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By LARRY VAUGHT
Just as he said he would at his introductory press conference, new Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops is not rushing to make decisions about high school seniors who had verbally committed to play for the Wildcats before he replaced former coach Joker Phillips.
“I’ve been in communication with all of them and we talked to some of them about possibly letting them look at some other schools. It would probably be in their best interest to look at some other schools just system-wise,” said Stoops Wednesday. “Everybody completely understood that.
“Either side, I don’t think you want a player that you’re going to sign come in here and be unhappy if he doesn’t fit the system and have to sit out for four or five years. That wouldn’t be the right thing to do to those players, so we’ve addressed all of those.”
Kentucky added two junior college signees — tight end Steven Borden and defensive end Za’Darius Smith — Wednesday and both will be on campus for the second semester and able to go through spring practice.
Stoops said UK could “possibly” sign more junior college players.
“There are a few more needs, we’ll look at that and evaluate as we go,” Stoops said.
Stoops said the UK staff did not “flip” the two junior college players from other schools, but simply had to battle to sign them.
“They were classic battles, especially with Za’Darius (Smith). Myself and coach (Jimmy) Brumbaugh got off a plane in Greeneville, Ala., and were greeted by the mayor and Za’Darius, so it was kind of interesting. I think the mayor is an Auburn guy, too,” Stoops said. “But it was a good, hard fight for these guys, in particular Za’Darius. (Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin) was in, I think, the morning and I came in the afternoon to see the mom and Za’Darius. Coach (Sumlin) and I have a history, so we can’t badmouth each other.”
He said there were some “high-fives” in the football office when both players signed with UK.
“We were excited. Very much so. It does. It makes you feel very good about the future. Myself and the staff, we’ve been through those. We expect to win our fair share of recruiting battles. But that first one, a player like him in such a short amount of time, definitely energized us,” Stoops said.
While Borden visited last weekend, Smith has yet to be on campus.
“I think, in particular for junior college players, because the bells and the whistles, these players need to know that you’re going to help them and that they’re going to have an opportunity. So I think the relationship system is very important to the junior college player,” Stoops said. “With Za’Darius, I think it was easy because he knows coach Brumbaugh, he knows how he’s going to be coached.
“Coach (D.J.) Eliot was the defensive line coach at Florida State. He saw what coach Eliot did for the last three years. And then I’m the defensive coordinator and he saw what we did at Florida State for the last three years. If you’re sitting there, you’re Za’Darius, it looks like a pretty good situation for him here. You got the d-line coach, the defensive coordinator and the head coach all speaking the exact same language.
He would not provide any injury updates and also would comment on whether there could be any roster changes due to academic issues.
“We’ll address that another time. They’re coming in right now,” Stoops said of the players’ grade. “It’s just starting to filter in. I was just in an academic meeting and I’m not totally caught up so I’ll go back after this and continue to address that.”