It’s one of the biggest recruiting wins in school history. Kentucky fended off Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Michigan State to receive a commitment from Kiyaunta Goodwin. The highest-ranked player to commit to UK since Mark Stoops’ arrival, it took years of hard work by Vince Marrow in the city of Louisville to pave Goodwin’s path to Lexington.
Stoops’ staff received a ton of credit early in his tenure for branching out into Ohio to secure commitments. It stole headlines, but it was not the primary reason why they were successful. UK’s coaches have an eye for spotting talent at a young age.
Justin Rogers, previously the highest-ranked commitment of the Stoops era, first received an offer from Steve Clinkscale when he was in eighth grade. Marquan McCall’s offer came as a high school freshmen. In Goodwin’s case, the offer came even earlier, during the summer after his seventh grade season.
“They were the first school to offer him a scholarship,” said Goodwin’s mentor, Chris Vaughn. “At that point nobody knew what he would turn into. I had a hunch, but the lightbulb went off, he trusted the process and made Kiyaunta feel like a priority from the get-go at a young age. Now with Covid happening, Kiyaunta hasn’t had a chance to go in front of some of these other schools, so UK has been that place where he feels comfort and familiarity. Coach Marrow has done such a great job.”
By making Goodwin a priority at an early age, he was already familiar with Kentucky’s campus and the coaches when Covid shut down recruiting visits. He was familiar with the facilities, the culture, and most importantly, the people. Most schools got to know Goodwin through Zoom, not Kentucky.
“Just being able to have the face to face conversation with coaches, Goodwin said, “Anybody can say some stuff behind the phone, but when you look them in the eyes it’s totally different.”
Changing the Narrative in Louisville
Stoops readjusted Marrow’s recruiting priorities ahead of the 2019 recruiting cycle, sending Vince to all corners of the state, particularly Louisville. The state’s largest city had plenty of talent, yet struggled to convince players to come to Lexington. In an interview with KSR Marrow did not get into specifics, but he alluded to how the previous regime at UofL used race as a negative recruiting tool against Kentucky.
“Louisville, being a city school, they were getting a lot of inner-city kids,” he said. “I don’t know what they were telling them, but I tell them now, ‘Look, we had the first African-American players in this league. We have a very diverse culture.'”
It was not just talk. The program’s actions provided plenty of evidence. While the Cards struggled on the field, Marrow was able to remove the wedge between the city and state school, securing high profile commitments from J.J. Weaver, Jared Casey, Tae Tae Crumes, Izayah Cummings and more.
People paid attention. Aspirations Gym, operated by Vaughn, is the home base for some of the most talented players in the area. Goodwin will be the third Aspirations athlete to join UK’s program, following cornerback Carrington Valentine and wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson.
Through Thick and Thin
It sounds cliched to say that “recruiting is about relationships.” It’s not so different than when Stoops says, “we gotta go to work.” There is truth behind every cliche and maybe none more so evident than in the case of Kiyaunta Goodwin.
Almost every college coach in the country jumped on the Goodwin bandwagon when he grabbed headlines in middle school. Some of them jumped off when he gained more than 100 pounds through his first two years of high school. Marrow never gave up on Goodwin.
“He’s always recruited me, even when I was heavy, it’s been the same relationship since then,” Goodwin said. “It’s never changed.”
“I think what Coach Marrow does that people don’t really talk about is that he’s really a genuine person,” said Vaughn. “There’s a side of it that’s recruiting (the football player), and there’s a side of it that’s really about getting to know the people that you’re actually recruiting. I think he did a great job of getting to know Kiyaunta.
“When Kiyaunta was 400 pounds he was constantly giving him advice and help to shave that weight off and give him motivation when a lot of schools were starting to kind of back off a little bit. He was always encouraging, kind of a mentor figure. I think that really stuck with Kiyaunta, that he truly had interest in him outside of football. He was able to share stories of similar things he’d been through, some adversity he’d been through to help him find some motivation to propel himself to get to where he is now.”
Unable to take any visits previously, Goodwin will likely check out what other campuses have to offer this summer. Many may worry that his commitment will waver. It’s a long way to signing day, but by sticking by Goodwin through thick and thin, Marrow has created a bond that will be difficult to break.