With 5-star quarterback Morgan Newton announcing that he will don the blue and white of Kentucky, UK's coaching staff has ensured that the '09 recruiting class will be in the discussion as one of the best classes in UK football history. In fact, Kentucky football fans are 'seeing stars' at an exceedingly high rate these days, and it's not because George Foreman landed a right hook. Please, raise your hand if you prognosticated this historic reversal of fortune three or four years ago; now, give me your hand so I can hook you up to the polygraph.
It's amazing what a little winning, a lot of good recruiting, and an unforgettable victory over the University of E-ville can do for a program. Newton, in his press conference announcing his families college choice ( he repeatedly used the word "we" ), cited their reasons for choosing UK; offensive coordinator Joker Phillips, quarterbacks coach Randy Sanders, head coach Rich Brooks and the "good things going on at Kentucky." Ironically, early on in his recruitment he wasn't interested in UK; he attended last years UK-UL football game in an effort to check out Louisville, but instead he came away impressed with Kentucky and the direction the program was headed ( hats off to Stevie Johnson and the UL secondary ).
The importance of the impact that UK's coaching staff has had in locking up commitments from Newton, and Texas 4-star quarterback Ryan Mossakowski, cannot be overstated. Repeatedly the players, and the players families, cite the coaching staff as the primary reason for selecting UK. Mossakowski, while being interviewed by the Danville Advocate-Messenger's Larry Vaught soon after his decision, had this to say about his reason for picking the 'Cats:
"All my final four schools were great schools ( UK, Auburn, Alabama, and Texas A&M ). What separated Kentucky was the coaching staff. I talked to coach Randy Sanders last night. I have the highest respect for him and his knowledge of the game. Who he has put in the NFL is phenomenal. He's a blue-chip guy. It's important to have someone like that to learn from. He was a real big factor in my decision."
I think Mitch Barnhart needs to add a zero to the dollar amount on coach Sanders' paycheck.
But what also must be remembered is the fact that neither of these star quarterbacks would have been interested in UK if the 'Cats had not just completed two consecutive winning seasons. As I noted in my post, "UK Football: Changing the Culture", the national perception of UK's football program has rightfully been that of a doormat. That is a perception that is difficult to change, but we see it happening all around us; at Kansas, Missouri, Rutgers, and South Florida. All schools of little, or no sustained gridiron success over the last many years.
In order for UK to continue claiming their fair share of the elite recruits, they must continue to win, which is why this upcoming season is of monumental importance. Even though Brooks and staff have secured commitments from thirteen players who rate at least 3-stars for the '09 recruiting class ( out of seventeen recruits ), that won't get it done long-term in the most powerful conference in all of college football. That won't get it done versus Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, LSU and the other SEC juggernauts. That won't get it done when ones history is merely dotted with successful seasons.
For those of you new to the futility; Kentucky HAS been in this position before. A dismal three times since 1957, to be exact:
- '76-'77 -- UK went a combined 19-4 over those two seasons. Winning the SEC and the Peach Bowl in '76. But, the 10-1 '77 season was marred by NCAA violations, resulting in probation for Fran Curci's 'Cats. The next two seasons UK went a combined 9-12-1, precipitating the programs decline back to the depths of mediocrity.
- '83-'84 -- UK went a combined 15-8-1 over those two seasons. They were awarded trips to the Hall of Fame Bowl each year, losing in '83 to West Virginia, but winning in '84 versus Wisconsin. Coach Jerry Claiborne, try as he might, couldn't sustain the winning ways, going 26-28-1 over his final five years ( Claiborne posted a 10-11-1 record in the follow-up '85-'86 seasons ).
- '98-'99 -- UK went a combined 13-11 over those two seasons. They lost to Penn St. in the Outback Bowl in '98, and to Syracuse in the Music City Bowl in '99. The Hal Mumme era ended with a 2-9 record for the 2000 season, followed by the uncovering of blatant NCAA violations ( Mumme, and the despicable Claude Bassett were escorted off campus ). Guy Morriss' first year also produced a 2-9 season.
For those of you mathematically disinclined, that's a combined 23-41-2 record in the two years immediately following the two year runs of success. The coveted three year run, which can lead to long-term relevance, has for various and sundry reasons escaped the grasp of Kentucky football.
But, is that about to change? Are the commitments of Ryan Mossakowski and Morgan Newton omens? Will the two prep stars serve as bell cows for other elite prospects?
Newton's father, Dr. John Newton, thinks so. When asked why his family selected UK, he responded with this:
"We spent a lot of time with this decision. We talked to a lot of people and gathered a lot of input ... We really believe Kentucky is a place where Morgan can succeed individually and compete for championships."
He's talking about UK, right?
Rich Brooks and his staff have proved that all they need to succeed in the living room of recruits are six or seven wins, and a bowl game. They don't need gimmicks such as Friday night games, or playing on blue smurf-turf. They have what recruits and their parents long for; integrity, genuineness, and a track record of producing NFL players. Instead of dismissing UK's advances with a smug sneer, players and parents alike are now finding an abundance of reasons to matriculate to the Bluegrass.
The combination of wins + ace recruiters = the potential to, as Dr. Newton put it, "compete for championships." Kentucky isn't there yet, but the times, they seem to be a changin'.
Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats!