Keeping up with the hundreds of Kentucky Football targets from every class isn’t all that easy, which is why we’re going to try and simplify it as much as possible.
As you might have seen on the site over the last several weeks, we’ve been breaking down the need-to-know recruiting prospects, particularly from the class of 2022, separating them by position. The ‘Cats already have nine commits from the class of 2022, good enough for 12th in the nation, per 247 Sports, and there’s a considerable chance they could add another top-rated prospect by the end of the week in cornerback Alex Afari.
But before we get there, let’s talk defensive ends–strongside and weakside. The Kentucky coaching staff is in the hunt for a handful of the country’s premier defensive ends, including a few four-stars and even a five-star.
This isn’t a perfect list by any means, but it should be a close-to-accurate representation as to which defensive ends UK is targeting more than others. All rankings are courtesy of 247 Sports while the position descriptions come from both 247 Sports and Rivals–meaning one site might have a player tabbed as a defensive tackle, but the other has them as a defensive end, so we added those prospects in as defensive ends.
Weakside defensive ends
Tyreese Fearbry (4-star, No. 249): 6-5, 210 pounds – Perry Traditional Academy (Pittsburgh, PA)
One of a couple of potential stars in this post, Tyreese Fearbry would be an absolute prize recruit for the Kentucky Wildcats if he were to make Lexington his next home. He’s a consensus 4-star talent with offers from all over the country. As of right now, there are four programs in particular that currently have the inside path on Fearbry, and those would be the four schools he already has official visits planned with for this coming June: Pittsburgh, Kentucky, Penn State, and Auburn.
His recruitment is far from an end, though. Fearbry told Brian Dohn of 247 Sports last month that he’s hoping to add another official visit this summer with one of Clemson, Georgia, or Notre Dame, which could completely shake up his entire recruitment. Clemson is his dream school. Fearbry doesn’t have offers from Clemson, UGA, or ND as of right now but did say he was in talks with them. More exposure from the nation’s top programs would likely make him a tougher land for Kentucky.
Bryson Jennings (4-star, No. 274): 6-6, 235 pounds – Clover Hill (Midlothian, VA)
There is only one official visit scheduled for Bryson Jennings as of right now–a June 4 trip to see Virginia Tech. His connection to Kentucky isn’t as noticeable as fellow 4-star Tyreese Fearbry, but Jennings has been on the Wildcats’ radar since offering him in June of 2020. The in-state schools of Virginia Tech and Virginia were his first two Divison I offers, and he’s picked up scholarships from high-level programs such as Penn State and Michigan. North Carolina is also in the mix. It should be noted that Jennings’ father played tight end at Virginia Tech back in his college days.
Beau Atkinson (3-star, No. 386): 6-6, 240 pounds – Leesville Road (Raleigh, NC)
It was just eight days ago that Kentucky extended an offer to Beau Atkinson, but the ‘Cats are trying to stand out as his first official SEC scholarship. Trips to Michigan and Virginia are already locked in for June, so if Kentucky truly wants to make a run at Atkinson, they’ll need to get working quickly. Andrew Ivins of 247 Sports reported on Tuesday that Atkinson is looking to make visits (either unofficial or through camps) this summer to Miami (FL) and Clemson in addition to UM and UVA. While he doesn’t currently hold an offer from Clemson, it sounds like it would be incredibly difficult for him to turn that down if it were to come to fruition. Cal and Stanford have also been linked to Atkinson.
Joshua Josephs (3-star, No. 546): 6-3, 205 pounds – North Cobb (Kennesaw, GA)
After dropping his top 8 schools at the end of April, Joshua Josephs is still high on Kentucky after the coaching staff initially extended an offer to him back in the middle of March. Despite the lack of a longstanding relationship, Josephs has remained consistent with his inclusion of the Wildcats when talking about his recruitment process. He told KSR in March that he was hoping to take official visits this summer to Michigan, Tennessee, Penn State, UCF, and Kentucky. As of this post, he already has visits planned to Michigan and Tennessee in June.
Keon Wylie (3-star, No. 617): 6-3, 220 pounds – Imhotep Institute (Philadephia, PA)
Planning to drop his top list of schools soon, Keon Wylie is also expected to take an official visit to see Kentucky’s campus at some point, according to his Twitter. He already has trips set up to a pair of in-state schools, Penn State and Pittsburgh, but it would appear that UK will get its shot to impress Wylie at some point this summer. Ole Miss is another SEC team in the mix for Wylie. He’s one to keep an eye on moving forward.
Eric Gaston (3-star, No. 824): 6-6, 260 pounds – Cane Ridge (Antioch, TN)
Coming off a trip to see Ole Miss’ Spring Game roughly two weeks ago, Eric Gaston only holds a handful of offers, but most of them come from Power 5 programs. Along with Kentucky, which offered back in July of 2020, he’s also hauled in scholarships from Tennessee (four days before UK), Ole Miss, and Indiana, along with Eastern Kentucky. However, the home-state Volunteers don’t appear to be too involved with Gaston at the moment while the Hoosiers came into the equation months after Ole Miss and UK.
Isaiah Smith (3-star, No. 856): 6-4, 210 pounds – St. John’s (Washington D.C.)
Kentucky offered Isaiah Smith back in May of 2020 and he’s also pulled in interest from the likes of Virginia, Boston College, Indiana, Louisville, his hometown school of Maryland, and Virginia Tech. He also received offers from Michigan, Tennessee, and Arizona State before the ‘Cats came along. Otherwise, there isn’t much out on there on Smith right now in regards to his recruitment status and when he might be looking to make a final decision. Despite a low 3-star rating, Smith possesses a nice offer sheet.
Strongside defensive ends
Mykel Williams (5-star, No. 23): 6-5, 265 pounds – Hardaway (Columbus, GA)
Without a whiff of hyperbole, Mykel Williams would be the biggest recruiting win yet under head coach Mark Stoops–you could even make a case that Williams would be the best high school prospect to ever pick Kentucky, right up there with Micah Johnson and Antonio Hall. That being said, a decision is still undetermined and the ‘Cats will have to beat out the likes of Alabama, USC, Georgia, LSU, and plenty others to gain his services. There’s a very good reason he’s a 5-star talent and a top 25 player from the class of 2022.
Kentucky was among the top 10 list for Williams, although he released that all the way back on Jan. 1. If there is any positive news to take from that, he was initially expected to commit during the middle of March–with all signs pointing to him staying in-state and attending Georgia–but later pushed back on that date to reevaluate his options. Not long after he delayed his decision, Williams told Steve Wiltfong of 247 Sports that Georgia and USC were the frontrunners with Georgia Tech closely behind. He has official visits scheduled to see USC and then to Georgia Tech in June with an unofficial to Alabama also in the works, according to Rivals’ Trent Smallwood.
Justice Finkley (4-star, No. 127): 6-2, 255 pounds – Hewitt-Trussville (Trussville, AL)
Kentucky recently made the top 12 for Justice Finkley, which he dropped near the end of March, although he does not have a trip to Lexington planned as of right now. So far, Finkley is scheduled to visit Colorado, Michigan, and Texas, in that order, and he’s also receiving some serious interest from in-state Alabama with an offer already in his possession. This isn’t to say Kentucky doesn’t have a shot, but they have ground to still make up. The Wildcats were able to stick out with a graphic they sent Finkley that played on his desire to work in the medical field one day, but prying him from the state of Alabama could be too tough a task to execute.
Brandon Cleveland (4-star, No. 335): 6-3, 265 pounds – Carrollwood Day (Tampa, FL)
Following his recent decision to back off his commitment to Miami (FL), Brandon Cleveland already has one official visit scheduled as of this post: a June 11 trip to see N.C. State. Andrew Ivins of 247 Sports believes that Cal and Arizona State are the other two programs to keep an eye on for landing Cleveland’s services. His offer from Kentucky came all the way back in April of 2020 and while the communication with the Wildcats has seemingly gone cold, he’s still an impressive target that UK eyeballed early on.
Horace Lockett (3-star, No. 508): 6-5, 265 pounds – Westlake (Atlanta, GA)
It’s tough to get a good read on Horace Lockett and where he stands with his process, but we do know that Georgia is his dream school and they extended an offer in March of 2019. Kentucky gave an offer to Lockett a couple of months before in January of 2019. If there is anything of note in relation to UK, it’s that multiple staff members, including head coach Mark Stoops, follow Lockett on Twitter, indicating there is some significant interest.
Quardale Patt (3-star, No. 593): 6-4, 240 pounds – Stafford (Stafford, TX)
A few SEC schools have been hunting down Quardale Patt for some time now. Ole Miss and Tennessee, in particular, extended offers in August of 2020, just a month before Kentucky came calling to do the same. He has since picked up offers from Nebraska and, most recently, Houston. Similar to Lockett, there isn’t much out there in regards to the status of Patt’s recruitment. But unlike Lockett, he is not being followed on Twitter by a single member of the Kentucky coaching staff.
Jamaal Whyce (3-star, No. 671): 6-4, 255 pounds – Florida Christian School (Miami, FL)
One of the few prospects whose offer sheet doesn’t match up with their star rating is Jamaal Whyce. Despite his middling 3-star status, he holds offers from powerhouse programs such as Alabama and the in-state Florida Gators. However, Kentucky was able to insert itself into the conversation a couple of months before those two reached out. Whyce also holds an offer from Miami (FL) and will make an unofficial trip to see the Hurricanes this summer. He’s blown up a bit on the recruiting scene since the start of 2021 and will surely jump up the next time rankings are updated. In addition to the teams already mentioned, Whyce has also pulled in offers from Ole Miss, South Carolina, and Pittsburgh.
Jamaal Johnson (3-star, No. 765): 6-1, 250 pounds – Chaminade-Madonna Prep (Hollywood, FL)
After decomitting from Miami (FL) in early March (the second player on this list who has backed out of a pledge to Miami), Jamaal Johnson is back on the market. His offer from Kentucky came back in January of 2020, the same day he also announced an offer from Miami. Johnson would eventually pick the Hurricanes in July before electing to back out of that decision a couple of months ago. He took an unofficial trip to see UCF in April but doesn’t appear to have any official visits lined up as of right now. Along with UCF, Pittsburgh and Boston College are considered to be the trio of programs in the lead, according to Andrew Ivins of 247 Sports.
What to expect…
Of the 14 players listed above, Kentucky is in contention to land one of the top dogs: Mykel Williams, Justice Finkley, and Tyreese Fearbry, although none are set in stone by any means. Securing a commitment from one of those three would be considered a major win for the Wildcat coaching staff.
Outside of that trio, I would put more realistic expectations on Kentucky securing commitments from one of Keon Wylie or Joshua Josephs–if not both. I also think Jamaal Whyce is a name to keep a close eye on, although his looming rise in stock might make him more likely to choose an Alabama or Florida.