This past weekend saw the latest Nike's The Opening event take place in Columbus, OH (background on the event here), and roughly half of Kentucky's 2016 commitments were reportedly present, to include four star offensive linemen Drake Jackson. Jackson, by some accounts UK's most important 2016 commitment, also won the day's offensive lineman MVP award, and received an invitation to The Opening's Finals in Oregon later this summer -- similar to UK signees CJ Conrad last year and Drew Barker the year prior.
Reports from the event continue to reinforce the narrative that there is talent present within a close geographic proximity to Lexington. Major programs like Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State can't take all these prospects, and UK will have opportunities to sign some of them. Drake Jackson is one such prospect, and SB Nation's National Recruiting Analyst and Editor Bud Elliot (@SBNRecruiting) interviewed Jackson at the event Sunday.
[Note: the interview has been lightly edited for clarity].
On what it means to compete and to subsequently get invited to The Opening's finals:
I'm a big fan of the offseason camps. I've been following The Open for years, ever since it started...I've been working for it, and to get the invite is a dream come true. I'm excited to compete with the best, and show what I can do.
On previously competing against the prospects at the day's camp and seeing UK's commitments:
I've met all of them before. I haven't gone against all of them before. I know Landon [Young] the four star tackle, we're good friends. I'm good friends with a lot of these guys, and seeing them is fun. We got a big group of guys, just building chemistry and trying to keep the class together. Decommitments are so common now I think we're doing a really good job keeping the glue on.
On the importance for the upcoming season to be successful to keep the 2016 commitments together:
It's going to be a factor. I don't know about the factor, but it's going to play a role. You look at Kentucky, you look at the SEC, and it's not easy to flip around. You're not Alabama or Auburn and can flip around in one year. The program has been patient with Coach Stoops and given him a lot of resources...if they go above .500, the momentum will continue, and I think they will. They were so close last year...The momentum is important. If you win on the field you win off the field, but they don't have to go 9-4 to continue that. They just have to show that they're competitors, and continue to build depth.
On if the 2016 commitments believe the team will have a successful season this fall:
I really do. I tell these guys all the time, a lot of people say I'm the leader of this class, and I tell them I don't think I'm the only one because a lot of these guys are out trying to recruit other players as well. They try to promote the university as much as they can. I'm not the only one.
On the total number of guys UK intends to take in the 2016 recruiting class:
I think in the low twenties. That's what I say. I haven't really talked them about that. That's what I assume. In the future, maybe a couple specialists, maybe some defensive guys, maybe another tackle.
On whether or not he thinks Kash Daniels will sign with Kentucky:
Oh man, I think he's coming to UK. I've known Kash since 8th grade, and he's my boy. He's like me. We're both from Kentucky with big-time offers, and it's fun to take visits and get that whole experience. You only get to do it once, and Kash is doing that right now. Deep down, I can't talk for him of course, I think he's going to come with me. Heck, we might be roommates at UK.
On UK's biggest competition for Kash Daniels:
Florida, Ohio State, and South Carolina even if South Carolina has only offered so far [Ohio State and Florida currently only have one linebacker commitment each]. I think those are the other schools.
On who he's trying to get to come UK the most besides Kash Daniels:
Tate Leavitt. He's a JUCO tackle from Ohio and plays in Kansas right now...he wasn't highly recruited coming out of high school, but sprouted once he got to JUCO. He could probably start right away.
Bud had some thoughts on UK's commitments as a whole yesterday:
Have to say Kentucky's staff is doing a great job of scouting KY & Ohio. Now they need to win some games to keep these ballers.— SB Nation Recruiting (@SBNRecruiting) June 1, 2015
They were close last year v. UF, LOU.— SB Nation Recruiting (@SBNRecruiting) June 1, 2015
If they don't, they're just scouting for more successful programs.— SB Nation Recruiting (@SBNRecruiting) June 1, 2015
That sounds about right.
Overall, various reports suggest UK's commitments performed well yesterday. Glenn already posted cornerback commitment Tobias Gilliam combine numbers. Scout was also in Columbus, and Allen Trieu lists his top performers. In addition to Jackson and Gilliam, UK's commitments on that list include defensive linemen Jaylin Bannerman and Kordell Looney. Class of 2017 recruit Russ Yeast, son of UK legend Craig, was also listed as a top performer. UK will probably have their hands full roping in the legacy. Finally, 247 Sports Director of Recruiting Steve Wiltfong singled out UK commits Landon Young and Drake Jackson for their performances.
UK's commitments heading into June: