Today Kentucky football received the letters of intent from highly-regarded junior college football players Cory Johnson and AJ Stamps. Both of these players will play on the defensive side of the ball, and each were Honorable Mention National Junior College All Americans. Reportedly, Stamps and Johnson have decided to be roommates next year as well. Thus, what is BBN's gain is also that of the Blanding-Kirwan Dorm Complex. When universities seek out JUCO players they typically do so because they want them to be able to contribute immediately given the shortened amount of time they'll be present within a program. Kentucky's defense last year was ranked at the bottom of the SEC, and infusion of this level of talent is welcomed and mandatory.
Meet Your New Wildcats
Johnson is a 6'4'' and 295-pound defensive tackle. He recorded 49 tackles and 4.5 sacks last fall for ASA College in New York. He is rated as a high three star by 24/7's composite score, and is considered the sixth best defensive tackle among the JUCO ranks. He also entertained offers from the University of Miami, Texas Tech, and Tennessee among others. Johnson will be expected to immediately fill-in for defensive tackles Donte Rumph and Mister Cobble who used up their eligibility last season. I expect Johnson to start immediately at defensive tackle alongside redshirt freshman Reggie Meant. A Rivals highlight tape can be found here. For more videos, his HUDL page can be found here.
Stamps is a 6'0'' 185-pound two star cornerback, according to 24/7 composite. Last season he recorded 51 tackles and 4 interceptions en route to EMCC winning the JUCO National Championship. Stamps reportedly chose UK over Ohio State. Stamps has tremendous upside as a cornerback given his current size and speed, and will have the length and physicality to to cover the taller wide receivers within the SEC. Additionally, he is also a candidate to handle kick-off and punt return duties given his experience playing wide receiver in high school and his first season at JUCO. Stamps played last season at East Mississippi Community College which is the same school that current UK defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh and defensive end Za'Darius Smith were previously located. It's important for UK to continue to build ties to the fertile recruiting grounds of Mississippi junior colleges.
WR/FS AJ Stamps highlights (via SWAC10)
Today's signees reiterate Stoops' intent to shore up the defense as quickly as possible. UK seems to have decided on a recruiting approach that incorporates a mixture of JUCO along with traditional four year players. The coaches judge that this approach meets current needs while building depth and developing youth for the future. UK currently has commitments from two more quality JUCO defensive players (Ryan Flannigan and Michael Mathis), and they are expected to sign in February and enroll in August. It's conceivable that of next season's eleven defensive starters there could be as many as seven former JUCO players.
Regretfully for the football program, not all of these JUCO players were academically capable of signing today. Enrolling early allows players the spring semester to participate in UK's strength and conditioning program, and several weeks of spring practice to learn the defensive system and compete against their peers. In the summer there would be continued conditioning work and other team-building activities. Whenever a player does not report until the beginning of fall camp in August they are typically behind everyone else on the roster. This is even more pronounced for JUCO players with only two years of eligibility. Several of these late-arriving JUCO still have a strong chance to start early next fall, but that may speak more to UK's current roster limitations than to these player's abilities.
This is the second season in a row that UK has tapped the JUCO ranks for defensive players. Last year they signed cornerback Nate Willis, who did not arrive on campus until August, and Za'Darius Smith who did enroll early. Both players were sought after during the recruitment process, and they both were starters for a poor defense. However, I'm not sure either player would say they were satisfied with their individual performances over the course of the entire season.