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By LARRY VAUGHT
In just a few weeks, one player that could make a huge impact on Kentucky football should arrive on campus.
Butler County Community College receiver Javess Blue is a player that offensive coordinator Neal Brown is counting on to make an immediate impact next season.
“Any time you go out and sign junior college guys, especially high level junior college guys, you expect them to step in and immediately compete for playing time. He is a kid that (assistant coach) Chad Scott did phenomenal job recruiting. A guy we actually signed at Texas Tech and didn’t do what he needed to do academically,” Brown said.
“He went to Butler and had a solid freshman year and this year I thought he was the best junior college receiver in the country. Really proud of how he handled himself. Physically, he is ready. He looks how you should look. It is just a matter of him getting here in the summer, learning what we are going to do and then going out in fall camp and competing.”
How is he different than incoming freshmen receivers Ryan Timmons and Alex Montgomery?
“He is older. That is the biggest thing. He has had to play against better competition just because of junior college,” Brown said. “You are talking about at Butler where they were runner-up in the country. He is just an older, more mature kid. That is the only real difference with him, but it is a big difference.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Running backs coach Chad Scott, a former Kentucky player, said it was easy for him to recruit for the Wildcats and expects to be part of the same productive offense he was at Texas Tech under offensive coordinator Neal Brown. “Our expectations don’t change,” said Scott. “We want to move the ball and score points and think we are bringing in players that can help do that.”
Scott offers his insights on some UK signees as well as some returning players.
Question: Have you just followed everything receiver Javess Blue has done for the last three or more years?
Scott: “I have been knowing him for four years. I have been recruiting him since the 11th grade in high school. We have a great relationship.”
Question: What was there about him that you knew you wanted to stay in touch and keep a relationship going even when he had to go to junior college?
Scott: “He had phenomenal ability. We genuinely wanted him at Texas Tech. Then toward the end of his senior year, the grades didn’t let him qualify. Since I had recruited him the whole time, I felt like the best thing to do for the kid was to continue to recruit him and we actually signed him and placed him there at (Butler Community College). He is a great kid, great person, great player. I got a chance to meet his mom, who is a great lady. I wanted to take care of him.”
Question: What makes him so good, especially since his coach admitted fundamentally he had things still to learn?
Scott: “He is just a player. That is the thing about hit. Even though he has been as good as he has on the junior college level, when he comes here and gets the coaching coupled with what he does naturally, he ought to be a big hit. He is just an explosive football player. God-given talent.”
Question: How good is Florida running back JoJo Kemp?
Scott: “He has such diverse skill set. He is a guy that can pound it between the tackles. He can make you miss in space and take it to the house. He can also catch the ball out of the backfield. He is a complete back in my mind with diverse skill set.”
Question: Will Ryan Timmons line up in the backfield?
Scott: “He will. We will motion him back there just to get the ball in his hands. That’s the good thing about this offense. You can be so multiple in a variety of ways to get different guys involved in the offense and get certain guys the ball in space and let them make plays. So he will be in the backfield.”
Question: Is it easy to see Neal Brown’s offense to recruits?
Scott: “No question. Just as easy as coming back here to Kentucky to coach. It’s very easy because I played in it and now I have been it for seven years. I understand position by position what guys are able to do in the offense and what their ability will allow them to do and ways we can get them the ball. That makes their ability even more than what it was coming into the system.”
Question: Did the success at Texas Tech just make recruits immediately recognize that offense even if they didn’t know specifically who was coaching the offense?
Scott: “That is what is exciting because we were down there in west Texas with this offense. But because the offense was so successful, we got TV time on the east coast and now we are going to bring that style of offense over here to our stomping grounds where we are from. That makes it even more exciting. That makes guys want to play in even more.”
Randy Taylor has over 30 years experience in the college football recruiting ranks and has been on staffs at Illinois, UCLA, San Jose State and Minnesota as well as having his own recruiting service before joining NCSA Athletic Recruiting as a recruiting analyst and national speaker. Taylor likes what he saw from Mark Stoops’ first recruiting class at Kentucky.
“If you have an aggressive, active head coach that enjoys recruiting you’ve got a chance. His name recognition can get him in the door of recruits other coaches can’t. Take advantage of it,” Taylor, who helped recruit a No. 1 class at UCLA, said. “I would be confident if I was a Wildcat fan as I think this group can get this done. In my mind success has different levels and being in the hunt for conference titles and consistently playing in bowl games should be the short term goals.”
Taylor offered these insights on the recent Kentucky football recruiting class.
Question: How do you evaluate the first recruiting class that Stoops was able to put together at Kentucky?
Taylor: “Under the circumstances of putting the staff and organization together in a first year it was pretty good especially with key mid year prospects on campus and a couple good junior college kids to add early depth and maybe more.”
Question: Are there any major surprises to you about the class?
Taylor: “That had to be getting Jason Hatcher at the end.”
Question: Do you think this is only a sign of things to come about the emphasis he will have on recruiting in Florida and Ohio? How much could that help Kentucky?
Taylor: “Their location to Ohio and other Big Ten areas as well as the southeast states lend itself to this. Being in the SEC allows them legitimate access to any of the southeast states where by the way the most talent in the nation resides. If a midwest kid wants to play in the SEC they can go to Kentucky without much of a long drive. In the end, where they decide to spend time building relationships with high schools or already have relationships going is whee they’ll be most successful.”
Question: Who are the stars of this recruiting class in your opinion?
Taylor: “Getting Jason Hatcher at the end the decommit from USC was a great get. Za’Darius Smith, the defensive end from East Mississippi Community College is a long athlete with good quickness and a motor who’s already on campus getting into the system is huge. I like receiver Javess Blue, another junior college kid from Butler Community College. He’s an explosive kid, a playmaker and has good length. Alvonte Bell, a defensive end from Everglades, Fla., has a terrific upside and may be the sleeper of the class. Finally, I like that they got the young quarterback on campus in the spring, Reese Phillips from Signal Mountain, Tenn. He’s got the size, accuracy and can throw on time that you want in a quarterback and I think he’ll get bigger, stronger and faster at this level making him a really good prospect. Nate Willis, cornerback from Arizona Western Junior College has good size, is instinctive, quick and runs well. He can handle bigger receivers.”
Question: How does Kentucky’s signing class stack up with other SEC classes?
Taylor: “They’re in the bottom few of the conference but have some good kids throughout the list that will be contributors at a high level and some immediately. This class would be several spots higher in most other leagues.”
Question: When you think of Kentucky football, what do you think of?
Taylor: “They should win more!”
Question: What kind of long-term impact can Stoops and this staff have on recruiting at Kentucky?
Taylor: “Depends on how active coach Stoops and his staff is year in and year out in their efforts. Recruiting is a year-round job and not just with the next class. They have to make underclass prospects high priorities. Recruiting of the class of 2014 is about one-third over already.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops isn’t sure if all his signing classes will have such a large percentage of Florida players — 11 of 22 signees were Florida native — but he wants to continue to use his connections in that state all he can.
“There are a lot of great players that come out of Florida. It’s probably the way it fell because of our relationships with some of them. So I don’t know if it would be the exact percentage in the future, but I’m not going to put any limitations on it,” said Stoops. “There is a lot of talent down there but we’re going to work extremely hard to hit everybody we can within a four-, five-, six‑hour drive from Lexington.”
Chris Hays, Orlando Sentinel recruiting coverage coordinator, said he saw a “major push” from Kentucky this season in Florida that only intensified after Stoops, the former Florida State defensive coordinator, took over at UK.
“Stoops has a name to perk up the ears of players,” Hays said. “Kentucky did make a push here early. They got Blake McClain on board early and it was obvious they were trying to come into Florida and get things going like Iowa State has done. Look at Louisville with Charlie Strong’s connections and that roster and what they have done. Coming to Florida is a trend you are seeing more and coaches can be successful here getting great players because there are a lot of them.
“With Stoops, kids here are buying into his rah-rah philosophy of being part of a big turnaround at Kentucky. Pop Warner football is huge here. Kids start paying young and all buy into football.”
Florida high school football consists of eight divisions. There are 76 Class 8-A schools — and UK signees Alex Montgomery, Alvonte Bell, Blake McClain, JoJo Kemp and Jeff Badet all played for 8-A schools. Others played in 5-A or 6-A.
Recruiting analysts indicate 5-A to 8-A schools in Florida is comparable to the play of Louisville Trinity and Highlands, two of Kentucky’s best programs each year. Hays says Kentucky has a variety of playmakers with the Florida signees.
“Badet wants the ball and when he does get it, he gets the job done and is a big-play receiver,” Hays said. “I watched Kemp a lot. He’s a terrific running back. He can do a lot of things with the football. He has a tremendous upside. It will be fun to see him in the spread offense. He’s very athletic, has tremendous balance and does a good job after taking hits. He’s very determined and strong because he played linebacker the early part of his career.
“Montgomery, I am a huge fan of his. The show he put on in the state title game (nine catches for 199 yards and three scores) was something. He’s a very good kid, too. He is a tremendous athlete and the plays he makes are plays other guys can’t make. He just makes plays out of something that is not there. Javess Blue was highly recruited out of high school and then did well at junior college. I would think he can be terrific.
“McClain is surprisingly athletic for a defensive back. He played wide receiver on offense. He does a lot of different things. He can pick the ball and do a lot of things athletically to get the ball back to the end zone. He’s also a good kick returner. He will be a good locker room type of guy for Kentucky.”
Stoops called Kemp a “home run hitter” and a player that UK “targeted as a high priority” immediately. Badet was another player Stoops said his staff targeted immediately because of his “home run speed.”
The UK coach already knew plenty about Montgomery.
“He comes from a tremendous program, big‑time wide receiver that I knew about and had my eye on him for a good bit. Anybody that goes into the state championship game and has— what did he have 9 catches for 190 yards or something like that, you know he’s a heck of a football player. I’ve known Alex for a while. It was a great get for us, a guy that’s a strong receiver who can make plays,” Stoops said.
Another player he knew plenty about was running back Khalid Thomas and the Tallahassee high school where he played. “He is a solid player that’s going to give us some depth and have a punch to our class,” Stoops said.
Another player Stoops and defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot knew they wanted to keep committed to UK was defensive linemen Alvonte Bell “We offered him at Florida State. Alvonte has great size range and great upside, and very excited to see him committed when I arrived here on campus. We worked hard at keeping that relationship with Alvonte with us because we think an awful lot of him,” Stoops said.
Offensive lineman Ramsey Myers was another early UK commit that Stoops says offensive coordinator Neal Brown and offensive line coach John Schlarman wanted to keep.
Offensive lineman Nick Haynes signed after being recruited for only about two weeks by Stoops and his staff. “Nick Haynes is a guy we just started working a couple of weeks ago and just had a chance to watch him and get caught up with him on film. Extremely impressed with his athletic ability. Again, great size, a guy that’s very versatile. We feel that he could play some center as well as guard. Excited about him,” Stoops said.
By LARRY VAUGHT
During his Franklin County career, Ryan Timmons was a dynamic playmaker at multiple positions.
He rushed for 1,306 yards and 25 scores as a senior and 62 times for 1,382 yards and 20 touchdowns as a junior. He had 33 catches for 1,004 yards and 16 scores in 2012 and 38 receptions for 1,100 yards and 18 scores in 2011. All three times he returned a kickoff, he scored his senior season, including on the final play of the game to beat Anderson County.
That versatility had him ranked as the nation’s No. 23 running back by 247Sports.com, the No. 28 athlete by ESPN.com and the No. 46 wide receiver by Scout.com. That’s why Kentucky running backs coach Chad Scott said the UK signee will continue to play multiple spots for the Wildcats.
“He will play some in the backfield. We will motion him back there just to get the ball in his hands,” said Scott. “That’s the good thing about this offense. You can be so multiple in a variety of ways to get different guys involved in the offense and get certain guys the ball in space and let them make plays. So he will be in the backfield.”
“He’s a guy that’s been running this offense since the seventh grade. He knew the offense. He knew that he could come in here and have a chance to compete early,” UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. “He’s a guy that’s versatile. We’re going to move him around. We’ll play him some in the slot, some at outside receiver, and then we’ll hand him the ball from the backfield some also. And at kick returner, too. He’s a guy that’s going to bring a lot to the table early in this program.”
Brown says he would love to see Timmons turn out like former Florida star Percy Harvin, a player Timmons says he admires.
“He likes Percy a whole lot. He better gain some weight. Percy’s about 215, so he better gain some weight. But he’s a guy that, sort of like how Florida used Percy, he can do a lot of things. So we have to put him in position where we can get a lot out of him — as a true freshman, hopefully,” Brown said.
Timmons will have a big advantage over high school signees Alex Montgomery and Jeff Badet of Florida as well as junior college transfer Javess Blue because he has played in a system similar to what Brown uses for five years.
“The good thing with him is that is this is really a unique situation. We are installing our offense and quarterbacks are learning off video now and others will learn it in the spring. Other guys will have 15 practices in it (during the spring),” Brown said. “When he gets here in June, he will have had five years in it. It is really unique situation.
“Some of the verbiage is different, some of the terminology is different. Obviously we are bit more complex, but he has had five years training in the system and the players here will have had only 15 practices. So he is going to have more of a working knowledge when he gets here in June than guys have been in college three or four years.”
Brown knows just from a perception standpoint how important it was to sign Timmons, a four-star player with offers from Florida and Ohio State.
“I thought it was huge for us. That was a great day for us (when Timmons committed). We were huddled around in the staff room watching that,” Brown said. “I thought he did a great job, thought he handled it well. His high school coach, Chris Tracy, they put on a great event there at the school. But that was big for us. He’s a guy who really showed other in-state recruits in classes to come to have faith in us.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Butler Community College offensive coordinator Tony Haynes has heard plenty about the excitement the arrival of coach Mark Stoops has created over Kentucky football.
He thinks the additions of 6-1, 195-pound receiver Javess Blue is only going to that excitement, too.
“Javess did a great job for us. He is a kid that is very easy to coach. He does a very good job learning whatever you try to teach him. He always knew what his job was and never made mistakes,” said Hanes. “What he did really well is that he has great speed. For us, he was our get behind the defense guy. He was our deep threat because he could run past you. Once he got the ball in his hands, I don’t know if I ever seen just the kid get tackled. I have seen him tripped or run out of bounds, but he is very hard to corral.
“He has really good balance that makes him really special when he gets the ball in his hands. He has great agility and makes some really good moves in the open field and great cuts.”
He had 65 catches for 1,064 yards — 16.4 yards per catch and 88.7 yards per game — and 12 touchdowns last season. His longest reception went for 66 yards.
Blue had numerous scholarship offers from West Virginia, Arizona State, Texas A&M, Mississippi State, Louisiana Tech, Southern Miss and more before giving his verbal commitment to UK last month. He was also a Texas Tech target, but that was before offensive coordinator Neal Brown and running backs coach Chad Scott left for Kentucky.
Hanes said Scott had recruited Blue at Lake Wales (Fla.) High School and never gave up on him.
“A lot of other schools fell off because he did not qualify (academically), but Chad stuck with him. He helped place him at Butler and did a great job continuing to recruit him,” Hanes said. “He has a great relationship with Chad and Chad has a great relationship with Javess’ parents.”
Blue was one of the recruits visiting Texas Tech the weekend that Tech head coach Tommy Tuberville took the head job at Cincinnati.
“The reports that he (Tuberville) was at a meal with recruits and just left, they are true because Javess was at that meal. Javess really got turned off by Tuberville during that visit,” Hanes said. “Luckily, it all worked out at Kentucky. As soon as they (Brown and Scott) landed there, one of the first calls Chad made was to us. He wanted to make the deal work out with Javess.
“I think Javess was a little leery. He still had a bad taste in his mouth from Texas Tech. But he went on the visit and I remember speaking with him and how excited he was. He came back from the visit just bleeding blue.”
Hanes said Blue had never gone through the “heavy recruiting” that some junior college standouts experienced coming out of high school.
“He had never been on an official visit anywhere until last semester. This was all a new experience to him,” Hanes said. “He is the kind of kid that does not want to disappoint coaches. On the phone, he would tell coaches what they wanted to hear.
“That’s why I really grilled Javess about Kentucky when he came back. I tried to play the devil’s advocate but I knew he was serious when I asked him what made Kentucky the real deal. Was it girls, basketball games, uniforms or what? He told me, ‘Coach, those boys are about to win.’ He’s all in with Kentucky.”
Hanes said Blue will have all his academic work completed soon and will have no trouble be eligible next season.
“Our academic coordinator here does a great job with the players. We had the best GPA in the conference and about the best academic record in junior college football,” Hanes said.
Hanes also thinks once Blue gets to Kentucky, his best days are still ahead of him.
“When he came to us he was a defensive back. He came out of high school as a highly touted DB. Once we got him in here and worked him some at receiver, we found out how good he was with the ball in his hands,” Hanes said. “He’s not the best technician, but he has amazing speed and balance to make up for the lack of technique. He could have started at cornerback, safety, tailback. He’s that phenomenal an athlete.
“His offense in high school was a Veer option. He did not really get to play receiver in high school like a lot of skilled kids do. He has a ton of learning let in terms of route running and catching that he has time to develop. He made his career with us based on great athletic ability and doing whatever it took to do what job he had. But I firmly believe his best football lies ahead.”
Hanes hopes to see more of Stoops and his staff at Butler in future years.
“Stoops is a class act. He met all our coaches and introduced himself to everyone of us. When head coaches come in, we try to cater to them. But he was just a regular guy and was fun to be around. He really impressed me,” Hanes said. “Coach Brown is a great offensive coordinator. I would love to have him back to pick his mind more. Chad Scott has done a great job with us. He recruited Javess the right way. Kentucky has a good name running through this building and we definitely want them back looking at more of our players.”