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Mark Stoops recaps National Signing Day for UK Football

Mark Stoops and his staff enjoyed a very productive early signing period.

Eastern Kentucky v Kentucky Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The Kentucky Wildcats have locked up the majority of their 2018 recruiting class.

Entering the early signing period, there was a slot of uncertainty as to how much of UK’s class would actually sign early, and how many recruits would wait until February to sign on the dotted line.

As it turned out, UK secured 20 signatures out of 21 committed prospects. That had Stoops in a very festive mood when he recapped UK’s productive Signing Day.

“Exciting day. Very, very smooth morning. Things went very good,” said Stoops. “We're very excited about these 20 young men that have joined the program. Went out and had a very good practice, and then just dismissed the team. So it's been a very busy morning but an exciting time.”

Here is a recap of everything Stoops had to say, courtesy of UK Athletics:

Q. What were you guys looking for when you had to kind of restart the QB search late in the process and what attracted you --

MARK STOOPS: Yeah, obviously you get thrown curve balls throughout this process. We understand that. I think that is definitely one position that's a little bit unique because you really focus in on guys early. You kind of get that relationship and try to nail that down, and it does get touchy at that spot. I think every other position you know we recruit a bunch of guys, so if something falls through, you move on to the next guy, and I truly believe that every player we sign or whoever signs them, it's meant to be. So really I don't get too flustered or too worried about any of that kind of stuff with the guys that come and go. I do think the quarterback is a different situation.

You know, it was, I think, a credit to our staff to go out and look and see who was available. Fortunately, Terry was there, and so we're very blessed to have him in this signing class. I think it was a position we definitely needed to get somebody in this spot. The nice thing about Terry is he's a year older, played a year of college football. He's already been at a Power Five school for a year, so he knows what he's getting into.

The beautiful thing about him was he was a joy to recruit. You know, it was very difficult. He was getting pulled a million different directions, and there was a time when things started getting very hairy where he was getting pulled from people at his junior college, from everybody, and that's when you saw maybe some reports of when he was coming. And, he and I sat down and had a very direct conversation with him. He was unbelievable. You saw the maturity in him. When he talked to me, he said, ‘I never really looked at it that way, I hear you Coach.’ I told him to think about a few things, and he called me back 40 minutes later, and he said, ‘Coach, I'm coming in. I'm coming in on this date, I don't care what anybody else says,’ and he came in, and it's been a great recruiting process from that point on. He came in, had a good weekend, and he's been a joy to recruit.

Q. What did you guys try to do offensively, what will he add?

MARK STOOPS: Well, he fits in very well with what we do. I think we molded the offense to what we had to a year ago, like we talked about. We have tried to be more efficient in throwing the ball, and at times we have, and again, that goes with everybody. That goes from protection to receivers and quarterback and so on. I think we all want to take the passing game up another notch, and again, I think -- that's not throwing any shade on Stephen (Johnson), that's with the whole offense, and in particular with getting some playmakers around him. But he's very versatile, but he's got a very strong arm. He's very poised in the pocket, but yes, he is athletic, as well.

Q. Re: effectiveness in the running game enhance challenge of recruiting wide receivers?

MARK STOOPS: I don't know about that. It should open up a lot of doors because we need some because if you look at us two years ago (2016), we hit the ball down the field quite a bit, and with our run game and being so efficient at running the ball, we need to get the ball down the field some. We have tried. You've watched the games and have seen that. Our percentage is much lower this year as it was a year ago with hitting the ball down the field. And obviously some of that is personnel and with our outside receivers.

Q. Marquan McCall was listed as an offensive lineman but you guys announced him as a defensive lineman. Was that your intention when recruiting him or are you still trying to figure that out?

MARK STOOPS: That was our intention because that's what he wanted to play when he got here, and we looked at him on both sides of the ball and felt like he was versatile enough to play on either side. The big thing is I wanted him playing at Kentucky, whatever side of the ball was good with me.

Q. On recruiting in Michigan this year.

MARK STOOPS: Yeah, I think it was very important. I appreciate Coach Clink (Steve Clinkscale) did a good job. He had some relationships in there, getting DeAndre (Square) out of Cass Tech is important. There's some very good football players in there. I think he's done a nice job.

Q. You talk about Florida, you got eight.

MARK STOOPS: It is. Eddie Gran has just done a remarkable job getting these players. I've been down there, as you know, for a long time, but Eddie really has very, very strong relationships with people down there, and down there, when you start recruiting South Florida, it's about trust, and he's been there for, I don't know, I don't want to age him, at least 30 years. I noticed it right away. I think I commented on it before at a prior press conference about other things, but when he and I first went to Florida State and I went to him, because I've been through Florida, all through Florida, but when I went with him to South Florida, it's amazing the connection that he has down there. And it's just about the way he works and the type of person he is and the strong relationships that he has, whether it be guys that he's recruited that are now down there coaching, but he's always done right by kids for a long time and has a great reputation in South Florida, and I think that's a big key is trust. He works extremely hard at it, and I love the players that he signed out of there, both last year and this year, because they're very, very unique individuals and remarkable young men, and proud to have them.

Q. When you read Brenden Bates’ bio, it feels like I'm reading C.J. Conrad three years ago. Is that fair?

MARK STOOPS: It is. Brenden is another kid that I could just go on and on about because you love his athletic ability, but more important you love the type of person he is because he is a lot like C.J. In that regard I think he's bigger than C.J. was -- I know he's bigger than C..J coming out, and that's a nice thing, but Brenden is much like C.J. in that he is a great team player and he'll do anything to help the football team win. He's a competitor. Again, never wavered, not a bit, and was getting pulled and called and all kind of things, and he wouldn't hear it and he wouldn't visit (other schools). He wasn't taking any calls. It just says a lot about him and his character and who he is. But very, very good football player, got unbelievable size. He's, again, that prototypical tight end. Both him and Keaton (Upshaw) are exactly what you're looking for at tight end. You watch their highlights, you see their size and how physical they are and how big they are already, they've become very close in the recruiting process. They'll fit great in that room. I think we have a very good room with the tight ends, and it'll be great to add those two guys.

Q. You have 20 right now; how many more do you want to get in February, and what's it going to be like going seven weeks to just get three or four more guys?

MARK STOOPS: I expect to sign possibly four more. It depends where we're at. That would be pushing it for us, but there's some very good football players that we're in pretty deep on, and we'll go into February with several of the guys that we've already been recruiting and then several other guys where we'll continue to poke around and find some new guys, as well.

Q. You’re still waiting on some guys potentially this morning but did things go according to plan? Were you pleased with the way it went?

MARK STOOPS: I was very pleased with the way it went. Again, very few surprises. There's always things that you have to work through, but I think it went very well. I'm very pleased with these guys, and they've been so solid through the process, but you never know. They're getting pulled at. There's guys on here that were getting poked at until last night and constantly pulled and asked to not sign and don't sign early and come on visits and being offered scholarships yesterday or the past couple days, and these guys didn't waver, and that's the character we're looking for, so we're very pleased.

Q. So do you think you can get a few more signed in the next few days?

MARK STOOPS: I think we can get possibly one or two more in the next two days, yeah.

Q. What's the message now to the guys who haven't signed?

MARK STOOPS: I don't know if I have any direct message. There's guys out there that didn't sign that we are going to continue to recruit, and we have a great relationship with, and I understand the reasons why they didn't sign. You know, as we talk about this, and I think a lot of coaches are going to give their opinions on the early signing period, you know, I'm not up here to -- the rules are what they are, and for us, again, if guys have been committed to us for some length of time, six months, eight months, 12 months, and they have an opportunity to sign today, why not?

My December is ridiculous anyway, and every coach is. Fortunately, we want to go to a bowl game and you want to be that busy with practices, and you're going to have to go on home visits anyway. So I mean, you're slammed anyway, so if guys are solid like most of these guys were and they want to sign, why not, other than let them get poached. I'm glad to get these guys locked down because, believe me, there's some players here that can play in an awful lot of top-five schools.

Q. Do you think December signing day changes their approach to recruiting?

MARK STOOPS: I really don't know. I don't think it's appropriate for me to comment on anybody else's recruitment. I'm worried about Kentucky, and I'm worried about getting the best players for this University, and I think it does help these individuals. If these guys weren't 100 percent committed, then they obviously wouldn't have signed today, so I don't think they were really worried about who was coming in or not coming in because many of them were. So, I look at these guys, and I say they were solid to Kentucky and they signed today and they're happy to do it.

Q. Anything surprise you about the early signing period? Anything you learned, maybe something that you didn't expect?

MARK STOOPS: I don't know if there's anything that I didn't expect. I think it's definitely going through it for the first time, maybe when you see the coaching changes is definitely something that you have to factor in.

Q. You had a lot of kids from Kentucky on your signing days, but not on this one. Is it just a little bit odd?

MARK STOOPS: Yeah, I definitely don't want that to be the case. I definitely want to continue to make Kentucky our priority, and some years there's going to be more than others. There's always good quality in Kentucky. The quantity is not maybe the same as some other states, but there's always some very good players in here.

Q. It almost seems like you made it a priority to sign a punter and a kicker. What happened to the good ol' days where you just pulled somebody off the soccer field?

MARK STOOPS: Yeah, I've been hit with too many questions on my special teams in here through the years. You guys are too tough on me in here. No, I think we all know the importance of kickers and punters and holders and snappers. It's never an issue, and it's really not anything we talk about unless it's a problem, with the exception of maybe some game-winning kicks or exceptional punts and things like that. So they understand that. They fly under the radar sometimes, but as coaches we always understand the importance of that, and some years you have to invest in the scholarships, and I'm very proud of the two guys we signed today.

Q. How have you developed this Australian punter pipeline?

MARK STOOPS: That's secret. I could tell you this: Unfortunately I haven't made that recruiting trip yet, so I'm going to have to maybe go -- might have to go in January.

Q. You talked about teams maybe coming and trying to pick guys off at the last minute. What was the process like? Seemed like there was a lot of schools out there but then he (Terry Wilson) settled on you.

MARK STOOPS: Well, there was, and again, I think I touched on it. I don't think I need to get into complete detail, but again, he and I had a conversation that I wanted to gauge his -- how sincere he was with us, and it wasn't going to be in the situation where we were getting bounced around on visits and dates. And so he and I had a heart to heart, and again, he called me back 40 minutes later and said, Coach, I'm coming, this is what I want to do, and there was a lot of people that get in these kids' ear and that pull a million different directions. At the end of the day, these guys have to do what's best for them, and so he tightened his circle, had a conversation, decided to come in, came in and had a great weekend, and he's a remarkable young man that I look forward to you all getting an opportunity to visit with him because he's strong and he has the characteristics that you're looking for in a quarterback. Once he made his decision, there was no wavering in his mind. That's what he was going to do. There's a ton of good schools that say, hey, just come in for a weekend, come in, have fun, do this. No. He was all business. That's what he wanted to do. He was locked in, and you have to appreciate that. Those characteristics, that type of leadership will carry him a long way.

Q. Terry said when he came in he was ready to put on pads. Have you seen the bowl practices during the recruiting weekends being an advantage?

MARK STOOPS: I think it's always an advantage for situations like that. I think it's important for the players to come out and see the players that are there and see the tempo and the way we practice and the way we do things and see how they fit and be around our players. I definitely think it's a help.

Q. Bryce Oliver was a guy who hadn't publicly committed until this morning. Do you think it was important to have somebody come and surprise the fans and the people watching?

MARK STOOPS: Yeah, I think he was a very big commit. He was obviously on our radar for a good bit, but again, very strong young man. He was taking some time, taking his visits, and we felt good about it, but he came here on campus, had a great visit, and we were obviously extremely pleased when we got that commitment because I believe he's a big-time player, and he's going to be a difference maker. He plays exceptionally strong. He's very mature. He's all business, tremendous basketball player, so a very good athlete. We're very happy with him.

Q. Were there any guys on the defensive side of the ball that maybe didn't get a ton of buzz that you're excited about?

MARK STOOPS: Well, I hate to single out any one guy. Obviously we feel very good about this whole crew. We really do. I probably need to be guarded in that because I hate to put expectations on kids sometimes that they don't reach them and all that, and they have to hear about it. I think football is a developmental game, and we'll see between now and the time they report whether they're in a position to help us or not. You never can tell because sometimes we think somebody is ready to go and they're not and vice versa. So, we'll see how it goes.

Q. How important is visiting for summer camp in terms of evaluating and building?

MARK STOOPS: Well, that's very, very important. There's a couple guys that jump out at me, and I was talking about it -- who was it, I was on the podcast there this morning talking about a few guys, but that was -- it was Ashtan Pierre. He's one that had he not come to camp, I'm not sure where we would have been. Obviously he was very highly recruited but he was playing some different positions, so if you just look at the film, you know he was out of position sometimes and doing what he has to do to help his high school team, but he came in here and was terrific on his feet and the way he was playing linebacker inside out and was very versatile and very explosive, so that's one guy where it's very important, but I think all coaches will tell you, we love to get eyes on them and work with them in person. It's one thing to watch a game or watch practice but when they're in your camp and you're working with them, that's the best evaluation you can have.

Q. The last couple years you have recruited guys that were maybe more decorated playing basketball than football, like (Calvin) Taylor.

MARK STOOPS: Jordan Wright was another one. Yeah, there's a lot of these guys that play basketball. Bryce was a guy that I had mentioned, but they all tell me they're great athletes, so I don't know, we'll see. But we have some pretty good basketball players on our team, and I think a lot of these guys were definitely guys that either ran track, played basketball, did some other sport, yeah. Again, I hate to single out any one guy, a sleeper or put expectations on him. Obviously I think we're very pleased with this group or we wouldn't have signed them, and again, I think you know from past experience, I'm not sitting here saying you need to have a whole team full of diamonds in the rough because your percentage will probably be pretty low. You need to recruit some guys that are somewhat no-brainers. You put on the film and you see a great player. And then there's other guys you see that you see the talent in them and you see that in time, in a year or two, the development, they could be special players. Again, Josh Allen is a great example of that. He's one of the guys that eventually whenever he needs to go to the pros will be one of our highest drafted guys, and he wasn't recruited very heavily at all.

Q. You're looking for defensive linemen with the spots you have left?

MARK STOOPS: We could. We never turn away a good defensive lineman. We're always on the hunt for those guys, like most people, yeah.

Q. Running back Chris Rodriguez, could you comment on him?

MARK STOOPS: Yeah, we really like Chris. I think one of the best compliments we could give Chris is tell him he's a lot like Benny (Snell). And what I mean by that is you all know the way I've commented on Benny early on was we had a good idea of what we were getting. Maybe not necessarily knowing how many yards he would get in his first two years, but we knew he was a strong player. We knew he was mentally tough. We knew he was a competitor. And Chris I feel is the same way. I feel like he's a very tough guy. I think he's very disciplined. He's very strong, gets very tough yards. So we're excited about him.

Q. How many guys do you expect to be here for spring?

MARK STOOPS: You know, that's a good question. I didn't get that -- five or six. Coach Marrow says so. I told you I've been slammed, so I apologize. Y'all probably have some more empirical data than I do on these guys.

Q. Mitch Barnhart was recently named the chair of the SEC Athletic Directors. How do you think that helps your program recruiting?

MARK STOOPS: Well, I don't know how that would affect recruiting, but I think it's a great compliment to Mitch and our department because Mitch does things right, and he's been around a long time, and he has great respect within our league. That's for sure. That's very evident when I'm with him in our conference meetings and traveling with him and spending time with him and our commissioner and people in our conference office and the other athletic directors within the league. It didn't take very long for me to see that he's very well-respected.

Q. What were you looking for in the wide receivers' positions, and do you recruit for specific positions like wide receivers, or do you just kind of get them here and figure out --

MARK STOOPS: We do, of course. You see some guys like Akeem (Hayes) that he's going to be a dynamic inside guy, and then you look for some guys that have the ability to stretch the field and go vertical and go up over people and make competitive catches, and so we want some outside guys, as well. And that's what Marvin and Bryce, guys that can get down the field and go get the football. But Marvin was a guy that came here in camp, and after one day of camp, I said, Eddie, we have to have him. Like there's no way I want to play against him, and we need him here. So he was a priority. He's dynamic.

Q. re: Marvin Alexander

MARK STOOPS: He's very shifty. He's one of those guys, gets the ball in his hand, his open. He's elusive and has some natural instincts with getting open.

Q. Any unusual stories similar to two years ago with Bunchy Stallings?

MARK STOOPS: I don't really think so, no, not to my knowledge. I've been -- yeah, it's been busy, but the staff has done a great job. They recruit geographically, and then we recruit positionally, and I have to get in everybody's home, and so that time, it gets busy. When you have this early signing period and you're trying to visit everybody in their home, that gets to be quite a few spots in three weeks.

Q. What's the difference when you go now and when you started the first year?

MARK STOOPS: Not much, other than obviously I think we're trying to build on the success that we've had, and I think there's some proof in the pudding that we're doing some things right, and I think there's a lot of people that believe in what we're doing and the steps that we're making, and of course there's a lot of room for improvement. That's why we're recruiting some very talented guys.

Q. Since you got here are you recruiting against more schools than in your first year here?

MARK STOOPS: Yes, I think our percentage may be going up, but we've always competed. I think you know that: I've tried to do that from day one, and we're going to continue to do that. We're going to recruit the very best players we can against the best competition, and we're going to win some and we're going to lose some, but we're going to continue to fight and battle, but ultimately we're going to get the guys that are a good fit to play at the University of Kentucky.

Q. Have you had players comment to you that they're so glad they got to sign because they're sick of being pulled?

MARK STOOPS: Without a doubt. Without a doubt. So I agree with you, and that's a great question because some people are going to say it's not in the best interest of the players. Well, there's two opportunities to sign. If you don't want to sign and it's not right for you, don't sign. If it is right for you and you want to sign, then sign. I don't understand that argument. They don't have to sign. We didn't twist any arms to get these signatures today, and yes, there was quite a few of these players say I'm sick of it. People coming and pulling at my child and mothers and fathers and just tired of people getting in their ear, and you've got to understand the pressure that these guys are under. And this isn't pressure that just started in December. They've had pressure on them for a year. It doesn't get any better in that last month.

Q. Does the pressure get worse once they actually do commit to the school?

MARK STOOPS: It's hard to say. I think sometimes it would -- yeah, it definitely doesn't stop. You know, many times that just means you're in the lead.

Q. How many different cities did you go to?

MARK STOOPS: Yeah, that's a good question. Again, I have no clue. I've been around.

Q. Do you ever wake up in a place and you forget what city?

MARK STOOPS: Yeah, the pilots, sometimes I would just ask them, where am I landing? Yeah, I really would because the assistants would be there to pick me up, so you'd be going to some very small towns and some places where -- I'm glad somebody picked me up because I would have been stranded in some of these FBOs.

Q. What do you tell Terry about the current quarterback position and what he can expect for competition?

MARK STOOPS: I told him exactly what it is, exactly what you know. I think everybody that plays that position better fully expect to come in and compete.

Q. Did you really just lean against the tree when the team played paintball?

MARK STOOPS: No, but I had to ask the players yesterday, I said, who was -- I forgot to ask them in the team meeting, and after practice yesterday I asked them, who was it that flanked me and just blasted me, and very meekly Michael Nesbitt was like, that was me. So I owe him a little something. Someday I'll get him back.

But yeah, the guys were up on the fort, and I couldn't move off the tree because they were blasting me, and then he had me from the side, so I was in bad shape. I don't think they felt bad for me one bit, either. They let me have it. It was mine. I really wanted to do it. As a matter of fact, I didn't really tell anybody except my ops guy; Frank Buffano was the only guy I told for a long time.

Q. Did you think about sitting that out? You're obviously a target they're going to want to hit.

MARK STOOPS: Yeah, I did, but I made all the full-time guys (assistant coaches) go. I knew the players wanted to blast some of these guys pretty good. Not me. I know they wanted to get after some of them. But yeah, it was a lot of fun. But it definitely hurts. It'll get you. You can imagine 105 of these football players, too. There's no mercy. It's not like you got shot one time and you put your hands up and you're still getting tattooed. I have welts all over me.

Q. Players have talked about just this bowl season in general being more fun. Has that been a concerted effort on your part?

MARK STOOPS: It has, it has, definitely. I think last year I was definitely a little gung-ho on making sure -- really pushing the program, and that's still the case. But there has to be some balance there. They have to enjoy what they're doing. Camaraderie still counts. I think I had to be conscious of that, of how many practices, how long they were and all that, and I think we had a really good balance this year, and the guys have been very energetic and focused while they're out there.

Q. Are there any specific positions you need to get with these final three or four spots?

MARK STOOPS: I don't know, I feel like we hit on all of our needs. I really do. I think you're always hunting a defensive lineman, an offensive lineman, possibly a wideout. You know, there's a home -- there's some guys out there that are home runs, also, at some other positions. I think linebacker is a need, and there's some big-time guys out there that we have a chance at. So I think getting the best players is most important. I really feel like we hit a lot of needs between last year's group and some young guys we have in this year's. I feel like we're in pretty good position, but you're always looking for the best players you can get.

Q. Does this group have an identity? Last year you talked a lot about the integrity and the character and those sorts of things. Is there anything about this group that really stands out to you?

MARK STOOPS: Well, I think much the same, and I mean that. I think as we have more and more time to recruit these guys, as we get better and keep on pushing the program forward, I think myself being in this and going -- this is going through my fifth year and going into the sixth, I think you understand the importance of guys that want to do things right. I think you all feel that and see that throughout the year, how difficult it is and how taxing it is on players and everybody, and so that mental and physical strain, it takes a long time, and you try to eliminate as much baggage as you can. What I mean by that is maybe academics and so on. You want guys to eliminate the clutter, if you will, and I think last year's group and this year's group I'm very excited about. That doesn't mean that you're not going to continue to work with kids that are maybe at a little greater risk. You want to continue to help guys and give them opportunities, and I'm very proud of some of the guys that we just graduated that if you want back two or three years, maybe we wouldn't have had a good feeling that they were going to graduate, and they pulled through it, and they did that.