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- John Calipari: “I’ve think we’ve done right by these kids (who have gone to the NBA early”
By LARRY VAUGHT
He only turned 18 last month, but Ohio running back Mike Horton was already wise enough to realize how much he had to learn after he got to Kentucky in January.
“I have just been adjusting to everything. Being a young Cat with older guys is different,” said Horton. “People better than me are teaching me and that’s totally different. It’s a very humbling experience. But I am having a great time and the time of my life.”
The freshman says the older players are helping him most with the “mental aspect” of football.
“I have college body, so I am not worried about lifting and speed. But the mental aspect, the mental toughness, pushing through when hard when you think you can’t. I never had to do that in high school.
He said he’s watched players like JoJo Kemp, Alex Montgomery Jeff Badet and Braylon Heard closely.
“They came in the same way I came in not knowing and they are animals and became something very special,” Horton said.
The 6-1, 225-pound Horton, a four-star prospect, rushed for 1,203 yards and 13 touchdowns on 178 carries for Lakota West High School last season. He also led the team with 19 catches for 249 yards and two scores.
Horton, who also wrestled and ran track in high school, had a chance to go to national champion Florida State but stuck with his commitment to Kentucky.
“He’s a bruiser, a third-down running back, a big, powerful running back,” UK freshman receiver Thaddeus Snodgrass said. “I think he is already ready for the SEC.”
Horton also considered Louisville and Michigan State but it was Florida State that “knocked on the door” the hardest even after he committed to UK.
“I wasn’t changing my mind,” Horton said. “Coach (Mark) Stoops is one of the most uplifting guys. He is a father figure to all of us. We show great respect to him. My bond in the 2014 class is the same as the coaching staff. We are pretty much equal. It felt right (at Kentucky). It’s not home, but it felt like home. Being in this class made my decision very easy.”
He cited the chance for playing time as one reason he came to UK.
“We got a lot of running backs,” Horton said. “Playing time, I am not even thinking about that right now. I am thinking about adjusting to the college game. My main focus is school, learning the playbook, pushing my body to the limit to play in the SEC three or four years. Playing time will come if I do the right things.”
He also said the “brotherhood” of the UK recruiting class was a major reason he never faltered on playing for Kentucky.
“We came in early together and made our choice early together,” Horton said. “We plan to stay all four years unless someone is a first-round draft pick. Our class is strong, our bond is strong. It has been a very smooth process coming in early.”
Horton even said he had no second thoughts about turning down Florida State even when he watched the Seminoles beat Auburn in the national title game.
“I was happy for Florida State. It was a hard choice to make and I loved both of them, but I chose here,” Horton said.
Even the balmy winter weather in Florida compared to the recent snow, ice and cold hasn’t given Horton any second thoughts about not picking Florida State.
“This (weather) is way better than Ohio. Ohio is Alaska. It is ver snowy. I am used to it, so it is not bad,” Horton said.
What he was not used to was a SEC playbook like the one offensive coordinator Neal Brown has.
“It is not a child’s book. It is a lot of pages,” Horton said. “But if you take your time and focus on your job it is very easy. I got the playbook locked down a little bit. Hopefully by spring I will be doing very good.”
He said his high school team probably ran four plays — with three of them going to him.
“Here it is a lot different. Lot of motion and stuff to adjust to,” Horton said.
By LARRY VAUGHT
He was the first commitment in Kentucky’s 2014 signing class and along with quarterback Drew Barker played a key role in helping shape UK’s top 20 class. That’s why Ohio linebacker Dorian Hendrix was so excited when national signing day ended and UK had all 28 players ready to be part of next year’s team.
“It is a bright future here with coach (Mark) Stoops and his staff,” said Hendrix, who had 126 tackles with three quarterback sacks and two blocked kicks at Wayne High School last season. “There are a lot of special things here. Strength and conditioning coach, fan base. The direction the program is going is amazing. Now that I am here I have been shown that even more.”
Hendrix is ranked as the nation’s No. 26 inside linebacker by Rivals.com. He ran the relays in track, but also tossed the shot put. Hendrix, an honor roll student who was junior class president, said his body has changed dramatically in the four weeks he’s been at UK because of his diet, workouts and weight room work.
“It’s exciting and special and showing it can really make a difference,” Hendrix said.
Hendrix credited the work UK recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow did in Ohio for putting a stamp on this recruiting class.
“Coach Marrow is a different type guy. He came to my school and wanted me to visit and see the place and I came down with my mom,” Hendrix said. “Because he’s an Ohio guy, he knows what type talent there is. He was honest from the beginning even before I got here. The staff has kept their promises and is doing everything they said, and that’s important to me. His presence in Ohio is felt, and he is a character.
“I committed really here. He had visited. My dad, mom and brother were there (on his home visit). We hung out, got something to eat, joked around. My family knew him. It was pretty chilled.”
Hendrix never thought of not honoring his commitment.
“Some talked about how a bad season might have some de-commits. I knew from the beginning this is where I would be,” Hendrix said.
He said he didn’t think the 2-10 record UK had last year would be a problem in recruiting because the recruits were told what to expect.
“They let us know it was going to be a process. They didn’t say they would go undefeated or make a bowl game. They were positive and said they would get better. I believed it, and it was true. I saw improvements from day one,” Hendrix said.
He says he would “like to think” he was a leader in the recruiting class along with Barker. He said he knew once he committed, he could help persuade running back Mikel Horton, receiver Thaddeus Snodgrass and defensive back Mike Edwards, all Ohio players, to join him.
He said there were “maybe” a couple of players who thought of de-committing.
“It was more like they were a little nervous about things. I just told them to stay with the process and they would be happy,” Hendrix said. “I can see where the coaching staff is going and where the program is going. A lot of guys were listening.”
He’s ready to start work now on 2015 recruiting, too.
“I have been more focused on this class, but after today I will focus on 2015 guys,” Hendrix said on signing day. “There is a guy at my school, Tyree Kinnel, who is committed to Michigan and I am going to get after him. There are a couple of other guys I am pretty sure I will be after and try to get them down here.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops is glad to have Ohio linebacker Dorian Hendrix to bolster UK’s linebackers. Hendrix said UK told him from day one “they are thin” at linebacker. He’s talked to Avery Williamson, UK’s leading tackler the last two seasons, about the UK defense.
“He is helping all he can and teaching me all he knows,” Hendrix said. “I am trying to learn the playbook and get out there (on the field) as soon as possible. I know I am young, but if I take it one day at a time everything will work out.”
Hendrix has also been impressed with UK’s returning players.
“They want to win. They are hungry for success,” Hendrix said. “There’s no type of animosity toward the new guys at all. They are accepting and excited. They help us as much as possible. It’s really important they are hungry for success as much as we are.”
He thought there might be some jokes from returning players toward the January enrollees, but found none of that.
“They have treated me like I have been here for a while,” Hendrix said. “I have been showing them my work ethic and they respect that. I just have to keep working.
“I think it will be an adjustment as far as speed (for the new players). This conference is probably the best conference in the nation. Speed will be the biggest things. Strength and conditioning and the playbook will come. If we get the speed down, everything will be all right.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky didn’t win a Southeastern Conference game, lost to in-state rivals Louisville and Western Kentucky, and finished the season just 2-10. Yet freshman running back JoJo Kemp said the year did not shake his confidence at all in the program or himself.
“I am one of those guys that will keep that humbleness and confidence in me and just try to get the job done,” said Kemp, who led UK with 482 yards rushing . “There are a lot of great players on this team and a lot of great leaders. We had some seniors that led the team correctly and I was pleased to have them teaching me.
“I just want to keep building. I came here for a reason and I won’t lose focus of the task at hand. I am just going to keep grinding on and off the field and in the classroom, weight room and just get this ship moving.”
Offensive coordinator Neal Brown wants Kemp to be one of those that keeps the “ship moving” forward. He had a long run of 47 yards and caught nine 56 passes for 56 yards. His numbers likely would have been even better if he had not been hampered by ankle injuries.
“I think he learned a lot. I don’t really feel like our young guys ever questioned themselves,” Brown said. “I think they are disappointed and they got frustrated in the outcomes and how things were going, but I don’t think they lost confidence. He (Kemp) was banged up and had some ankle injuries that we didn’t make a big deal out of that are not long term, but he was not as explosive as he was early.
“It’s so hard to depend on freshmen because it is a 12-week grind. In high school they are not going against the same competition week in, week out and the level of contact and the load on them is so hard here. Their bodies get so wore down, and I think he did that. But he’s going to be a productive player. He’ll be much more explosive next year than he was this year.”
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops says because Kemp was not “100 percent healthy” late in the year it impacted his play.
“He needs to physically get bigger and continue to develop, and he will,” Stoops said.
Kemp said he planned to “get my ankles fixed, rehab, get in the weight room and get bigger and just keep fighting” to get better during the offseason.
“The amount of cuts I have to make, it (the ankle injury) kind of limited me a couple of times at the end of the year,” Kemp said after UK’s season ended. “I am fine. I am just one of those tough players that can fight through pain. I don’t make excuses for myself. I am just going to get better on and off the field and just trying to be the dominant player I know I can be.”
Kemp called this a “learning” season for him.
“Just learning the game speed. Playing in the SEC, it is the top conference and just getting down the speed and learning new techniques, picking up blitzes, and just learning the playbook. It is a lot different,” he said. “Six or seven months ago I was in the high school playoffs. It has been a learning year and I know what I have to do to get better. I am going to get my ankles fixed and get bigger and get that mentality other SEC players have got and become that dominant player I was in high school.
“I want to make college like the same thing like in high school that I had where every time I got the ball, I just made plays. That’s what I want to do. I know I have got it in me and the coaches know I have it in me. I just want to make them proud and make my community back home proud and make the city of Lexington proud because I know this program will be changing and there are a lot of people behind it. I just want to make everybody proud so we can have a good time in Lexington, Ky.”
He’s convinced the good times can come, too.
“We’ve got a quarterback (signee Drew Barker) in, so that’s going to make more competition, so everybody’s going to get better, and that’s what it’s all about,” Kemp said. “We’re trying to get this ship moving. I came here for a reason, and that’s to win. I see it. We’re going to get this program moving and things will change. I’m going to always have faith in this team, this coaching staff.”
Brown anticipates the increased competition — transfer Braylon Heard and signees Mikel Horton and Stanley Williams — will help push and motivate Kemp next season, too.
“To improve, you have got to have competition. We have got to get competition on our offensive line, wide out. We have to get more numbers. With that, you have better outcomes,” Brown said. “And JoJo, he’ll embrace that. Everybody that is great does.”
“Of course it motivates you. That’s what it is all about. Great players coming in to keep us all on our toes and getting better and not wanting to lose your job,” Kemp said. “That is what changes the program around. You get the best out of everybody because everybody wants to see the field. It’s a great thing.
“I am not mad at anybody. I am not down at competition that is coming in. It is just going to help each other get better each and every day. When you have guys that are selfish, that is just going to lead the program in a bad direction. I am not one of those guys. We won’t tolerate it. When guys come in, we are going to help them just like we got helped when we got here.
“It’s all about the program, not me, and I like that we are getting good people. We are rebuilding and I want to see this program change. It don’t matter if I am playing or not. I just want to win. That’s what should matter to us all.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
With all the hype on national signing day, one player that probably deserved more notice than he got was Ohio tight end Darryl Long.
“I think you guys need to understand how the recruiting process goes. We start out as a whole staff, and we watch guys. And they say yea or nay. Therefore, there’s a lot of other people without me just saying, ‘I want Darryl Long.’ It goes coordinator, then recruiting coordinator, but the head coach has the final say. And with Darryl, I think unanimously, our whole staff liked him,” UK tight ends coach Vince Marrow said.
“He’s a long guy coming out of the state of Ohio, playing at a school, Westerville South, where they’ve got numbers of NFL guys that came out of there. They’ve got a Heisman guy, Ki-Jana Carter, and Andy Katzenmoyer, so it’s a good program he comes from. He’s a big guy that can run. My starting tight end was 230. Darryl’s about 240 right now and working hard every day, so I’m very excited about him. Very.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Florida defensive players Denzil Ware and Kendall Randolph were players that Mark Stoops was recruiting when he was defensive coordinator at Florida State and immediately went after when he came to Kentucky. Both players signed with UK Wednesday.
Ware is a defensive end and Randolph a defensive back, both positions where Stoops knew the Wildcats needed players.
“Denzil, we’ve known him for some time, recruited him a lot of years. He came to our camp when we were at Florida State years ago, two, three years ago at least, and he was one of the best players in the camp then. We obviously fell in love with him, started recruiting him,” Stoops said.
Scout.com ranked Ware as the 26th best defensive end in the country and he was listed No. 113 on ESPN’s top 300 l ist of players. He had 56 tackles, 12 quarterback sacks and three caused fumbles last year.
“He’s very versatile. He’s extremely explosive. People ask me all the time what we’ll do with him. He’ll put his hand in the dirt, and he’ll learn how to play defensive end, but he’s also versatile enough to stand up and play some of the things in the three‑four and be able to move around and be creative because he has a lot of ability,” Stoops said.
“I had an opportunity to watch him play basketball a couple weeks ago, and surprisingly, he had a lot of talent. He was good. He knows how to play basketball. It’s not just athletic ability out there. He kind of surprised me a little bit. But you did see his athletic ability, his burst, and how strong and how quick he jumps and just all those things. Very talented.”
Randolph, another four-star prospect, was one of the top 50 players in Florida and had 59 tackles, one interception and seven pass breakups last season. He can also return punts and kickoffs
“I’ve known Kendall since he was a freshman at Tallahassee Lincoln. It was a school right down the road from us during my time at Florida State, and that was one of my schools. He’s come over to camps, and I’ve just known him for some time,” Stoops said. “We’ve had a great relationship, and I told him he was just meant to play for me. I didn’t know the school, but he was meant to play for me and to play with this team.
“He’s very excited. He’s a great player, very versatile. He was one of those guys that, regardless of whether you were shooting for X amount of DBs or wideouts or whatever it might be, he’s just the type of quality person and player that you have to have on your team if you can get
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow said the coaches “would feel good for a couple of hours” and then go into 2015 recruiting even harder than they have been.
“We are targeting and getting a lot of responses from top (20)15 guys. I love the coaches I work with. I think parents see things with them,” Marrow said. “But you’ve got to win, which we plan on doing.”
Stoops said the priority for 2015 would again be to get “good football players before sending a not so subtle message to Madison Southern running back Damien Harris, who recently de-committed from Michigan and is considered one of the nation’s top recruits.
“We could always use a home run running back. Know where I can find one? And we’re always going to continue to build on O‑line and D‑line,” Stoops said. “We’re just going to continue to recruit quality players and guys that are good leaders. But we’re going to need help in a lot of positions again. We’ll have a pretty good sized class again next year. I don’t know if it will be this big, but it will be a good group.
“But just want to reiterate how much I appreciate this coaching staff. To this point, we’ve been able to keep everybody in place. I hope to do that. They’re very talented group with a great work ethic, but they’ve done a great job.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
While Vince Marrow got a promotion to recruiting coordinator for his efforts to help Kentucky land a top 20 recruiting class, UK head coach Mark Stoops made it clear Wednesday on national signing day that recruiting was a team effort for the Wildcats.
“Vince has done a great job, everybody knows that, and he has a great ability to connect with these recruits and their families,” Stoops said. “I will say that is a credit to the whole staff. With being from Ohio and myself — I helped Vince out there too. But being from Ohio and having our whole staff actively recruited every one of those (11) guys (who signed).
“So I do give Vince credit. That’s why he got the promotion that he deserved, but it was a staff. It was a group effort. He does a great job. I said that a year ago. I say it again. He’s a joy to go into a home with. He’s got that sewed down. You know, it’s just fun to go in there.
“I will say, again, don’t look at just numbers. Look at some of the things this staff did, and it really amazes me. Coach (D.J.) Eliot pulling in Lloyd Tubman at the 12th hour.
“Neal Brown and John Schlarman — everybody was talking about different guys and their obstacles with recruiting that day when the ice storm hit. They were in Alabama. I think they were in the car for four or five hours and went three miles, and they parked their car and walked the last mile to the school, and then they got locked down in the school for the night. So they slept in the school.”
Then there was the approach that assistant Chad Scott took.
“I go to the home visits and just the connection that he has with the family, and seeing him and them talking about how Chad was in their classes, going to class with them from morning all the way through, just sitting in classes. I think they asked him to get up and do some literature or something, and he said that would be a (NCAA) violation,” Stoops smiled and said.
“But just the connection that they all have. Tommy Mainord going in and pulling guys out of the D.C. area and South Carolina, beating quality schools there. I could go on and on. Coach (Bradley Dale) Peveto, all of them. I don’t want to slight any of them. I just think all of them did an excellent job. You don’t sign a class like this in the situation we’re in without everybody doing their part.”
Marrow, who came to UK from Nebraska to coach tight ends, said selling the UK program was easy.
“This state sales this program. I thought it was basketball, and they are pretty good in basketball, but they love their football here. Lot of parents came down and were very impressed,” Marrow said.
Mainord said taking football recruits to UK home basketball games in Rupp Arena is a huge tool.
“A lot of these guys in this class were at basketball games last February,” Mainord said.
Brown, a Kentucky native, said signing what UK considered the state’s best four players — quarterback Drew Barker and defensive linemen Matt Elam, Lloyd Tubman and Adrian Middleton, was pivotal for future success, too.
“It was a team effort. I think it’s a huge for the success of our program to keep kids that are the best players and best fits for us to keep them home. We felt like the four best players in the commonwealth this year were fits for our program,” Brown said. “It was a great team effort to get those guys.
“It started when Drew came on board. He set the ball rolling. Adrian Middleton is a guy not talked about as much as other people, but he can play. D.J. Eliot is the one that really recruited Lloyd Tubman the last month and developed a relationship with his mother. The big guy, Matt, we had to go in and beat some of the best programs in the country.”