Let's start out with this caveat: I am not a recruiting guy. A Sea of Blue in particular and the interwebs in general have many people more qualified to speak on the topic of football recruiting. I'm largely silent during the off-season because I only speak up when I have something to add to the conversation. I can come on here and regurgitate what I've read elsewhere and talk about kids that I've never seen play. But I don't think that's what most people want from me and again, there are plenty of people doing just that on other sites already.
That said, even to the most untrained eye, Mark Stoops is clearly on an unprecedented run bringing highly rated kids in and getting them to commit to Kentucky. In the past few days, Kentucky has received commitments from Florida DE Denzel Ware, OH safeties Darius West and Mike Edwards, as well as Florida LB Nico Firios. All are rated four stars by at least one scouting service.
If you've clicked on this article, chances are you are already aware that UK's current 2014 class is ranked as high as #4 in the nation by one recruiting service, and is universally regarded as a top 10 class. Coming off a 2-10 season where fan interest hit a nearly all-time low, that is just plain sick. Moreover, it would appear to defy logical explanation. Without question, Mark Stoops and his staff are great at recruiting. We'll get to that part in a moment, but its hard to look at the Cats' recent success without acknowledging the perfect storm that has swirled up that allowed it all to come together.
There are a lot of factors:
1. New regime- Sure, Stoops has put together a staff that knows how to recruit. But when I talk about a new regime, that means a lot more than just having good recruiters in place. Right now UK is selling something it hasn't been able to sell in a while. The promise of a new day. The pitch goes like this: "We are going to play Florida State defense and Texas Tech offense. You offensive guys are going to put up numbers, and you defensive guys are going to have the kind of success that landed a bunch of our former players in the pros." That is pretty damned attractive. Will it actually play out that way? Right now I'd say it looks promising, but only God knows. But it seems logical and completely plausible, which is all that is necessary at this point. Kentucky doesn't have to rely on results like most schools do, because there is a new Sheriff in town. This staff doesn't have to hide its head based on past results. The downside is this card can only be played for so long. Which bleeds into the next point;
2. Immediate playing time- Here is the next level of the pitch, which if I'm 17 and looking to play college football at a high level, is also important: "The last guys didn't recruit athletes like you. The cupboard is pretty bare. We need you, and unlike at Alabama or Ohio State, you aren't going to wait three years to play. You, Mr. Four Star, will be competing for a job the minute you walk on campus." This leads to an interesting dichotomy. Is the staff telling kids that they expect to turn this team around right away? Or, is it a more candid assessment. "Look, you are going to watch this team take some lumps this year. But next year, most of our 2013 recruits will have seen the field, we'll have you guys coming in, and some key veterans still around. It is a 2 or 3 year plan, and you'll be right in the thick of it." Personally, I assume and hope it is the latter. Verbal commitments are nice, but if these guys don't sign LOIs because they are disappointed in the coming season, it will all be for naught.
3. SEC SEC SEC-Sure, every Kentucky coach throughout time has been able to sell recruits on the chance to play in the SEC. The SEC has been the country's best football conference for a while, but in the last couple of years it has morphed into something else. With a national championship streak a mile long, constant ESPN exposure and a deep sea of elite teams, SEC football is probably the biggest sports property outside of the NFL or NBA. Players who would have chosen Nebraska, USC or Florida State before are listening to UK's pitch because that SEC offer, whether it comes from Alabama, Florida, Kentucky or Mississippi State, is cache. Unlike five years ago, there is the SEC, then there is everything else. Which brings us to our next point:
4. Ohio- An idea so simplistic it shouldn't have taken this long. Kentucky has been sitting on a gold mine for years, and with the emergence of the SEC as head and shoulders above the other major conferences, it is time to start cashing in. Who should have a better chance at getting the top kids in Ohio than Kentucky? Ohio State, obviously. Who else? Cincinnati, Louisville? Nah. If Michigan or Notre Dame wants a kid, okay. But those schools, along with Ohio State, recruit nationally and can't possibly be in every Ohio kids' living room. "Come to Kentucky, where your Mom and Dad can come watch you play SEC football. Did I mention that we'll throw the ball 50 times a game? Or that you'll play right away?" See how these things all start to roll together?
5. The fans- If the Spring Game taught us anything, its this: Kentucky is starving to support a football winner. Are we a basketball state in a football conference? Sure. But that is only true because it is true, if that makes any sense. There is no intrinsic reason why Kentucky can't be both. We'll there is one, a lack of homegrown football talent. Given that I wouldn't even be writing this article if we weren't having immense recruiting success outside the state, I'd say we have to conclude that if we can get the players to build a winner, our fanbase will support the hell out of them. After putting 50,000 butts in seats for a glorified scrimmage, Stoops can look a recruit in the eye and tell him just that. That day was huge for this program.
Anyone can throw a bunch of lines out there to a 17 year-old kid. But these kids are savvy. They know when they're being sold a bill of goods.These pitches are working because they're true. They also work because:
6. We got the right guy- And just as important, he got the right guys. Anyone who questions that now is either an eternal pessimist or a fool. Make no mistake, some of these other factors helped. but without the right people taking advantage of them, they would not amount to a hill of beans.
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