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By LARRY VAUGHT
He’s signed his first recruiting class and already hosted his first junior day for 2014 recruits, but new Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops admits things have “definitely more demanding” than even he expected.
“It’s a little bit more challenging on your family and things like that, but it’s been a lot of fun because I’m not trying to be anybody that I’m not,” said Stoops. “I’m going to be exactly who I am, try to be very consistent and try to do things right. We know we’re not going to be perfect but I’m going to strive to do the best I can every day and that’s fun. It’s good to put together this staff. To work with the staff every day — and, again, I’m not going to change. I am who I am and I’m going to stay consistent with that.”
Stoops was pleased with the first recruiting class he put together, but not satisfied even though it was the highest ranked UK has ever had and included eight players with a four-star ranking in at least one recruiting service.
“It was a group effort. The staff — that’s a big part of it is the staff coming into this. The first year it’s important when you hire guys that they have some connections, so that’s a big part of it, guys with relationships that they have had either with players or with coaches,” Stoops said. “We feel we have an awful lot to sell. I would like to thank the BBN (Big Blue Nation), tremendous support. I think our recruits felt their presence, they felt the support of the fan base, so there’s a lot of things that go into it.”
Stoops had pledged to go “toe-to-toe with the best schools in the country” for recruits and felt UK did that.
“We’re not going to take a backseat to anybody. We’re going to recruit hard. We will win our fair share. We don’t win ‘em all, but we’re going to work hard,” Stoops said.
Stoops said the success offensive coordinator Neal Brown had at Texas Tech gave instant credibility to UK’s recruiting effort.
“He brings us tremendous credibility. Again, a guy that’s done it, especially within this state and really nationally, they have done a tremendous job on offense as a coordinator,” Stoops said. “It certainly helped with (Franklin County receiver) Ryan Timmons, with Ryan being very familiar with the offense.”
Stoops was a successful defensive coordinator at Florida State and that helped with defensive recruits.
“Statistically I’m not sure what it was but we had the most three and outs when I was at Florida State than anybody in the country by far, so I know we present the offense with a lot of opportunities,” Stoops said. “So I would imagine that would be appealing. You need to be good defensively to win consistently.”
The chance to play early — UK was 2-10 last year — also appealed to recruits.
“We always present an opportunity. We’re never going to guarantee anybody — that wouldn’t be fair or be right to the players that are in our program, but, we always tell them they’re going to have a great opportunity,” Stoops said. “They’re only behind 15 practices (from players who will go through spring practice), so when they arrive here in the fall, they’re not going to be too far behind with learning the scheme and so on and so forth.”
Stoops was pleased that several of his signees were active in trying to persuade other players to join them at UK after they committed to the Wildcats.
“It was very important because players want to play with other great players. They see what we’re doing, they see the plan that you lay out for them, they understand your commitment to winning, but they also want to know that there are other great players around them,” Stoops said. “It takes a whole bunch of us to be successful. It takes a great commitment from a lot of people, so I think that’s part of it.
“The players want to feel that there are other great players around them. Our players did a great job of communicating with each and building this class and making it special. That along with the Big Blue Nation and the social media out there, our players felt that, they felt that on Twitter and they felt the support of our fan base and I want to thank them for that because that makes a difference.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Friday could be a big day for Kentucky football recruiting again as two Florida prep standouts — running back JoJo Kemp and receiver Jeff Badet — both will make their college choices and it looks like both could pick Kentucky.
Here is what Scout.com’s evaluation of Kemp says: “At 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, he has enough size already to grow into a potential 210+ pound running back who will be able to carry the rock 20 times a game and get the tough yards inside. He’s a tremendous athlete who can make a lot of people miss in short space, too. He changes directions well. He can catch the ball very well out of the backfield. He’s just a good football player with plus athleticism.”
Kemp seems down to Kentucky, Pittsburgh, South Florida and West Virginia. He made his official visit to Pittsburgh in early December and has been to UK and South Florida in recent weeks. One interesting note here is that Jaleel Hytchye and Blake McClain both visited Pitt the same weekend as Kemp and both have now committed to Kentucky.
The 5-11, 190-pound Kemp rushed for over 1,500 yards and 24 touchdowns last season. He runs the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds.
The 5-11, 170-pound Badet also has 4.5 speed. He has received late interest from UCLA and Wisconsin, but turned down a chance to visit UCLA this weekend.
Here is the Scout.com evaluation of Badet: “Badet has good speed but is quicker than fast. He’s elusive and displays good change of direction. Badet can sneak behind a secondary, will go over the middle and catch a short pass and make something happen. He really does a nice job of creating separation and getting open. Badet has good hands and concentration. He can go up and get the ball and can make the acrobatic grab. Look for him to play in the slot at the next level.”
Badet would give new UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown another potential go-to receiver to go along with recent commit Alex Montgomery, another Florida prep standout.
By LARRY VAUGHT
New Kentucky football commit Jaleel Hytchye (6-0, 165) is ranked as the nation’s 50th-best cornerback prospect by Rivals.com. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds at an Ohio State camp. He had received scholarship offers from Tennessee, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Louisville, Purdue, and Vanderbilt as well other schools.
Previous UK coach Joker Phillips and his staff had recruited Hytchye and he “loved” the campus and “everything about the school” on his visits. However, he was not going to come to UK.
“I just didn’t get that winning vibe from the previous staff like the program was ready to compete in the SEC. With Stoops and (defensive coordinator D.J.) Eliot, I just feel that vibe,” Hytchye said. “Before, the football program just was not there. Now I get a feel from all the coaches that they don’t believe in losing. With those coaches and players and now recruits buying in, I think we can do something special and start a new tradition. Being part of tradition is a good thing, but starting traditions is even better.
“I am a fast guy, cover corner. Probably a little feisty. I definitely want more bulk. If I can do that, I can play a lot more physical, and that’s the way I want to play. I can cover a lot of ground. I like to hit and stop the run. I can’t put a big hit on now like I want to because I don’t have that much weight. The challenge for me is to put on weight and bring it even more when I hit somebody.”
Hytchye, who didn’t play cornerback until his freshman year at La Salle High School, sounds similar to another Ohio cornerback — Cody Quinn — who made significant contributions as a true freshman last season at Kentucky. He’s from Middletown, which is only about 30 miles from Cincinnati.
“I went to see him play once in high school and knew who he was. We’ve talked briefly,” Hytchye said. “I can see myself helping out as a freshman like him.”
Hytchye thought it was important to commit now rather than wait to take other official visits.
“We’ve got to get other guys on board. We need other guys to do something special at Kentucky,” the new commit said. “I am willing to buy in and do all I can to help make our class special. We could be the cornerstone class to get it done at Kentucky. We need to get as many good players on board and then we can do special things.”
He’s not sure if he will run track at UK, but he has that option. He’s run the 100-meter dash in 10.9 seconds, but he’s so versatile that he has also been timed in 1:55 for the 800-meter run. Seldom do sprinters try a distance event like that, and Hytchye admits running the 800 is not good for his football because the training causes him to drop weight.
“I do it all from sprints to the 800,” Hytchye said. “Kentucky coaches gave me the option to run track, and the track coaches were happy with that. I’m not sure what I will do. I am thinking about track and preparing for a big senior year. Depending on how that goes and then how my first UK season goes, then I will know whether to consider it.”
However, he knows playing football at Kentucky is going to be popular with family and friends.
“Everybody here is excited. A whole bunch of people at my dad’s job wanted me to pick Kentucky. They had a little party when I made my choice. We went out with some family and friends to celebrate,” he said. “This whole weekend has been great. I just know I made the right choice.”