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By LARRY VAUGHT
It’s only a watch list, but having six Kentucky football commits on the Parade Magazine All-American Watch list shows the help that coach Mark Stoops has on the way.
The current list has 250 players that eventually turn into the Parade All-American team after the season ends.
Conner quarterback Drew Barker, the bell cow for UK’s recruiting class, is on the list. So is Georgia running back Boom Williams, Ohio wide receiver Thaddeus Snodgrass and Ohio lineman Nick Haynes. Ohio safety Darius West and Florida defensive lineman Denzel Ware complete the UK commits on the list.
Even if none make the All-American team, just to have six in consideration is a big step forward for UK football recruiting.
By LARRY VAUGHT
In the last six months, Denzel Ware has verbally committed to play football at Florida State and Kentucky — twice. He’s moved from Florida — the day before he was slated to play in the district basketball tournament with his teammates — to Alabama and back to the same spot in Florida again.
“It has all been kind of strange,” said Crestview (Fla.) High School principal Bob Jones, a former Kentucky football player. “He left here about the same time he committed to Kentucky. We had lost our football coach (Kevin Pettis) and were searching for a new coach when he left for Opp, Ala. (where his mother lived). I had kind of moved on and not thought about it that much.”
Now Ware, a defensive end ranked among the nation’s top 50 players in some recruiting rankings, is back at Crestview High School and once again committed to Kentucky after visiting UK over the weekend.
Jones said a Crestview teacher is now Ware’s legal guardian — he had lived with a different family before he left Crestview.
“She told me one day Denzel was moving back to live with her and she would be his guardian for his senior year,” Jones said. “She said he was finishing the semester at Opp and making good grades. She brought him in to visit and we talked. Myself and our new head coach had a frank conversation with him. I said, ‘If this is what you are sure you want to do and will stay with us, fine. But make sure this is what you want to do.’”
Jones contacted the Florida High School Athletic Association to make sure there would be no eligibility issues and was told if he was living with a teacher as his legal guardian who had no connection to the football team, he would be fine to play.
“So he moved back as soon as school was out in Opp. He started his summer workouts this week,” Jones said.
Still, Jones had no idea when Ware decided to make the move back that he once again would commit to UK after de-committing once he got to Alabama.
“The teacher came up to me in the hall and said she would not be in school on a Monday because she was taking him to UK and he was going to re-commit to Kentucky,” Jones said. “That was great news for me, but wanted to make sure this is it. No more de-committing. If he commits, he is going.
“She is a good lady and she talked to him. No more recruiting because he needs to focus on his senior year and getting his ACT score up so he can be a qualifier. He wants to go out with a good senior year and play ball and work on getting his ACT and GPA up.”
Jones said new Crestview coach Tim Hatten, who spent the past 11 seasons at Pearl River Community College in Mississippi where he had an 80-30 record and won a national championship in 2004, is glad to have Ware. Hatten was 79-29 at Haines City High School in Florida before going to the junior college.
“He runs a spread, no-huddle offense and the kids love it,” Jones said. “Denzel, no doubt, will be the defensive mainstay. But he has to work to be a qualifier in college. He has to work hard to get his GPA up and work hard to get his grades up.
“But I told him he’s where he needs to be. He’s a NFL caliber player. I have coached kids that have been in the NFL. He’s in that league. But he’s got to get to college first before he can get to that level and that’s why he needs to stay committed to Kentucky now and focus on his grades and senior season and no more recruiting.”
Jones is excited about what new UK coach Mark Stoops is doing. He’s already bought tickets to watch UK open the season against Western Kentucky in Nashville Aug. 31 and will also be in Lexington when the Cats play Louisville as part of a reunion weekend he always attends.
“I really like what they are doing at Kentucky right now and there’s no doubt Denzel can help with that if he just gets focused and takes care of his business like we expect him to do,” Jones said.
By LARRY VAUGHT
Apparently Denzel Ware once again is a University of Kentucky football commit and once again playing in Crestview, Fla.
You remember Ware. He is the 6-3, 230-pound defensive end — and a four-star prospect — who was UK’s first 2014 verbal commitment after earlier committing to Florida State. Then he left his Florida high school —and his basketball team — the day before postseason play began to transfer to a high school in Alabama.
Next he re-opened his recruitment and apparently wanted to commit to Florida, but that did not work out. Now he’s back at Crestview High School and after attending UK’s camp over the weekend he posted on Twitter that he was a UK commit again.
He is a recruiting jewel, a top 50 prospect in some rankings. That’s higher than any other UK commit is ranked.ESPN.com ranks Ware No. 80 overall and the No. 9 defensive end.
So as of today, Ware is back on board with Kentucky — but it is a long time until signing day in February.
Ohio receiver Thaddeus Snodgrass had several big-name football programs that wanted him to make campus visits. Instead, he ended his recruitment by announcing Friday he would sign with Kentucky in February.
“You could almost predict it because that was the place he visited the most and kept coming back for more,” said Springfield High School coach Eric Gillespie. “He liked the school, the staff, the players. I try to give my kids a perspective of how important a life decision this is and all the factors that should go into it. Some kids love all the attention that goes with this today, some don’t.
“I try to tell my kids this is not just a football decision. You have to fit on the campus, have to be able to get the major you want. How far is it to the school. I presented all those questions to him so he could make a well-informed decision because everywhere he was looking at had great facilities, good coaches. But he told me, ‘I’ve seen enough.’ That’s when I knew Kentucky was it for him.”
The 6-1 Snodgrass, who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds, is ranked among the nation’s top 200 prospects and is the highest ranked receiver ever to commit to UK. He had narrowed his choices to South Carolina, Louisville, Virginia and Kentucky before picking the Cats.
“Kids in general are not real history buffs and don’t romanticize about football like I did as a kid. So I don’t know if he’s even aware he’s the highest rated receiver to ever commit there,” Gillespie said. “I think he just liked everybody and feels this is the right spot for him.
“I also think the distance to Lexington is good for him. We are in the heart of Big Ten country, but we are two hours away from a SEC school. That is a rarity and made a difference with him. He’s away from home playing in the SEC, but he can also get in his car and get home for a weekend if he has a break.”
Offensive coordinator Neal Brown’s offense also helped sway Snodgrass, who did attend the Blue-White Game Saturday after making his verbal commitment a day earlier.
“He did mention how much he likes the offense,” Gillespie said.
The coach says Snodgrass’ commitment to Kentucky was well received by Springfield fans.
“Kentucky resonates here. Kids from here think Kentucky is big-time,” Gillespie said. “They really have a (recruiting) platform to build on here and I think coach (Mark) Stoops understands that. If UK walks in, it means a lot more than if Indiana or Illinois (out of the Big Ten) does. Kentucky creates a buzz here.”
Since Snodgrass cannot sign with the Wildcats until February, other schools likely will continue to recruit him and hope to change his mind. Recently Alabama linebacker Denzel Ware withdrew his verbal commitment to UK. However, Gillespie thinks Snodgrass “is done” and does not expect him to attend camps or combines this summer.
“I told him to be sure when he made his choice. Now as long as nothing changes on Kentucky’s end, nothing should change on his end,” the coach said. “He needs to be true to his word and will. It’s not legally binding, but you should stand by your commitment. If Kentucky goes to the Wishbone or a position coach leaves, then that’s different. But if nothing changes at Kentucky, he will stay committed.”
He played football at the University of Kentucky and during his 20-year high school coaching career had three players that eventually went on to play in the NFL, so Bob Jones knows a quality football player when he sees one.
He says four-star Florida defensive end Denzel Ware, the first verbal commitment in UK’s 2014 recruiting class, has all the physical tools to not only play in the Southeastern Conference, but eventually in the NFL.
“On the field, there is no doubt about his talent. He is physically gifted. He is strong, fast and very agile. He is one of those kind of guys who is very intense on the field and a kid who will have the opportunity to go to the next level,” said Jones, the principal at Crestview (Fla.) High School. “He is as good as the three players I coached who went to the NFL. He is a legit four-star player with size, speed and strength. I think UK is looking at him as an outside linebacker, and he can play that spot.”
For the last three years, Ware played at Crestview for coach Kevin Pettis. His mother lived in Opp, Ala., but she gave legal guardianship to her son to one of the Crestview coaches when her son was in middle school. Pettis left in late January to take a job at Sebastian River High School in Indian River, Fla., and in mid-February Ware stunned everyone at Crestview by withdrawing to transfer back to Opp, Ala.
Ware left Crestview the day before the start of the district basketball tourney — he was the starting center — and his team lost its first game.
“I wish Denzel the very best at Opp, but he left a bitter taste in some mouths here with the way he left,” Jones said. “Denzel is a fine young man. I have known him since sixth grade. He was at middle school and then I was principal there. He is a good young man.
“He has had a struggle with his home life. The last couple of years he has been living with one of our coaches and his (the coach’s) family had legal guardianship. What happened two weeks ago when he went back to his mother was uncharacteristic of him, especially the way he just left the basketball team. That was completely out of character. Everybody here liked him. He was easy-going, quite, not loud and boastful. At the middle school, everybody just adopted him. He’s that type of kid.”
Randy Dickson, sports editor of the Crestview News Bulletin, calls Ware a “tremendous talent” with unlimited potential. He has scholarship offers from Alabama, Florida, Clemson, Ohio State, Texas, USC and more.
“He is a big, long kid who will get taller. He is a legit 220 (pounds). He runs well and has good feet,” Dickson said. “He is not afraid of contact and will hit. He is the total package. He is big and fast now and will probably fill out to 250 or 260 in college.
“He always seemed like a good kid to me. He always had a big smile on his face. I want to give him the benefit of the doubt for leaving right after his coach did, but you just wonder what did happen. There are a lot of rumors about why he left, but in Florida if a coach leaves the rules say you can’t follow him to another school and play for a year.”
Jones said he thought Ware “was joking about withdrawing” when he got the call he was in the high school guidance office preparing to transfer.
“The coach and family he was living with had no idea this was coming,” Jones said. “He is the kind of guy you want to see succeed. I hope it works out and he has a great senior year and continues with his commitment to UK. Academically, he has struggled a bit and my biggest concern is he’s moving away from a community that was here to offer him support to get tutors, keep his grades up and make sure he got his ACT score to be a Division I qualifier. Hopefully he will do okay because he really is a great kid.”
If Kentucky football fans were happy with this year’s recruiting class, tight ends coach Vince Marrow says just wait because even better days are ahead.
“We had six weeks to do this. Giving us a whole year, it’s going to be pretty special, pretty interesting. I’m very fired up. I know everybody else is fired up. Like I said, we’ve already got some of the top 10 guys on board that want to come now (next year). So it’s going to be a good thing,” said Marrow.
The coach, who came to UK from Nebraska, has strong connections in Ohio. That’s one reason UK signed Marcus McWilson, a four-star recruit that Marrow calls a “gifted athlete” that many feel is one of the best five players in Ohio.
“I am already on the top 15 guys (in Ohio) for next year. Can’t say their names, but they’re some very highly recruited guys,” Marrow said. ”So I can tell you this: Ohio is a very important state for us. We will be in there. We will take the top guys. I will be battling with Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska. And I feel pretty good about where we’re going with this.”
He says the key is not to be afraid to go after the best possible players.
“I know I don’t take a back seat to anyone. I know where Mark (Stoops) is from – he’s from Youngstown, Ohio – he don’t take a back seat. And most of the guys on this staff. We went after the top guys. We’re not going after no third-tier guys. We’re going after the top guys,” Marrow said.
“I like coach Stoops’ attitude. We’re going to recruit five-star, four-star, highly recruited guys. You’ll see. We did this in six weeks. Now we’ve got a whole big chance for next year and we’ve got some guys on board already talking about wanting to commit as juniors.”
Junior defensive end Denzel Ware of Florida, a top 50 player in some recruiting rankings, gave Stoops his verbal commitment earlier this week.
Marrow also says UK fans can expect the tight end to have a “more integral part” in next season’s offense.
“You’ve got to have a kid that can run. That’s why we took the Steve (Borden) kid. I call him the WWF wrestling kid (his father is wrestler Sting). But that’s why we took him. We’re going to get some of the top national guys for 2014,” Marrow said. “But I like the (current UK tight end Anthony) Kendrick kid. He fits what we need to do. You’re going to see the tight end play a big role in this offense.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky got a huge 2014 commitment from Florida defensive end Denzel Ware Monday, so I called his high school and got an interesting response from the principal there:
“Denzel Ware is not currently attending school at Crestview High School. He is in the process of withdrawing to enroll in Opp HS in Opp, AL, where his mother lives. Denzel had been living with a family in Crestview who had legal guardianship of him. They are upset about him leaving and do not want to be identified. I was told he de-committed to FSU last week but had no idea he was considering UK. Crestview High’s FB coach, Kevin Pettis resigned in late January to take the head FB position at Sebastian River HS in Indian River Co, FL. We are in a nation-wide search for our new coach.
“As former Wildcat FB player, I was hoping that, when Coach Stoops came to UK, Denzel would think about going there. I now have very mixed emotions about it. Denzel left Crestview High the day before the start of the district basketball tourney. He was starting center on our BB team. Myself and our head basketball coach begged him to stay through the season but he would not stay. We lost the first-round game.
“I wish Denzel the very best in his senior year at Opp and at UK.”
Bob Jones, Principal
Crestview High School
By LARRY VAUGHT
Mark Stoops didn’t need long to snare his first 2014 commitment and it is an impressive one. Defensive end Denzel Ware of Crestview, Fla., one of the nation’s top-ranked defensive prospects, has given his verbal commitment to Stoops.
The 6-3, 220-pound Ware committed to Florida State in early September before deciding to re-open his recruitment earlier this month.
He had offers from Alabama, Florida, Clemson, Ohio State, Texas, USC and more.