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Kentucky Football: Changing Recruiting Dynamics

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A look at the rise of Kentucky on the recruiting trail and how Mark Stoops is changing the game.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Since Mark Stoops arrived in Lexington, Kentucky fans have seen a change in recruiting strategy and tactics aided by the university’s financial commitment to football. How much change on the field is debatable, but there can be no question when it comes to recruiting.

According to 247Sports, Kentucky has landed two 5 star players since they began rating players in 2000: Antonio Hall in 2000 and Micah Johnson in 2006. Matt Elam was also a 247Sports 5 star when he committed to Kentucky, but was later graded down to a four star after the Army All-American game.

Landon Young made history when he became Kentucky's first Rival 5* player. Rivals carries more weight than the 247Sports ratings. Since Rivals began their ratings in 2003, 408 players have been rated with 5 stars through the 2016 signing class. Only 48 schools hold the distinction of signing a Rivals 5 star play, so Kentucky has joined an elite group of schools, thanks to Young and the Kentucky staff.

In the 5 star pool, Southern Cal leads the pack with 49 elites with Alabama having signed 33. Kentucky became the 13th SEC school to join the club. Vanderbilt is the lone SEC school not landing a 5 star prospect since 2003. Alabama (33), Florida (29), LSU (22), Georgia (18), Auburn (15), Tennessee (12), Texas A&M (8), Ole Miss (7), South Carolina (4), Mississippi State (3), Arkansas (3), and Missouri (3) have all signed at least three. Here's the list of schools who have signed 5-star players through 2016.

Five Star Graph

Kentucky has a way to go, but could wind up with two more in the 2017 signing class. Lafayette's Jedric Wills is currently a 5 star and is UK lean. QB Mac Jones has won awards at the three Rivals camps he's attended and could be bumped to a 5 star before signing day. As you know, he has shut down his visits after his visit in the last few days. He currently ranks as the 15th best QB by Rivals, but his stock should rise after his camp performances.

I've wondered over the years who were getting the big dog players and how many the various Kentucky coaching staffs have offered.

Here's the rundown: 2003 and 2004 - None

2005 - 1- Tray Blackmon (signed with Auburn)

2006, 2007, 2008 & 2009 - None

2010 - 1 - Keenan Allen (signed with Cal)

2011 - None

2012 - 1 - Adolphus Washington (signed with Ohio St

2013 - 5 - Carl Lawson (signed with Auburn), Jalen Ramsay (signed with Florida St), Matthew Thomas (signed with Florida St), Montravius Adams (signed with Auburn), and Mike Mitchell (signed with Ohio St)

2014 - 2 - Rashaan Evans (signed with Alabama),  Travis Rudolph (signed with Florida St)

2015 - 12 - Damien Harris and Daron Payne (signed with Alabama), Ray Ray McCloud (signed with Clemson),  Jacques Patrick, George Campbell,  Josh Sweat (signed with Florida St), Trenton Thompson, Terry Godwin (signed with Georgia), Kevin Toliver (signed with LSU), Malik Jefferson (signed with Texas), Keisean Lucier-South (signed with UCLA),  Rasheem Green (signed with USC).

2016 - 8 - Ben Davis , Lyndell Wilson (signed with Alabama), Marlon Davidson (signed with Auburn), Antonneous Clayton (signed with Florida), Micole Hardman (signed with Georgia), Landon Young (signed with Kentucky), Keandre Jones (signed with Ohio St), Eric Fowler (signed with Texas). So far, Kentucky has offered five 5 stars for the 2017 class with a long road to go before February's signing day, including the top priority:

Jedric Wills

If Stoops can reel in Wills, UK will definitely insure a place on the recruiting map since will be the highest ranked Rivals player Kentucky has signed since Rivals became important in recruiting.  Young committed very early (6/14/13) as a sophomore in high school which cut into the number of potential offers.

While the list of 7 offers is impressive (Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Miami, Ohio State, South Carolina and UK), Wills currently has 18 offers, including Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Florida State, LSU, Tennessee, Florida and Western Kentucky, all among last season's AP final top 25. He also has offers from Auburn, Georgia, South Carolina, Louisville, Miami, Virginia, and Army.

Young was ranked #3 at his position (OT) and 29th nationally while Wills is ranked #3 for his position (OT) and 16th nationally. Young was an Army All-American while Wills is also and will likely become an Under Armour All-American with a likely invitation to The Opening. Young was robbed when he wasn't invited.  Wills will likely garner more offers before National Signing Day.

The question for the fans is will he commit to Kentucky or will he pull a Damien Harris and go elsewhere? Remember how he teased and misled the BBN back in 2015 before committing to Alabama? While we wished him well, his treatment of the BBN really hurt. Will Jedrick Wills pull the same stunt? Hopefully not.

You have to wonder if the football staffs have made much of an effort in recruiting 5-star players. Consider this: Between 2000 and 2011, Kentucky offered only eight 5 stars. In 2012, things seemingly were about to change before Joker Phillips was asked to take his services elsewhere.