The Kentucky coaching staff is already looking down the road for the next batch of future ‘Cats, extending offers to class of 2023 members left and right.
On Wednesday night, AJ Hoffler, a four-star strongside defensive end from Georgia, announced on Twitter that he picked up a scholarship offer from the University of Kentucky. It’s the 12th overall offer for the high school sophomore, who burst onto the scene the last six months thanks to an impressive season on the field this past fall.
Hoffler, a 6-foot-5, 245-pounder, spoke with KSR on Thursday to discuss the offer, what he thinks of the ‘Cats, and where his recruitment stands ahead of the in-person recruiting dead period finally coming to a close at the end of the month.
— AJ Hoffler (@yungajh) May 13, 2021
According to 247 Sports, Hoffler is the No. 220 player in his class, the 29th best strongside defensive end, and the 28th best player from the talent-rich state of Georgia. He plays his high school ball for Woodward Academy, which is located in the town of College Park, just a short drive south of Atlanta. One of Hoffler’s current teammates, Damari Alston, is a class of 2022 four-star running back who holds an outstanding 53 offers, one of them coming from Kentucky.
But aside from that minor connection, Hoffler has actually known about the Kentucky Football program for a couple of years now–and the Big Blue Nation can thank former Wildcat All-American and current member of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Josh Allen, for that.
“I started looking at their football (program), I think it was Josh Allen, he had like 15 sacks or something,” Hoffler told KSR about his first impressions of Kentucky. “But that’s when I started looking at Kentucky Football. I don’t really watch college football but I’ve known about them since they were ranked top 10 at one point. That’s one of those SEC schools that I’ve looked at.”
Hoffler actually sold Allen a bit short, too. During Allen’s senior season at Kentucky, where the team peaked in the national rankings at No. 9, he recorded 17 sacks to go along with 21.5 tackles for loss, 88 overall tackles, and five forced fumbles en route to being drafted No. 7 overall by the Jaguars in the 2019 NFL Draft. Allen was the pioneer for the 2018 defense that powered the ‘Cats to its first 10-win season since 1977.
Suiting up at the same defensive end position on his high school team, Hoffler impressed during his sophomore season despite missing three of 10 games due to a sprained AC joint. He suffered that injury in the second game of the season and sat out the next three, but still managed to post good numbers, especially for a high school sophomore.
Hoffler’s performance has earned him 12 offers since December, but he thinks he could have done even more on the gridiron.
“I think I could have been better,” Hoffler said about his sophomore year. “My improvement from my freshman year to my sophomore year was pretty huge. When I was a freshman I didn’t even play and then I had like six sacks this year, a forced fumble, and a couple of TFLs, so I think I had a pretty good season, but I could have had double-digit sacks. I’m still happy with the offers I have–I’m not happy, I’m surprised. I’m happy and surprised because I didn’t think I’d have any right now. Not 12 (offers).”
Joining Kentucky on his offer sheet, Hoffler has also received scholarships from Colorado, Georgia State, Georgia Tech, Kansas State, Marshall, Michigan State, Middle Tennessee State, Ole Miss, UCF, Wake Forest, and West Virginia. The defensive line coach for UK, Anwar Stewart, was the one who initially reached out to Hoffler and eventually extended the offer. Much like his reaction to picking up so many offers this year, Hoffler said he was shocked to hear from the ‘Cats.
“It was definitely a surprise,” Hoffler said. “My trainer, he knows the coach (Stewart) and said they’re gonna offer me sometime this week but I had no idea they were looking at me.”
At the moment, Hoffler doesn’t have a trip to Lexington planned for the summer, but he fully intends on getting to campus in June and expects to talk with Coach Stewart soon to set that up. He already has unofficial visits to Kansas State and Georgia Tech planned, adding that he’s also been in talks with Georgia to try and go see the Bulldogs campus. Once the dead period officially ends on June 1, Hoffler will have a much better idea of his schedule for the summer.
He’s surely going to hear from more schools in the future, too. Hoffler told KSR that the likes of Notre Dame, Miami (FL), North Carolina, and South Carolina have been in contact, but have yet to extend an offer. Kentucky decided to get in the mix before those other programs reach out, a tactic that has proved to pay off down the road for the coaching staff over the last several years.
Hoffler said that he’s looking for two things in particular when it comes to a potential college destination: a good business program and a coaching staff he can believe in. Kentucky’s Gatton College of Business and Economics is one of the better programs across the country while the football coaching staff has been consistent with its success since 2016.
“A good business school and a good coaching staff,” Hoffler said about what he’s looking for. “Because I know I can go most places and they’ll be successful but if I don’t like the coaches or the academics–they don’t have to be outstanding, but they need to be somewhat good. From what I’ve seen so far talking to Coach Stewart, I like him so far.”