuf Corker out of the Atlanta area.

When Matt House surprisingly left following the historic 2018 season, it put the staff in a bit of a bind. Stoops quickly promoted Brad White to defensive coordinator, but needed to find an inside linebackers coach. He found former alum Jon Sumrall who had recently worked at Tulane, Troy and Ole Miss.

Sumrall made quick work on the recruiting trail flipping top-250 propsect Josaih Hayes from Ole Miss close to signing day, scoring one of UK’s biggest recruiting wins in 2020. In the 2021 class, we’ve seen the staff lean heavily on his recruiting work as he has secured five commitments. Sumrall’s recruiting area consists primarily of Alabama and south Georgia as the staff appears set on pulling out of south Florida. All seven of Sumrall’s recruiting wins have come from this area, a new recruiting pipeline.

Kentucky has found two assistants who are turning into real threats to other programs on the recruiting trail. Therefore, they are leaning into these areas and letting their young, hot shot assistants go to work. It’s not crazy to think that moving forward we could see around 40-50 percent of each class coming from both of their territories.

New Strategy

Back in 2016, Kentucky went into Ohio and secured commitments from 13 different players making up 54.17 percent of that year’s haul. That’s something that’s not a realistic expectation moving forward and there are numerous reasons why — Ryan Day is making the home state much more important to Ohio State’s recruiting efforts and Vince Marrow is now being used as the point-man in Kentucky. Ohio can still be the backbone, but the staff is trying to become a more major player in other areas.

Since the arrival of Stoops in December 2012, six players from Ohio have received All-SEC honors and four of those players turned into NFL Draft selections. The program has had lot of success finding talent from its bordering state, but there has also been a bit of a bust rate. From 2013-2017, UK signed 38 players from Ohio. From that pool, 17 either transferred, quit or were dismissed from the program. What that means is only 55.26 percent of signees UK has gotten from Ohio either graduated, exhausted their eligibility or entered the NFL Draft early. That is not a healthy percentage for a location that was suppose to be your home base.

Attrition certainly happens in college football and you must be prepared for it. However, it is the staff’s job to make sure they are bringing in players that fit the DNA and culture of the football program. What we’re starting to see is Kentucky become more selective in Ohio for a multitude of reasons. The homegrown talent within their borders is improving at a rapid rate, while two young defensive staffers are proving to be effective recruiters in Michigan and the Deep South.

The program is evolving and that is a very healthy thing.

Article written by Adam Luckett

Twitter: @AdamLuckettKSR

14 Comments for Ohio is becoming less important for Kentucky football



  1. bkeith75
    7:11 pm July 28, 2020 Permalink

    Nice job, Adam. Very good, insightful article.



  2. UKgrad80
    7:52 pm July 28, 2020 Permalink

    Yes excellent and insightful journalism young man!



  3. PensacolaCat
    8:21 pm July 28, 2020 Permalink

    Good article. We must continue to improve our recruiting if we want to continue to rise in the SEC. We can’t be happy with where we are because it’s still behind most in the conference.



  4. Brutal Hustler
    8:57 pm July 28, 2020 Permalink

    Pulling out of South Florida? Why would we neglect recruiting that talent rich area?



    • satcheluk
      4:29 pm July 30, 2020 Permalink

      The culture in SFL is one of great talent, but lack of discipline. There’s a lot of recruiting and coaches jump from school to school. So when kids get to college, unless they are elite, they find they have to outwork others and it takes years to earn playing time. Many do not have the discipline to put in the hours and they often wind up transferring to 1AA or the like in order to get immediate playing time. Too many haven’t planned out for Stoops, so he’s pulled the plug unless it’s a no brained.



  5. UoKFB PHAN
    9:31 pm July 28, 2020 Permalink

    Good information and insight. I think the title of the article is a little misleading as Ohio is still important to UK but I believe your statement in the last paragraph helped clarify things. ‘What we’re starting to see is Kentucky become more selective in Ohio for a multitude of reasons.’

    Any thoughts on why ‘the staff appears set on pulling out of south Florida.’ Is it just a case of Sumrall being successful in the new areas or was the coaching staff not seeing the results they wanted given the effort they were putting into the area?



    • blueballs80
      9:37 pm July 28, 2020 Permalink

      Lots of talent in Alabama too. Hidden gems in AL. If we are going to win the SEC championship, we need a solid passing game to mesh with the run game. The OL has been spot on with run blocking.



  6. UoKFB PHAN
    9:34 pm July 28, 2020 Permalink

    Next question; has the staff really put much emphasis on the Atlanta or Charlotte metro areas? I know they said they wanted to get into the DC metro area but I think we’ve only had 2 or 3 players from that area sign in the last five years.



  7. UKInsider
    9:59 pm July 28, 2020 Permalink

    Only a matter of time before Luckett joins UK’s scouting staff in some capacity – great article with very insightful facts.



  8. JASUN74
    10:01 pm July 28, 2020 Permalink

    We’re in fantastic shape with this program right now. We’re becoming better and better every single year and have more talent as of right this second than the last fifty years. It just takes time to build a powerhouse football program, but we’re inching closer and closer to the top of the SEC East and I couldn’t be anymore happier than I am. Of course I wish we could snap our fingers and become National Champions but that’s just not how life is.

    What we are doing is recruiting very good, overly underrated kids who are some of the hardest workers you could find. They’re are all in it together and have made a pack to take this program to the top. I’m so grateful for Coach Stoops and this staff, they’re some of the very best in the country at developing young players and turning them into really good young men who know how to play the game. I’m more excited about this team than I’ve ever been and I’ve said the same thing for the last four years. Hahaha. God love everyone of you guys and gals, and Go Cats !!



  9. JT55
    8:46 am July 29, 2020 Permalink

    Another part of this is since Luke Fickell has been at UC he has absolutely been locking Ohio down. OSU will always get their pick first, but look at UC’s recruiting since Fickell has been there. That’s why their a top 25 program again.



  10. OKB
    9:49 am July 29, 2020 Permalink

    I think it would be wise to not ostracize any area of the country when it comes to recruiting. Ohio has and will continue to be a valuable part of UK Football’s agenda for as long as Mark Stoops and Vince Marrow patrol the sidelines. Why make their recruiting jobs harder by writing articles that convey to up and coming UK recruits in Ohio that they matter less to the program today?

    Explain to me how this article helps whatever UK’s recruiting agenda is in Ohio in any way?

    Don’t sell out the football program just so you can hit a writing assignment deadline.



  11. UoKFB PHAN
    9:22 pm July 29, 2020 Permalink

    Interesting info on UC. I knew the new coach at OSU said he was going to make some changes in recruiting but I didn’t realize UC was becoming more of a player.



  12. GACAT
    12:57 pm July 30, 2020 Permalink

    Great article, Football recruiting is always my first stop on KSR. More articles like this will certainly be appreciated. Keep up the great work