By LARRY VAUGHT
Versatile linebacker Eli Brown had plenty of college options when he decided to make a verbal commitment last week to join Kentucky’s 2015 recruiting class.
The four-star player from Warren East had offers from Southern Cal, Mississippi, Penn State, Ohio State and more. He is ranked as the nation’s 110th best player by Rivals.com and only once has UK signed a higher ranked player (No. 36 Micah Johnson in 2006) since the rankings started in 2002.
He is ranked the No. 8 junior outside linebacker nationally by Rivals and is the state’s second-ranked junior behind only Madison Southern running back Damien Harris.
Brown, who had 50 tackles and two interceptions last year and also rushed for over 1,000 yards despite missing the last few games with a knee injury, didn’t initially plan to commit until maybe closer to the start of his high school season.
“But the last time I visited I felt wanted and more appreciated than any place I have been,” said the 6-2, 205-pound Brown. “I felt I could fit more into the (defensive scheme) they wanted. I had a real connection with the players and coaches.”
He said the recent high school graduates who enrolled at UK in January made a big impression.
“I had a real eye-opener with them and just knew that is where I needed to be,” Brown said.
He said UK’s lack of depth at linebacker was a “factor” in his decision.
“But being close to home so my parents would have a chance to watch me play was more important,” he said. “I did not want to take away from them a chance to see me play because that is what they enjoy most. They didn’t make my decision and they did not want to push me in the wrong direction, but my whole family was excited because now I will be close to home.”
He doesn’t see himself having quite the same role in recruiting that Conner quarterback Drew Barker did with the 2014 signees when he openly lobbied other players to follow him to UK.
“I am not that outspoken, but I will try to get great players to join me. It starts with bringing great players in and I will do my part to bring players in,” Brown said. “I live on Twitter. I am addicted to that, so that will help me communicate. That is about how we all communicate now.”
Brown said the Kentucky coaches “were excited” when he called to commit. He joked that the next day offensive coordinator Neal Brown, one of his primary recruiters, called him and asked, ‘I ain’t cool enough to get a call’ and said he was kind of bummed he didn’t get a call when I talked to (assistant) coach (D.J.) Eliot and (head coach Mark) Stoops. But I have a great connection with all three of those coaches.”
Brown said Warren East’s defense is a “little different” from the one at Kentucky but he “loves” Stoops’ defense.
“Stoops is a great guy and when I sit and talk to him you can discuss about anything. Our connection is great,” Brown said.
He’s glad to have his college choice made — he had originally committed to Vanderbilt but then de-committed even before coach James Franklin left for Penn State.
“It’s a big relief and I am 100 percent sure I want to attend Kentucky,” Brown said. “Now I can just focus on school and my teammates. My teammates kind of felt like I was focused on college and not focused on high school. Having my recruitment over is a relief for them, too. Recruiting was interesting, but I didn’t want to take away from my team.”
However, he would be happy if his commitment to UK did bring attention to his team because Kentucky fans come to watch Warren East play like many did Conner last year after Barker’s commitment.
“I would love to have a huge crowd come to our games. I am the kind of guy that kind of plays ‘wow’ when a huge number of fans are there,” Brown said. “A lot of people showing up to watch us would be the greatest thing ever.”