Almost half of Mark Stoops’ highly-touted 2014 signing class transferred

Mikel Horton is one of 11 players in UK’s 2014 signing class that transferred. (Vicky Graff Photo)

By LARRY VAUGHT

Kentucky had 25 players in its 2014 football signing class that included six four-star players and 20 three-star players according to 247sports.com. That put Kentucky No. 23 in the recruiting rankings.

For Kentucky coach Mark Stoops, that was a big momentum builder for his program with UK fans.

However, at the time former UK quarterback Freddie Maggard — who just recently was named the director of player development at UK — warned he thought the class looked better on paper than it might on the field.

How accurate was Maggard?

The two highest ranked players were quarterback Drew Barker and defensive lineman Matt Elam. Barker was limited by injuries and gave up his final season of eligibility. Elam played four years but not was never the defensive force he was expected to be when he picked UK over Alabama.

Safety Darius West and linebacker Denzil Ware have both been very good and could be 2019 NFL draft picks. Running back Boom Williams was a dynamic playmaker but left UK after three years and is now in the Canadian Football League.

Receiver Thaddeus Snodgrass, the highest rated receiver UK ever signed, transferred without ever making a cash at UK.

All six of those players were ranked among the nation’s top 300 players.

Next on the list at No. 341 nationally was safety Mike Edwards, another likely draft pick in 2019.

Receivers Blake Bone and Garrett Johnson, who just signed a free agent contract with Chicago, were in the signing class. So was receiver Dorian Baker, who will be back for his final season this year. Defensive lineman Adrian Middleton and defensive back Kendall Randolph were both productive signees.

Offensive lineman Bunchy Stallings was not even ranked nationally but he has been the steal of the signing class. He could be in line for an all-SEC season in 2018 and NFL career after that.

Junior college signees A.J. Stamps, Ryan Flannigan and C.J. Johnson all provided help.

But look at the list of players who transferred along with Snodgrass before their eligibility expired. They include running back Mikel Horton, offensive lineman Nick Richardson, linebacker Kobie Walker, defensive lineman Lloyd Tubman, offensive lineman Josh Krok, tight end Darryl Long, offensive lineman Jarrett LaRubbio, receiver T.V. Williams, safety Jared Tucker and linebacker Nick Firios.

That’s 11 players who transferred along with two — Williams and Barker — who did not use all their eligibility at UK. That’s over half of the 2014 signees who did not play four years at UK.

Guess which player in the 2014 class played in the most games? That would be walk-on receiver Charles Walker, who did get a scholarship his last two years. He played in 49 of 50 games while Johnson played in 47.

“I came pretty damn close to playing in every game. I only missed one game and that was Missouri my senior year when I cracked a rib the week before the game,” Walker said.

So what happened to so many of the players who came to UK at the same time as Walker? Why didn’t it work for them like it did for him?

“It’s just different for everyone,” Walker, who has signed a free agent contract with the Detroit Lions, said. “Some didn’t come from close and got homesick and missed their families.

“For some, UK was just not the right fit. Some did not want put in the work. Some were not good enough to play at this high level and went somewhere else to play and just took a different path than what they expected.”

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  1. The only words to describe this mass exodus is “over rated.” Also, these coaches did not evaluate talent very well it would seem. Maggard saw that based on his statement. I would add in poor player development a problem too. It is up to Stoops and these coaches to coach them up. To me, Matt Elam was the biggest disappointment, and Barker was a miss from the get go, injuries taken into consideration. Horton was a great back, but was never able to excel at UK, which was very disappointing. Reese Phillips, while not in this class, should have been given more playing time while he was there. He transferred too, and had some critical comments about the program as I recall on his way out. It just goes to show that all the star ranking means very little sometimes, it is all about coaching and developing talent in guys that have a ton of heart and love for the game. It was a great class on paper, but not so much on the field where it counts.

  2. Not a great resume builder for Stoops. I have been very critical of his IMO lack of coaching credentials or player development. This will be a “show us” year for Stoop-and staff and can’t wait to see how season goes.

  3. Does anyone know where Mikel Horton eventually transferred to? He was a big back that had so much potential.

  4. This has been Stoops problem. He can’t get 5 star players and can’t coach up the 3 & 4 star players who have to play against 5 star talent in the SEC. If this pattern continues, KY will always be an also ran in the SEC and will struggle to get the 6 wins it needs to be bowl eligible. The real question is…who can do better at KY?

    1. I really believe this year is a pivotal year for Stoops. The 2018 schedule is going to be a bear. The biggest problem he has, no proven QB.

  5. On the other hand, 50% of the freshman (all) do not make it back for a second year. I am not sure about UK numbers compared to the national average. But, if all freshmen drop out at the first year, you can only imagine how much more difficult it would be if you also played a sport.

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