By LARRY VAUGHT
Unlike last year, Kentucky had no football signing day surprises — and that was a good thing.
Last year the Cats had numerous players decommit in the weeks leading up to national signing day. But Wednesday the Cats completed a 25-player class just like coach Mark Stoops expected.
“I think it starts with the nucleus of last year’s guys. Landon (Young) may have been the first guy. Drake (Jackson) really took a leadership role. I think it starts with those guys,” Stoops said Wednesday. “What was nice is they were such high-profile guys in state and they were so solid.
“I think the guys from Ohio that have been committed for a long time have been extremely solid. I think this year we made it a point in just the message. A lot of times guys just want to take trips. What happens is when they want to take trips, it gets you that crack in the door, sends the wrong message to the other recruits.
“There were several guys down the stretch, I’m going to take a trip here, a trip there. We let them know that’s not the perception we want from this class. These guys have been solid, they’ve been holding true and steady for a year. They said, ‘I got it, Coach. We’re not going anywhere. We’re staying here.'”
Stoops admitted a few players did take other visits but the class unity kept them solid with Kentucky.
“ Our staff does a great job of getting them on campus. When they get off campus during the contact period, we don’t just get in and out of schools. Our coaches have done a great job getting in there. They may spend six, seven, eight, nine, 10 hours at one place, whether at home, going to dinner with these folks, just spending time,” Stoops said.
“I think the relationship piece you heard me talk about for years is still most important, to have those strong relationships with these players and with these prospects. I think it’s a combination of things. I think it was the leadership, the staff doing a great job, and us really staying on it and really pushing for that unity this year.”
COACHING CHANGE CHALLENGES
Stoops replaced three offensive coaches with Eddie Gran, Darrin Hinshaw and Lamar Thomas. That meant coaches Shannon Dawson, Tommy Mainord and Chad Scott who recruited many of the players were gone on signing day.
“I think the guys that came in picked it up quickly. Our staff really had a great fix on it. We were very much ahead of it in that regard. I really focused on that this year. If there was a lead guy, I really made sure we backed it up with a lot of guys,” Stoops said.
“(Recruiting coordinator) Vince (Marrow) will be the first to tell you. Vince gets a lot of credit and deserves it, closed in on a lot of guys. But our staff absolutely hammers away on the positions. We follow it up with two, three and four. Our whole staff recruits everybody. We have one guy on point, but we have everybody else that’s very active. I think that’s why we held everybody. ”
Marrow says if UK can get a player on campus two or more times, they can keep commits. He also says last year was a bit different because they lost one player to national champion Ohio State
” I was watching briefly ESPN getting ready for this, you see all the flipping going on with major players. It’s part of the game. Nobody likes to see it. Fans don’t like to see it. But there’s nobody that panics. It doesn’t help you,” Stoops said.
“It’s a kick in the gut sometimes. Recruiting is very personal. Coaches spend and awful lot of time recruiting these guys. That’s what gets hard when guys pledge against you. That’s why at the end of the day anybody that is going to sit in my office and look me in the eye and lie to me, I don’t want them in this program. It all works out for the best most of the time.”