A basis for successful football program is its ability to capitalize on in-state talent. Programs like Alabama, Florida State, USC, Texas, and Georgia are able to draw from large talent pools in-state which provides a foundation for each class, later supplementing their signing classes with choice out-of-state recruits. Successful seasons typically end up being a lagging indicator of successful in-state recruiting for many major conference programs. The University of Kentucky is at a bit of a disadvantage in terms of quantitative and qualitative football prospects. Pickings are historically slim.
Interestingly, the Commonwealth may end up having a very talented in-state class in 2016 relative to typical Kentucky classes. UK now also has a staff that can exploit these resources. Meanwhile, the 2015 season can reasonably be expected to earn a lower tier bowl berth which should add to recruiting momentum. The celestial bodies could all end up aligning in UK's favor.
Before Mark Stoops & Co.'s arrival, many of these in-state players would have looked elsewhere. There is a long list of prep talent that left the Commonwealth to play for bigger name programs: Robert Reynolds to Ohio State, Shaun Alexander to Alabama, Brandon Deaderick to Alabama, and Lamar Dawson to USC to name just a few. UK meanwhile had to also compete against UofL to sign any local players who were nationally under- the-radar. Devante Parker immediately comes to mind.
The current staff has proven since their arrival that they will be competitive for every in-state recruit. When Stoops arrived in December of 2012 he had less than two months to National Signing Day 2013. In that time he convinced Jason Hatcher and Ryan Timmons to turn down suitors such as USC and Ohio State, respectively, for an opportunity to build something at UK. Stoops did miss out on offensive tackle Hunter Bivin to Notre Dame, receiver James Quick to UofL, and cornerback Ryan White to Vanderbilt; though, the subsequently insane success of the 2014 signing class suggests if Stoops & Co. had more time they probably could have at least won over White and Bivin the year prior.
In 2014 UK convinced Matt Elam and Drew Barker to go to UK instead of heading to Alabama and South Carolina respectively. Stoops has made it more difficult for big-time programs to pluck Kentucky's best recruits, and has put distance between UK and UofL at the local level.
For perspective, this is the Commonwealth breakdown since 2013: (247 Sports composite rankings):
2013: 5 four stars; 5 three stars (10 total FBS recruits).
2014: 2 four stars; 4 three stars (6 total FBS recruits).
2015: 1 five star; 1 four star; 5 three stars (7 total FBS projected recruits).
UK's staff recruits well abroad, but even better in the Commonwealth. That's important for the 2016 cycle as that in-state class has the potential to be rated very highly. Potential because many of these prospects haven't even begun their junior year of high school. Yet, as of today, most of the players listed below probably project to at least three star recruits, based on the schools reportedly expressing interest, media reporting, camp invitations, and leveraging my contacts within the KY coaching ranks.
For example, Drake Jackson and Landon Young are already considered Top 150 recruits on 247. If Jackson signs he will be the highest rated consensus UK recruit since the recruiting services started. In addition to those two, I expect at least two of the names listed below to end up being four star prospects. More names could also emerge after the summer camp and combine circuit.
|Name (linked to highlight tape)
||Position||Ranking (recruiting profile linked)
Drake Jackson (Woodford Co.)
Landon Young (Lafayette)
Ethan Adams (St. Xavier)
Keion Wakefield (Male)
Quinton Baker (Paul Blazer)
Zyaire Hughes (Paducah Tilghman)
Sam Letton (Lexington Catholic)
Clay Bolin (Lafayette)
Blake Asher (Leslie Co.)
|Dee Cain (Caldwell Co.)||ATH||--
Javarus Blair (Lafayette)
Rodjay Burns (Trinity)
Anthony Robinson (Frankfort)
Lamarius Kinslow (Fern Creek)
UK has yet to offer most of these players. UK prestige is currently at a level in-state that they can slow-play most of these recruits to see how they develop. If they miss out on their primary targets out-of-state, many of these players could develop over the next two years to be quality back-up plans. Having options is a luxury.
Even if UK is only willing to take 4-6 of the players listed above, that could potentially be as much as a quarter or more of that signing class. UK hasn't had 25% of a signing class comprised of more than Kentucky kids for a long time, but importantly even when it was it didn't include this breadth of talent.
More good news: Cincinnati is loaded for 2016, and UK has had enough success there in the last two recruiting cycles to suggest UK will be competitive for the services of: Jake Hausman, Tommy Kraemer, Jeremy Larkin, Prince Michael-Sammons, Jango Glackin (the "D" is silent), and A'Shon Riggins. Ohio State will recruit a few of these kids, and while I would never count out Ohio State to woo an Ohio prospect, Cincinnati has not historically been sympathetic recruiting terrain. If OSU were a regional hegemon, then Cincinnati would be their Hindu-Kush. Other top tier programs will also be after these prospects.
Currently, UK staff and fan's focus is on the 2015 Class, and while that is appropriate and correct, The 2016 Class lingers on the horizon as one that can be even better. A solid 2015 season may not only earn the commitment of Berea, KY's 2015 five star Damien Harris, but also cement UK's status with the following class' stars.