Mark Stoops, a man who’s no stranger to recruiting wins at the University of Kentucky, just won his biggest battle to date. Justin Rogers has committed to UK over Georgia, Tennessee, Michigan, LSU and Alabama. The significance of Rogers’ decision is startling.
Kentucky’s Recruiting Success is Real
Rogers isn’t the first high school All-American to commit to Mark Stoops. He isn’t the first five-star player either. Landon Young fits each criteria. However, Young committed to UK as a sophomore. Other schools tried to recruit away the Lexington native, but the offensive tackle who eventually finished at No. 12 overall in the 2016 class could not be convinced to look elsewhere.
The Cats struck gold by evaluating in-state talent early in the process. The coaching staff has accomplished accomplished the same thing with the same method, but in a state that does not even share a border with the Commonwealth.
Kentucky’s Steve Clinkscale offered Rogers a scholarship as an eighth grader. Whether large or small, the impact was significant enough to prevent the top programs in the nation from pulling him away from Lexington. Now UK has a commitment from the top-ranked offensive guard and No. 10 player in America. It’s the first time a five-star player from another state has committed to UK. A powerful force that can play either side of the football, Rogers’ commitment has coerced other programs, fans and recruits to recognize that UK is a legitimate player in the recruiting world.
You can put a price tag on a football facilities upgrade but you cannot measure the value of momentum in football recruiting. Commitments come in bunches and this wave UK is riding has never been higher.
Four weeks ago UK hosted five players for official visits. Since the star-studded weekend, four have committed — four-star quarterback Beau Allen, four-star offensive tackle John Young, three-star cornerback Andru Phillips and now five-star offensive lineman Justin Rogers. Young got the dominos falling entering the weekend. Now there could be a few more to fall.
Deondre Buford, the only uncommitted player who officially visited on the same weekend, is a four-star Michigan prospect who could decide to join the party late. Another top Michigan prospect is Rogers’ Oak Park teammate, four-star cornerback Enzo Jennings. UK expects to host Jennings on an official visit this summer. When Kroger Field opens for camps, many of the commitments will be on campus to recruit their competition. If any of the summer official visits or camps produce the same fireworks as the infamous late-April event, Kentucky fans will be treated to quite a show.
Strength in the Trenches
People used to think to win at Kentucky, you needed a gimmick. Mark Stoops is winning at Kentucky with trench warfare. John Schlarman has accomplished it with a few recruiting coups — like Young, Drake Jackson and Darian Kinnard — and by developing under-recruited players into valuable assets. Now Vince Marrow has handed Schlarman (or possibly Derrick LeBlanc on the defensive line) the keys to an explosive Mack truck, one that will not be slowing down anytime soon. Of all the offensive line highlight reels, few produce more pancakes than Rogers.
By placing an emphasis in the trenches, Stoops and Marrow have created an identity that reflects their hard-nosed background. Like most linemen, it took some time to develop into on-field success. Now that the ball is rolling, the long-term picture for UK football is incredibly bright. The last piece of the puzzle is to surround the players in the trenches with athletes to run through and fill holes.
It’s Far from Finished…
If you think other schools will stop recruiting Rogers, you haven’t been keeping up with football recruiting. The ebbs and flows have jaded many fans. Their minds can’t be changed. While they sulk, the Cats are in the driver’s seat for one of the best players in America. Between now and December 18, Mark Stoops and Vince Marrow will do everything they can to make sure Rogers signs on the dotted line.
We live in a world where Kentucky has picked up a commitment from a top ten football player in America from the state of Michigan. Thinking back to the last recruiting class before Mark Stoops’ arrival, it’s incomparable, some may even say inconceivable.
Stoops turned relatively small, significant wins on the recruiting front into a ten-win season at Kentucky. Now he’s using a ten-win season to acquire top ten talent on the recruiting front. One can only wonder what new heights the program will reach with players like Justin Rogers on the roster.