On the last week’s episode of 11 Personnel, Nick Roush and I discussed just how a college football program is often tethered to the type of talent their local recruiting area provides. Under Mark Stoops, Kentucky has been able to lean all the way into a conservative offense that leans heavy on the defense because of the areas they recruit. Thanks to the physicality and nastiness found in Ohio and the star power the Kentucky class of 2016 provided on the offensive line, the Wildcats were able to run the ball at will as they went 5-1 in their final six games in 2019.
Ohio has given this football program a backbone and Mark Stoops is causing plenty of headaches in Big Ten country, but they still need players from within their borders to be the best program possible. Vince Marrow has taken over the recruiting work in the Bluegrass State and those paying close attention have seen him secure eight signatures from Kentucky high schoolers with Jared Casey, J.J. Weaver and John Young all being blue-chippers. That’s not even counting Lexington Catholic quarterback Beau Allen whose recruiting win goes to Eddie Gran and Darin Hinshaw. Now in the 2020 class, UK has four commits from their backyard and figure to have a great shot to reel in 6 of the state’s top 8.
A pessimistic view point that has been long lived around the program is the fact that Kentucky just can’t recruit well enough to compete with the big boys in the SEC. A huge part of that is there were only a handful of Power Five caliber recruits in any given class. So for decades, UK had to go out and fill out most of its class without a true home territory until Mark Stoops & Co. created the Ohio pipeline. That meant a lot of recruiting classes ranked in the sub-50s. However, that has recently changed.
From 2010-15, the state produced 55 players that signed with Power Five programs averaging out at to 9.17 players per class. In 2014 and 2015, the state produced just 11 Power Five signees. During this time, there were only 14-blue chips (four or five-star prospects) in the group of 55. Kentucky was able to sign multiple players in each class, but only Josh Forrest in the class of 2014 would go on to be selected in the NFL Draft.
From 2013-15, we saw Kentucky pull in 18 players from both Florida and Ohio to supplement the roster in addition to adding 10 junior college players to the football program. UK was upgrading the talent on the roster because Ohio provided a home territory while Florida, junior colleges and other parts of the south and mid-Atlantic allowed the staff to fill the gaps.
Then things began to change in 2016.
The state produced three blue-chip prospects (Landon Young, Drake Jackson, Kash Daniel) and each would pick the state university. The trio would head to Lexington to have productive while Young and Jackson figure to be linchpins on one of the sport’s best offensive lines in 2020. The state produced 10 total Power Five signees, but this was the year that marked a level up period. It’s now been five seasons in a row where the state has produced at least 10 Power Five signees and all signs point towards 2021 and 2022 doing the same.
After striking out in 2018 with all three blue-chip prospects (most notably Rondale Moore heading from Louisville Trinity to Purdue), UK decided to make a change. Stoops gave Marrow the recruiting responsibilities in-state and it paid big dividends in the class of 2019 that had 12 Power Five signees with eight players being blue-chip prospects. UK struck out on the top-six prospects with Western Hills’ Wan’Dale Robinson flipping from UK to Nebraska, Scott County’s Bryan Hudson going to Virginia Tech, and Glasgow’s Tanner Bowles heading to Alabama. However, Marrow was able to get into Louisville and secure signatures from blue-chippers Jared Casey and J.J. Weaver in addition to high three-stars Tae Tae Crumes and Shawn’Kel Knight-Goff. It was from this point forward where we’ve seen the in-state recruiting really make a big jump.
UK reeled in 5 of the top 8 prospects in the class of 2020 headlined by John Young and now the Wildcats have 4 of the state’s top 8 committed in the class of 2021. UK seems to be in great shape to land top-200 prospect and the state’s best player Jager Burton in addition to Bowling Green tight end Justice Dingle. There is excellent momentum building towards 2022 for a class that may end up being the best in state history and it is highlighted by Frederick Douglas wide receiver and legacy recruit Dane Key. As of right now, the 2022 class could produce a boatload of Power Five football players.
KY high school Power Five signees since 2010
Notre Dame: 6
Duke, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State, West Virginia: 2
— Adam Luckett (@AdamLuckettKSR) May 23, 2020
Slowly we are starting to see UK pull away from the rest of the pack when it comes to recruiting in the Bluegrass State. Scott Satterfield and his new staff are still trying to rebuild burnt bridges from the Bobby Petrino era as the Cards have only signed one in-state blue-chip recruit since 2013 and that player never played a down for the program. Notre Dame still remains relevant recruiting the state and the Irish just signed Covington Catholic’s Michael Mayer, the state’s first composite five-star prospect since Micah Johnson in 2006. While Alabama and Clemson are frequently dipping into Kentucky and most often it is most often for offensive line talent. The Tigers and Crimson Tide will always be tough competition for anyone to fend off when they want any prospect in any of the 50 states.
We are now starting to see the talent in the state take a really big jump and that could help raise Kentucky’s floor and ceiling. Gone are the days where there is very limited talent at home and the Wildcats would have to settle for 5th or 6th tier options in the deep south. Now UK has a home territory in Ohio and now Kentucky high school talent is helping bolster that recruiting background.
Things are looking up for the UK football program in more ways than one. Paying and keeping Vince Marrow was a big time move that should payoff in many ways on the recruiting trail.