Mark Stoops has taken football recruiting to new heights since he landed on UK’s campus back in 2013. He has Kentucky competing for a top-25 class ranking each year, and the program is in with more four and five-star talents than ever before, with many on the roster already.
An example of a current top prospect in Stoops’ sights, he has the Wildcats in the mix for Mykel Williams, a five-star prospect out of Georgia, considered the No. 1 defensive end in America.
During Stoops’ special guest appearance on Wednesday’s KSR radio show, Matt Jones asked Stoops if UK’s recent recruiting success opened doors to expand UK’s reach on the map, or up the rankings for players traditionally beyond UK’s dreams, players like Williams or five-star Justin Rogers, who signed with Kentucky out of Michigan in the Class of 2020.
Stoops replied, “When we got here, I didn’t want to expand and go too far away and, how do I put this politely, taking guys that were 14th choice in the SEC, or 12th, 13th, 14th choice—that’s not going to help us build the program.
“Guys within a five-hour radius from our campus, six-hour radius, you might get to know better, you know them, you know their coaches, you know the upside that they have, at least the mentality.”
He of course is talking about the Ohio guys he targeted the moment he took the Kentucky job. Stoops’ plan from the beginning, he and fellow Ohioan Vince Marrow have done very well in their talent-rich home state.
“We recruit a lot of people,” he continued. “I have over 100 players right now out here in spring practice, so I have a lot of guys. We try to hit 100 percent certainly with their character and making sure we’re getting the right guys that are the right fit for the University of Kentucky, but when you go far, or maybe when I first got here, dipping into the deeper south, you had to make sure you’re getting the right guys and we certainly have. I’m so proud of some of the guys we’ve had that have been great fits for us.
“Now as you prove yourself, as you get better, you have a stronger name in the SEC footprint, you can expand more and more.”
Stoops said he and his staff aren’t perfect at identifying the right talent, but they’re always trying to find young players who meet their criteria for the program.
“We don’t hit 100 percent, but we try,” he told KSR. “We try to get the guys that fit our program and that are going to represent us the right way and win a bunch of football games. I feel like, as we get better, as we prove ourselves, it gives us an opportunity to expand further.”
Stoops’ name and the Kentucky brand go a lot further on the recruiting trail than when he started out too. Now heading into his ninth season, he has new opportunities in new places as more people are open to hearing what he and Kentucky can bring to the conversation.
“Not even close, not even close,” he responded. “Very receptive, the coaches have been so good to us. We’ve been here for awhile now. Is this nine coming up? It’s been a long time, so they’ve seen us. They’ve seen us knocking on those doors, they’ve seen us calling on these coaches. Even if we don’t get a guy, we try to represent in the right way and get in these schools and build relationships with these coaches, and eventually it pays dividends. It comes from a lot of hard work from a lot of years from a lot of different people.”