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- Dakari Johnson’s mother appreciates opportunities her son had, looks forward to future at UK
- Kentucky center Dakari Johnson to return for sophomore season
- Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops not only watches Kentucky practice, but puts on UK pullover
- Receiver Jeff Badet has broken fibula, receiver A.J. Legree “gonna quit and go play somewhere else”
- Jojo Kemp: “I’m trying to make this like high school again”
- Alex Poythress to return to Kentucky for junior season
- Jordan Swindle improving, becoming leader going against “freak” Bud Dupree in practice
- Julius Randle knew he had to sacrifice just like others for Kentucky to succeed
By LARRY VAUGHT
Running back Mikel Horton was one of 11 Ohio players to sign with Kentucky and knows most of the Ohio signees. “Can’t say it is an Ohio movement, but if one commits, all commit,” Horton said. “Ohio is a small state, so we know each other and talk about going to school together.”
Kentucky recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow, like coach Mark Stoops, is an Ohio native who had connections to many of the players, including Horton.
“He is a crazy guy. He is the type guy that showed up when he was allowed to come to the house and chilled with my grandmother, chilled with my family, talked, played board games. He is very interactive. He tried to be part of the family as much as possible. He’s the main reason I picked Kentucky. He’s an amazing person. (Running backs coach) Chad Scott and Neal Brown, that whole group is special and influenced me to come here.”
Marrow joked that Horton is a guy that don’t shut up” ever when asked if he let Horton beat him in any board games.
“But that’s why we kept most of the class (together). He’s a strong, opinionated young man. I just think … he said he’s going to beat me at basketball, which he probably could right now. No, I didn’t let him win anything I could sit down and compete with. I beat him. I won,” Marrow said. “We played cards, we played Monopoly. He’s a competitive young man. He’ll try to beat you in everything. But you know what? Our whole staff was like that. Our whole team is like that. We want guys who try to compete and want to compete.”
He said a long home visit like he had with Horton was the norm with this recruiting class.
“Some of these visits went for three hours. Like, honestly, coach Stoops said you think you’re in there for an hour, and it’s just the type of families we’re recruiting. I mean, (former assistant) coach Bradley Dale Peveto will tell you. We’ll go in there thinking we’ll be in there for an hour and 20 minutes, we end up being there three hours. Just the type of kids we recruited,” Marrow said. “We was chilling with his grandmother. Very, very nice lady. But you know, Mikel. He’s probably out there talking right now. It’s just how he is, but we love we got that young man here.”
Horton wouldn’t quit talking about his expectations for what lies ahead at UK, either.
“The legacy of this class is why not be here, why not go to the NFL, why not win a national championship,” Horton said. “Nobody is holding us back. We are going to put in the work for the fans of Kentucky and ourselves and become something special.”
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
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.”
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By LARRY VAUGHT
Chris Davis Sr. knew when his twin sons, Chris and Demetrious, transferred to Kentucky after a redshirt season at Pittsburgh that playing in the Southeastern Conference would be different. However, he never imagined just how different even though his sons can’t play in games this year because they were not granted a waiver for immediate eligibility by the NCAA.
“Kentucky, one thing I’ve got to say … a lot of people do not get to experience SEC football. You hear about it, but until you are able to live it and be part of it, you can’t believe it. It is amazing,” said Davis Sr.
He became a true Kentucky football believer at the Kentucky-Louisville game and then that feeling only got reinforced when UK hosted Florida and Alabama.
“At Pittsburgh, there would be 20,000 fans in the stands for a big game. Here there are over 60,000 for a team that went 2-10 last year. That’s amazing,” Davis Sr. said. “You don’t have empty seats here. Fireworks are going off. It’s exciting. My sons got chills just having the fireworks go off. That got their competitive nature going. It’s an amazing thing to see.”
They have had other family members come to games, and leave equally impressed.
“You have to experience this. It’s just hard to explain to anyone else how amazing it is,” Davis Sr. said. “I have always been told the SEC is a league of its own, but the atmosphere is just so much different.”
The Davis were highly recruited as prep stars in Ohio before picking Pittsburgh. However, their father says the atmosphere and fan support at Kentucky is second to none.
“You say Ohio State or some other places, but this is more. Just the tailgates all around the stadium and miles down from the stadium,” Davis Sr. said. “Every parking lot is a tailgate here. It’s really amazing.”
He says while the atmosphere has to be impressive to players/recruits, it also sells parents.
“All parents like to see their child play where they know the community is supporting the team,” Davis Sr. said. “It’s not just about your child, but the team and when the fans come out and support the team like this it is impressive. Even if they lose, they are here for the team.
“These are not fair-weather fans here at Kentucky. They are good. When you go 2-10 and fans are here like this, and that’s not a shot at last year’s Kentucky team, but these are loyal, die-hard fans that impress kids and their parents maybe even more. That’s very good. The scary part is that when we starting winning a lot, what it will be like then. They may tear the town up like they are used to doing in basketball.”
Davis Sr. is friends with Kentucky assistant coach Vince Marrow, who immediately told the family not to believe the nationwide perception that Kentucky is a “basketball school” and not interested in football.He told us, ‘They have not done very well in football, but the fans are crazy about football here.’ Then they had over 50,000 at the spring game, which was really impressive,” Davis Sr. said.
When the Davis twins came to visit, UK fans already knew who they were and were telling them thanks just for visiting.
“The fans would say things like, ‘Can’t wait to see you play.’ That’s an amazing thing coming from someone who has not seen you play except maybe on videos,” the father said. “That’s why I say this is just an amazing spot for football and one that is just going to take off and get better and better. I would tell any parent of anyone UK is recruiting just to come and experience the atmosphere and they’ll see what is taking off here. We believed, but until we got to a game, even we didn’t really know how special this could be.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
While he knows what a challenge playing No. 1 Alabama, the winner of two straight national titles and three of the last four, Kentucky senior tight end Jordan Aumiller also has a different perspective on Saturday night’s game.
“I am really excited. We are all excited about the game,” said Aumiller. “But it is just a big opportunity for us as a team and for UK as a program. It’s an exciting opportunity for us because we have not played a No. 1 team. So instead of a challenge, we see an opportunity.
“Nothing is impossible. They don’t have any real weaknesses and we cannot afford to beat ourselves. But if we do our jobs, we have a chance to win. We have confidence. You have got to have confidence in any sport or you have no chance to win at all. We just have to take that confidence to the field and realize what an opportunity we have. The coaches know we are playing the No. 1 team and remind us we are playing the best team in the nation and that we have to be prepared for that.”
Aumiller knows about taking advantage of opportunities. After a stellar prep career at Boyle County, he redshirted at UK in 2009 before moving from linebacker to tight end for 2010. He played in all 13 games, including eight starts, and caught 18 passes for 193 yards and one touchdown to earn fourth-team freshman All-American honors. Southeastern Conference coaches named him to the league’s all-freshman team.
In 2011, he started against Western Kentucky in the opening game. That was his last start until this season. He did play in 10 games in 2011, but last year he played in only three.
Now he’s back playing full time and had three catches for 34 yards in last week’s 35-28 loss at South Carolina.
“We know we just have to compete and not make mistakes and do our jobs. Not just one guy, but everybody has to do their job at all times like we did late at South Carolina. Then stuff will work right and we can keep clicking,” Aumiller said. “I think last week helped us. We have come out to practice this week and worked super hard because it was good to see results of our work pay off. It just all boils down to doing your job and executing.”
Aumiller says it was “absolutely nice” to have balls thrown his way by quarterback Jalen Whitlow last week when Whitlow played the entire game rather than alternating with Maxwell Smith.
“When the ball comes to me, I am expected to catch it. When it is a running play, I am expected to do my job and block,” Aumiller said. “It’s just the way the game was going. It just happened to be me to get some balls. But it wasn’t because of us just playing one quarterback. If it is Jalen or Max, my job stays the same.
“I have felt our offense was getting better. We watch a lot of film and you could see it here and there, but there were always small things we did to hurt ourselves. Now we have started clicking. We just have to come out Saturday again and expect to win.”
Against Alabama’s defense?
“They are No. 1 for a reason and they did not have any lapses. We have game plan and we just have to execute it,” Aumiller said.
Aumiller appreciates the confidence tight ends coach Vince Marrow has shown in him considering for two years he heard that he was not physical enough to be on the field.
“I am just doing what coach Marrow and (offensive coordinator) coach (Neal) Brown ask me to do and that is to do my best. I try to go out and be physical and do my job and let the chips fall where they may,” Aumiller said. “What is in the past is in the pat. I know what I can do and not do. It’s all about believing in yourself and working hard. This year is my senior and I want to lead the program in the right direction.
“Coach Marrow really knows how to relate to players. He knows how to push and motivate us. He has high expectations for us. The last thing I want to do is disappoint him, coach Brown or coach (Mark) Stoops.”
Aumiller hopes UK fans turn out to support the team like they did against Louisville and Florida, UK’s last two home games.
“There’s nothing better than playing in front of a loud crowd the whole game and have them cheering and yelling for our defense. That makes a world of difference,” Aumiller said. “When we are on the road, I know how that impacts us.
“We are in the entertainment business and we want to please the fans and win games. The louder it is Saturday, the better for us.”
Question: What impact does the game-day atmosphere at Commonwealth Stadium have on recruiting?
Vince Marrow: “It don’t get no better than it was against Louisville. We had probably over 70 major, big-time recruits between the 2014, 2015 and 2016 classes with their parents. You see all these other schools using that crap that Kentucky fans don’t come out. Spring game, now this game against Louisville. The fans of Kentucky football speak for themselves.”
Question: Does that atmosphere impress recruits or their parents more?
Vince Marrow: “I think it sells the parents. They see the atmosphere. It sells that they are closer to home and you can go get this atmosphere and this type of experience here.
“But it also sells the players. I am always putting myself in position of the players and I am saying, ‘I see the Cat Walk, and fans know our recruits.’ I am going to be honest with you. This is no different — and I was in Nebrask for three years — but this is no different than Nebraska for fan support.
“I don’t know what happened here last year or the year before. I just know what I see. Over 50,000 at spring game, and then seeing this Louisville game. And even when we went to Nashville (to play Western Kentucky), the fans traveled down there.
“It is here. All we ask is that the fans show up. I think they have to appreciate what we put out there, and it is going to get better.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
From the day he arrived at Kentucky, assistant coach Vince Marrow has believed that the Wildcats’ football program is going to rise to a new level under coach Mark Stoops, his childhood friend.
Marrow, Kentucky’s tight ends coach, has had incredible success recruiting in Ohio, and the Cats’ 1-2 start has done nothing to dampen his enthusiasm.
“This thing is going to change, and it’s going to change quick. I have a good group of experience at tight ends. They are hard kids that want to win and they play hard for me. But I can’t say these guys are not used to losing. That’s why you see the younger guys are coming. They are making plays,” Marrow said. “But I believe this: Some programs are where they are at, and some are on their way down, and some are on their way up. I am telling you, these people we recruit against, they know. They know, and that’s why the people in the Midwest are so upset with kids we are getting from Ohio and other places. We have their attention.”
Here’s more of what Marrow had to say about the Kentucky program:
Question: How much better do you feel about this team because of the fight it showed against Louisville that was missing against Western Kentucky?
Marrow: “I am like Mark (Stoops). I am from the same place. We don’t believe in having somebody say, ‘You guys played well.’ We want to win the game. But from week one to week three, it was a big improvement, and I have to give these guys credit — they are really fighting. I really was encouraged.
“Of course you want to win, but they took to the field what they have been taught in practice.”
Question: Can a team lose a game and still take a step forward?
Marrow: “This may be the first time you will hear me say this, but I was very proud of the way these guys played against Louisville. The crowd had to see these guys fought to the end. We had our opportunities … that’s what the fans are going to see.
“We are going to coach real hard, and it is going to get better. We are going to get more and more players in here. I am just speaking for myself, but we are going to refuse to take a back seat to anyone. I really like where we are going. I really do.”
Question: Is that the same thing you are telling players verbally committed in the 2014 recruiting class?
Marrow: “Yes. You can’t be a second fiddle or second character to people or other programs. When we came here, we said we were going to recruit the best players. That’s what we are doing, and they are buying into it.
“People think, and we keep hearing it, that our recruits may back off after we lost to Western Kentucky. Those guys were texting me and each other and Facebooking each other saying they couldn’t wait until they get here. They know our staff and what we are doing here.
“I am very proud of the players we have here now and very proud of the players we will have in the future.”
Question: How much do the current freshmen help sell the program to recruits?
Marrow: “I want to say 80 percent or more of them are playing, and they ain’t just playing because we are throwing them in there. They are good. You look at Ryan Timmons, Marcus McWilson, Jaleel Hytchye, JoJo Kemp, Jeff Badet, Jason Hatcher. You can go on and on.
“The good thing about that is the type of guys we were recruiting, we knew we were going against the best teams in the country. We are getting these guys and they are making an impact.”
Question: Do you feel even more strongly that future recruiting is going to get better and better?
Marrow: “I feel that. We had six weeks in recruiting last year, and it was a top-25 class. With the 2014 class, we are in the top five, top 10. We are on them, and our 2014 class is almost filled up like the other big programs do. We are on to the 2015 and 2016 kids. We have a good jump on these guys.
“We have some major, big-time kids here for the Louisville game that will be top-200, top-250 kids in the country. They see what the 2014 class is doing … and I am not just speaking for Ohio. I am speaking nationally. You got the top Kentucky kids, the top Ohio kids, and nationally other kids want to come and play with great players.
“So they look at the offer list and they see they have got Alabama, Ohio State, Notre Dame and Nebraska, and they are coming to Kentucky. So they want to go play in the SEC and be close to home, too.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
First of several segments coming in next two days with UK tight ends coach and recuriting guru Vince Marrow. Enjoy.
Question: What did you take out of the Louisville game?
Marrow: “It was a tough game. The defense played well the first half and we had our opportunities, but when you have a young team that is still learning the offense sometimes you have mistakes. The defense played well enough the first half to let us be in the game.”
Question: For product you are selling to recruits, did just making substantial overall improvement from game one to game three help?
Marrow: “We had a lot of recruits here for Louisville. They said the same thing. You can see the guys making plays. We have a lot of first-year players in this offense making plays. We are playing young guys and we are recruiting guys that can fit this offense. Half of them were here for Louisville and they can see it. It’s not hard to sell. They know what our direction is and what our plan is and the kids are buying into it.”
Question: Since you have been clear that you want to be known as a coach who can recruit and not just a recruiter, does it please you to see this overall team improving and does that show recruits this staff can make them better?
Marrow: “Yes. As a former pro athlete, seeing this staff and being around them, they are very good young coaches. These guys are very technique sound and you see from week one to week two to week three, this team is improving. I always try to put myself in position as a player, and I really like what I see. You saw our defense against Louisville. You had guys making plays and that’s all due to coaching.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
The last two years Kentucky has not had a tight end that has consistently been able to make big plays in the passing game. Whether it was the players’ lack of talent, quarterback play or the offensive system, Kentucky opponents learned not to have to worry about respecting a deep threat from UK’s tight ends.
New offensive coordinator Neal Brown wants the tight end to be a vital part of the offense, and tight ends coach Vince Marrow says it will be in a variety of ways when the Cats open the season Saturday night in Nashville against Western Kentucky.
“As a group, I think we are probaby one of the top groups on the team. We are very experienced. I have four seniors, guys that know how to work. I am very pleased with them,” said Marrow. “I don’t have to spend that much time teaching. We go over certain things and those guys get it. It is a very experienced group that I really like.
“I like the whole group but the guys who are asserting themselves are Anthony Kendrick, Jordan Aumiller. Steven Borden has a lot of talent and is doing some good things, but just needs a lot of reps. Really good group, really good experience. If I had to single anyone out, Jordan and Anthony. They are making a lot of plays. They are two big guys that can get down the field, but they are in-line blockers, too. That lets us do a lot of different things with those two.”
However, he said both Borden and senior Tyler Robinson, who was slowed part of training camp with an injury, can help, too.
“Borden has the same athletic ability as Kendrick. Just as strong and explosive. He just needs reps. He is going to be a factor. You can’t keep a kid like that on the sideline,” Marrow said. “I really like the whole group, but those three … Tyler Robinson can help a lot, too. He’s a tough kid, but also a good receiver.”
Marrow says Kendrick, Aumiller and Borden are interchangeable and can play a true tight end, split end or even fullback.
“They can bring a big problem to the defense because you don’t know where to sit your front at. Neal with that offense, just having that type of guy is really good for us,” Marrow said.
Marrow has made a name for himself with his recruiting. Now he’s ready for his tight ends to show everyone he can coach, too.
“I am just enjoying being around these guys. I was gone … I was on the road every week recruiting forever. I just really wanted to get back with these guys and getting back working with them now it is really feeling like home to me. I can’t wait to see how they play,” he said.