Ohio natives creating buzz at Kentucky
FEB 05, 2014 11:03a ET
On this latest holiday that National Signing Day has become, many of the names of the lead characters are the same they usually are.
A bunch of other SEC schools and traditional powers are bringing in highly-ranked classes, too. Big-name coaches are bringing in highly-touted recruits from some of the same high school programs that seem to produce them every year.
Among those this year getting notice and getting those prized recruits this year is Kentucky.
Yes, Kentucky. Kentucky football.
Under second-year coach Mark Stoops, the Wildcats are creating some buzz. Scout.com ranks the class Stoops and recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow are officially signing on Wednesday as the 18th best nationally. Among Kentucky's 24 signees from the high school class of 2014 are 11 Ohio natives.
That's Stoops and Marrow, both Youngstown natives, playing to their roots. But Kentucky is getting players from across Ohio in addition to traditional recruiting areas such as Georgia and South Carolina, marking a shift from past philosophies and an effort to tap into a talent-rich area.
"Under previous regimes Kentucky recruited almost exclusively in the South," Scout.com recruiting analyst Bill Greene said. "This is going where the new staff is known, but it's more than that. It's offering the chance to play in the SEC, the chance for guys to get on the field early and be a part of something, the chance to really build some momentum.
"The Stoops name is known everywhere, and Vince Marrow is one of the best assistant coaches in America. He can recruit with anybody, and that's starting to show. There's some excitement around Kentucky football."
The 2014 class is headlined by two Kentucky natives who are four-star recruits by Scout.com, quarterback Drew Barker and offensive lineman Matt Elam, who picked Kentucky over Alabama. Stoops and Marrow also brought in four-star defensive end Denzel Ware from Crestview, Fla., and three other four-star players from Ohio: Safety Darius West from Lima Central Catholic, cornerback Mike Edwards from Cincinnati Winton Woods and wide receiver Thaddeus Snodgrass from Springfield.
There's energy in possibility, and Stoops and his program are trying to capitalize on it. Kentucky launched an all-day Signing Day webcast at 8 a.m. featuring behind-the-scenes footage, interviews with coaches and recruits and analysis from a group that includes Tim Couch, the former Kentucky star who was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1999 NFL Draft. The program also produced a Super Bowl commercial that aired locally featuring 2014 recruits who enrolled early, including running back Mikel Horton of West Chester (OH) Lakota West, who played in the Army All-Star Game last month.
For a program that has not had a winning season since 2009 and went 2-10 and did not win an SEC game in Stoops first season, every sales pitch is about moving forward. There's a new coach, new stadium renovations underway and what Stoops hopes will become a new standard.
"There's a lot of excitement right now," Stoops said. "I think some of the access, some of the Twitter stuff, the radio...I think that's part of the reason we're having the success we're having with recruiting.
"These guys have been committed for so long, today is for celebration. There's been an awful lot of work into this. We put an awful lot of time and energy into recruiting because we need to. You need to have great players."
By Scout.com's rankings, Kentucky's class still ranks ninth-best among SEC programs.
"That's just the beast that we're up against," Stoops said of the SEC. "That's OK. We're not afraid of it."
The No. 18 ranking puts Kentucky ahead of every Big Ten program except Ohio State, which had just nine Ohio signees this year. Cincinnati, which is about 80 miles north of Lexington, expects to sign eight Ohio prospects today. In 10 previous recruiting years, Kentucky had signed just five of Ohio's top-50 ranked prospects.
"I really like Snodgrass," Greene said. "He had an Ohio State offer. He had lots of offers, and I have to think he'll be on the field early at Kentucky. He can fly. He has rare speed.
"Darius West is another one who I think is really good. He had a knee injury and his senior season was cut really short, but if he's healthy he'll play right away. He had offers from Notre Dame, Michigan State, lots of big-time programs and he stuck with Kentucky."
In Northeast Ohio Kentucky signed Tymere Dubose of Youngstown Christian, a defensive line prospect who played high school ball under Marrow's older brother, Brian, and got late pledges from wide receiver Dorian Baker of Cleveland Heights and Niles McKinley offensive lineman Josh Krok, who's listed by Scout.com at 6'8, 290.
"He's such a big guy with a great personality. He loves the weight room. That was a big get for us," Stoops said.
Literally and figuratively, it's been a big few months for Kentucky's program. The Wildcats recruiting efforts have certainly been noticed by other schools, and Marrow appeared to be responding to negativity surrounding it in a tweet last week when he wrote, "Our coaches will remain professional as we move this program forward. We are not concerned about the opinions of other programs."
In the SEC, there's nowhere to go but up. In the recruiting world, Stoops and Marrow have been able to turn a long-dormant program into a major player, and if on-field results follow, this could become a trend.
"Vince Marrow is just that good," Greene said. "He did this at Nebraska a few years ago, he's doing it at Kentucky and he'd do just about anywhere if he went anywhere else. Kids gravitate towards him. The guys from Southwest Ohio in this class are very close and stuck together. The word is out. It's going to be very interesting to see if they do even better in the years to come."