Kentucky signs 22 recruits, 11 from Florida

Mark Stoops’ first Kentucky recruiting class shows he still has

some pull in Florida.

Convincing two talented in-state players to stay home and help

the rebuilding process also demonstrates Stoops’ appeal in

Kentucky.

Half of Kentucky’s 22 signees announced on Wednesday are from

Florida. That’s a significant haul from the Sunshine State, which

the former Florida State defensive coordinator promised to scour in

his quest to lift Kentucky back to respectability following a 2-10

season.

Landing locals such as Louisville Trinity defensive end Jason

Hatcher and Franklin County (Frankfort) wide receiver Ryan Timmons

also matters to Big Blue Nation. Hatcher, 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds,

backed out of his commitment to USC to sign with Kentucky; Timmons,

a 5-10 wide receiver, announced he would play for the Wildcats on

Tuesday.

Stoops considers the quality of this group as pretty good work,

considering he replaced Joker Phillips just over two months

ago.

”It was a group effort,” Stoops said of whirlwind recruiting

effort. ”The staff, that’s a big part of it. The first year it’s

important when you hire guys that they have some connections, so

that’s a big part of it, guys with relationships that they have had

either with players or with coaches.

”We feel we have an awful lot to sell. I would like to thank

the BBN, tremendous support. I think our recruits felt their

presence, they felt the support of the fan base, so there are a lot

of things that go into it. But great effort by our staff, great

work ethic and they did a fantastic job.”

While other Southeastern Conference schools had recruiting

classes rated higher than Kentucky’s, Rivals.com considers the

Wildcats’ group their best ever. Players such as Hatcher and

Timmons were rated as four-star recruits, and Hatcher’s decision to

switch from USC to the Wildcats was viewed as a coup considering

the program’s moribund recent history and overall lower profile

compared to other SEC schools.

One of Stoops’ goals was changing that impression in recruiting

and the effort landed the Wildcats a dozen offensive players in

trying to improve one of the SEC’s worst units last season. That

group includes four linemen with three from Florida, but the

biggest of the bunch is 6-8, 305-pound Justin Day from Aiken,

S.C.

Kentucky’s defensive line was also beefed up with the addition

of Jacob Hyde, a 6-2, 330-pounder from Clay County High School in

Manchester. That unit included two from Florida – Regie Meant of

Cape Coral and Alvonte Bell of Miramar – and junior college

transfer Za’Darius Smith (Greenville, Ala.), who enrolled this

semester and will practice this spring.

”There are a lot of great players that come out of Florida,”

Stoops said of recruiting in his former state. ”It’s probably the

way it fell because of our relationships with some of them. So I

don’t know if it would be the exact percentage in the future but

I’m not going to put any limitations on it. There is a lot of

talent down there but we’re going to work extremely hard to hit

everybody we can within a four, five, six hour drive from

Lexington.”

Stoops’ philosophy was borne out in a recruiting yield that

expanded beyond Kentucky and Florida.

The Wildcats signed three players from Ohio including safety

Marcus McWilson from Cardinal Mooney High School in Youngstown.

Initially committed to Nebraska, McWilson backed out to join

Stoops, a fellow Mooney alumnus.

”I asked Marcus the whole time, `What’s it feel like to be the

second best player to play at Cardinal Mooney High School?,”’

Stoops joked.

Kentucky’s signings of Day and Smith demonstrated Stoops’

ability to reach into SEC territory, an approach that also

attracted kicker Austin MacGinnis (Prattville, Ala.).

But Stoops’ landing of Hatcher and Timmons was considered a

significant step forward for Kentucky since many standout recruits

have gone elsewhere. And it might explain why the coach couldn’t

contain his glee in starting his head coaching career with two

”dynamic” recruits.

”He’s a home run threat every time he touches the ball,”

Stoops said of Timmons. ”He’s very versatile, has a tremendous

family, great person, great student, joy to be around and was very

high priority for us.”

Of Hatcher, the coach added, ”You know the importance of

recruiting the best players in the state. With Jason we signed

three players from Kentucky and Jason was important in a lot of

ways. … He gives us great credibility in moving forward.”