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By LARRY VAUGHT
HOOVER, Ala. — Former Eastern Kentucky quarterback Tom Luginbill is now the national recruiting director for ESPN’s college football recruiting service Scouts Inc. and is here working the Southeastern Conference Media Days for ESPN.
Luginbill, who played at Palomar (Junior) College and then Georgia Tech before transferring to Eastern Kentucky in 1995, embraces the buzz that new coach Mark Stoops has created at Kentucky since his December hiring.
“I think the thing is generally when a new coaching staff is brought in and gets past that rat race to signing day and you are trying to solidify a class that you did not evaluate or really recruit, then it is time to unveil your blueprint with your staff. How do we implement what our philosophy is and then go sell it? That general enthusiasm and excitement that first year is by and large the most infectious. It seems to resonate the most like it has for Mark,” said Luginbill.
“Secondly, his roots in the state of Ohio have really helped him tap into a recruiting base that maybe they had not tapped into as much as they were capable of to supplement their recruiting base in the southeast. If you look at their class, there are several high profile recruits from Ohio and that’s important to the overall good of their class.
“The state of Kentucky is similar to Tennessee in that you are not going to be able to field an 85-man roster of SEC caliber players with in-state talent like a Georgia, Florida or Alabama could. It’s important that they get into these other areas and in the early going, it has been fantastic.”
The former quarterback believes the early commitment from Conner quarterback Drew Barker, who picked the homestate Wildcats over South Carolina and Tennessee, helped Stoops’ 2014 recruiting class immensely.
“I think that was it more than anything else,” Luginbill said. “The great players within your state, you have to keep them home and from going elsewhere. You have to make your destination a cool place, the place to be where a player doesn’t want to go to Tennessee or South Carolina. He wants to stay home.
“Is that going to happen over night? Are you going to wave a magic wand? No, and I think Mark and his staff know that. But it makes a dent. You start chipping away at it piece by piece. It might be one guy one year, two guys the next year. You start building toward that.”
Luginbill also believes Stoops and his staff have figured out how to capitalize on social media.
“Social media can have a huge impact because you can almost be everywhere at once. Maybe not in person but in some form or presence,” Luginbill said. “I tell you where it has really helped is with the rule that does not allow the head coaches to be on the road in the spring and evaluate and recruit. You can use Skype and things on an i-Pad to get face to face with a kid and still have interaction without being on the road.
“I think the staffs that have understood the shifts to social media and taken the time to embrace it are the ones who are getting a head start in recruiting. Whether we like it or not, that is how the kids communicate. We have to communicate on their wave length and Kentucky is doing a nice job with that.”
Luginbill knows UK still faces challenges to get to a point where it can compete annually in the SEC.
“I think that what (former UK coach) Rich Brooks and his staff showed is that you can have some peaks and valleys and some of those peaks can be very, very successful. I think the challenge for Kentucky in the same way it is a challenge for a Mississippi State or Vanderbilt, is can they get the trench players that are necessary to compete with an Alabama or LSU or Florida on an annual basis,” Luginbill said. “That is also Arkansas’ challenge. Can you get quarterbacks, running backs, a return guy? Yes. But is a big-time lineman going to go to Kentucky? That is a question no one can answer yet because it has not happened. If you get that caliber of player to come in, then yes you can compete annually in the SEC.”
Luginbill believes the perception of Kentucky football is changing for solid reasons.
“Obviously you have the basketball perception but those of us who have been around college basketball and spent any time in Lexington realize there has been a real serious commitment to football in facilities upgrades and stadium enhancements and financial resources put toward football,” he said.
“I just think it is different there than say Duke where they say, ‘Hey, basketball is driving the bus.’ I think they want more of a happy medium with basketball and football, so I think the perception of Kentucky football is becoming more and more popular.”