Another year, another successful recruiting class for Mark Stoops and the Kentucky Wildcats.
Most of the noise was made in the early signing period, where UK signed blue-chip prospects like Darian Kinnard, Marquan McCall and Stanley Garner among others. With 20 early signees, that left just a handful of prospects to sign in the late signing period.
Even so, it was a very productive day, which included commitments from four-star linebacker Chris Oats and three-star running back Kavosiey Smoke to finish off a 24-man class.
After the fireworks were over, head coach Mark Stoops and his recruiting ace, Vince Marrow, met with the media to recap UK’s 2018 class.
Here is everything they said, courtesy of UK Athletics:
“Glad to announce the addition of four more recruits that came in today. Allen Daily, a wide receiver from Alabama, Nick Lewis, an offensive tackle from Jacksonville, Chris Oats, a linebacker from Cincinnati and Kavosiey Smoke another running back from Alabama. You guys all smile with that. That will be fun to say (laughter). Let’s hope he scores a lot of touchdowns. Great guy.
“You’ve heard me talk about it before. I think the nucleus of our class was signed in December. I think that was very good for us. It was very good for the University of Kentucky. I also think it was very important. It was a great day today. As I’ve mentioned, learned from Jimbo (Fisher) a long time ago, it’s really important to recruit a solid class top to bottom. But, the last two, three, four guys are absolutely critical.
“I really feel like we hit a home run with the guys we signed today. Excited about this class. With these four guys here, it puts a really solid class together with 24 players in total. That’s a perfect number for us. I felt like we hit the number right on the spot.
“We signed 13 offensive players, which we needed, nine defensive players and two specialists. It really is a complete class. I feel very good about it. It worked out really well.
“I appreciate the efforts of our assistant coaches. They worked tirelessly around the clock for years sometimes to recruit these guys. It paid dividends here with this recruiting class.
“It’s kind of nice, the early signing period, we had talked back in December, I think it was very good for us. Had a chance to kind of hit the reset button after the December signing period to see exactly what we needed for this February signing day, and hit the spots.
“That worked out very well for us. I also think it helped us get a jump, gave me an opportunity to go out and look at juniors, get in front of people, hit a lot of different places because in the spring, head coaches are not allowed on the road. Just moved the calendar up a touch. Made for a very busy December, but it made for a better January for us.
“Overall, I’m very excited about it. Also, this is the first time I got in front of you. I’ll answer any questions about our new assistant coaches, Brad White and Michael Smith, as well.”
Q. Ohio State has been able to come in and take some of those in-state guys. What was different about Chris’ (Oats) recruitment?
“Coach Marrow really did a good job, Coach House, all of our defensive guys, they all went up, made one last pitch a week ago Saturday. Watched his basketball game, got in front of him. The guys worked hard building relationships. I think Chris felt comfortable with Coach Marrow, with our staff, what we’re doing down here. I think that made the difference this year.”
Q. How rare is it to hire a guy (Brad White) you didn’t really know?
“It is rare. There are some guys in the Colts organization, that were in the Colts organization, that I have great respect for. Coach Pagano, what he says really matters. Rob Chudzinski, their offensive coordinator, and I go way back. As far as what type of person you’re getting, I had no questions there.
“Then when we bring him in, go through the interview process, he really impressed me quite a bit. I knew halfway through that interview that I wanted to wrap it up and get recruiting him to take the job because he was having some other opportunities. I wanted to lock him up.”
Q. Coach (Michael) Smith has had a lot of experience recruiting Louisiana. Is that somewhere you think you can exploit?
“Definitely going to let him explore that, yes. I was a little hesitant early in the process. You remember back when we had Coach Peveto here, he had some connections there, as well. We were close on some things.
“But I just felt like at that point we were a little bit too far stretched. I wanted to isolate, concentrate on the areas we have. We let Coach Clink expand a little bit to Detroit, it’s paid some dividends. We’ll let him expand a little bit into Louisiana, yes.”
Q. Is it fair next year to assume anyone who doesn’t sign in December is open game?
“Without a doubt, yes. That’s the way we looked at it the whole time. That’s why we didn’t miss a beat.”
Q. Does moving Dean Hood to the secondary strengthen the defensive staff
“I think it will help us overall. Number one, I think what was very intriguing to me is Brad being such a technician, I really feel like we have some NFL outside linebackers. Bringing him in to coach those guys, to take them to another level, we all know what kind of coach Dean Hood is, a great coach, but most of his experience is in the back end. It will give Dean time to concentrate on special teams and work in the back end with Coach Clinkscale.
“I wanted to improve and get some help in the secondary. Again, I really feel very excited because you’ve heard me talk for years about the nuances of coaching that position, coaching outside linebackers because There’s a lot on their plate.
“We need them to be elite pass-rushers, we need them to be run stoppers, but they also have to play in space and have drops and a guy with that kind of experience makes a lot of sense to me.”
Q. To come back here for another year, pass on the opportunity for the NFL, is that part of what you told them: I’m going to get you somebody who knows what you need to succeed?
“No, I didn’t talk about that. As I’ve talked to you guys, I said I was going to sit back and take it all in and see what was going to be the best fit for us. Once I talked to Brad, I knew that’s exactly what I wanted to do. At that point, I started talking to him, Josh had already made up his mind.
“As I started talking to those guys, they were excited about having the opportunity for someone like this to come in. Brad coached a close friend of mine in Bjoern Werner also. Bjorn raved about Brad as well.”
Q. No in-state signees in this class for the first time ever. Was that something unique to this class?
“Yeah, I was disappointed in that. I’m not going to lie. I want in-state guys. We’re recruiting hard on the 2019 class right now, out there beating the pavement, making sure we’re evaluating the right guys.
“Like I said, there’s not always going to be an abundance of guys, but there always is good quality here. We have to make sure we get the quality players to stay home.”
Q. What do you think about the level of the 2019 class?
“It does seem strong. Definitely reminds me of the class a few years back when Kash (Daniel) and those guys came out in 2016. But, yeah, there’s some impact players in this class.”
Q. In general, how big was it to get Josh, all those guys, back next year?
“It was very important. It’s most important. I don’t want to say it’s the most important recruiting pitch because I don’t look at it like that.
“I’m not going to make their decision for them. I just want to make sure I give them accurate information. I worked very hard to get in front of them several times before the bowl game, after the bowl game. Talked with a lot of people, got them accurate information and let them make the best decision.
“I really thought some guys made some mature decisions. I talked to them about who in the world wouldn’t want to go and make money and play in the NFL or the NBA, any other sport? Who wouldn’t want to do that? But they have to make sure they get the accurate information on when to go. I think all the kids get excited. Sometimes just any opportunity is not the best opportunity.
“A guy like Josh Allen, a true junior, would have had great opportunities. He would have made a team, in my opinion, and been a draft pick. But he has a chance to do things like Bud Dupree, come back and be a very high draft pick. I thought he was extremely mature in his decision making.
“He and I had some long talks. Gotten to know Josh and become close to him through this process. He was very mature in his decision making. The same really goes with Mike (Edwards).”
Q. How do you help Josh reach his goals? What can he become next year?
“I think just what he’s doing right now. Number one, just training in the off-season, making his body elite. Again, he was a true junior this year. He was in college five semesters. If he would have left, he would have been here five semesters. That doesn’t give you a lot of time to develop your body.
“Right now with his weight lifting, his training, you can see it already, he’s holding that weight very easy. He looks phenomenal. He’s going to continue to work at all aspects of his game, his pass-rushing, being elite, beating the best players that he faces, getting sacks, pressuring people against the best tackles in the country. He’s going to have an opportunity to do that.
“I think those are the things that he needs to work on, just his complete game, his maturity level. He knows what it takes to go through our season in the SEC. Now go through, what do they play, 18, 19, whatever they play, it’s a long time depending on playoffs and all that. It’s a long season. I think he looked at it like that as far as his maturity level, whether he could withstand that at this point.”
Q. Is Denzil Ware fully back on the team?
“He’s participating in everything at this point in time, yes.”
Q. Are you surprised they all came back? Is Jordan Jones back?
“Jordan is back as well. As I told you guys post bowl game, same thing with Jordan, he’s got to continue to do things right and continue to be consistent. We all love Jordan 95 percent of the time. We can’t have that five percent. He can’t have that five percent. He has a very positive, infectious personality, but he also can tear down things at times, as well, and deter from the positive things that are going on. He knows that. He’s working at that.
“I was pleased with everybody’s decision to come back. Yeah, definitely was pleased about that.”
Q. You got great leadership out of Stephen this year. How confident are you to get a similar type of leadership from whoever wins the quarterback job?
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that we will get that. I think Stephen set a great example for Gunnar (Hoak). Obviously Terry (Wilson) wasn’t here. You can also tell that Terry has his own way of going about doing things. He has a very positive charisma about him as well. I really don’t worry about it with either guy.
“I think both players have taken the role of doing some leadership right now as far as getting the guys assembled, throwing, doing some things on their own. I feel very good about that.”
Q. What are your first impressions of the early enrollees?
“They’ve been solid from what I’ve seen, things I hear in the weight room, things they’re doing academically, yeah.”
Q. How important was it to sign a running back today?
“I think it was real important. Kavosiey was a big get for us. There was a lot of competition for him late as well. He’s a very good player, both with him and Allen (Daily). I think you all know he’s LiAllen, but he goes by Allen. He and Allen both played at a high level in Alabama, state championship game right there, very close to each other. They are very, very good players.”
Q. Is Nick Lewis the biggest player he’s ever recruited?
“I think so. I can’t imagine anyone bigger. You saw me in that tweet, I had to get on a bench to get even with him.
“He’s a big boy. He has a great personality. That’s a fantastic school there, Jacksonville Bolles. Just to walk around with him, spend some time with him at the school, seeing the way his peers interacted with him, he’s a very likable guy, a lot of people are attracted to him. He’s just very positive. He’s got a good smile. Very big guy. We love that size. We need to get bigger, more physical. He’s certainly a good start.”
Q. It seemed like Michael Smith had ties to your brother.
“I knew him very well. I go all the way back to him playing at Kansas State. I knew “Smitty” all the way back from that time. We’ve crossed paths. We worked together at Arizona. He worked for a good friend of mine, Bret Bielema this past year. I’ve known him for a while. It definitely helped.”
On being from Ohio and recruiting against Ohio State …
“You see me smiling? I recruited Chris (Oats) since he was a freshman. I think there are times they came in on kids late that are here now, but this was a kid that they’ve targeted since he was a sophomore. Beating them on this kid speaks volumes of what we were able to do. A lot of these other kids in 2019, it is a big recruiting class for Ohio next year. I’ve being getting a lot of DM’s (direct messages) already from kids and they’re like, ‘wow’, because up until last week everybody thought Chris was going to Ohio State. And, I kind of knew where he was going, just kept it to myself. But, until he signed the paper, I was nervous all the way to last night. It was huge getting him.”
On pinpointing Chris early and being able to keep him …
“Like I have told you guys before, our logo is probably the second-most dominating logo right now when you talk about recruiting in Ohio. So, when Ohio State came in, you always were nervous like are they going to offer this kid? They (Ohio kids) get a lot of Big 10 offers, but that Ohio State offer, every kid in that state just like in Kentucky, they want to play for their state school. This goes up a notch because like I said again, I know they recruited this kid from day one. This kid is a really good football player. A lot of high school coaches called me last night and were saying you guys got a really good one. This is definitely going to boost us in Ohio for next year. I really do believe that.”
On where Chris will play …
“He reminds me of the kid that was at Mississippi State. We went against them and I remember Coach Stoops saying that he has a lot of length. I remember that kid (Benardrick McKinney) was about 6-foot-4, Chris is a legit 6-4 or 6-5. He is very twitchy, can bend, he is going to play inside. He can play Mike or Will, but he is so long that you can put him on the outside as a pass-rusher because he can run. I know right now Coach House is really excited about him playing inside or outside.”
On recruiting in Michigan …
“Yeah, you talk about getting top guys out of Ohio but now we are getting players out of Michigan. Getting those two players out of Michigan was huge. You got the No. 1 and No. 3 or 4 player in the state. And, that’s a school if you get locked in at that school, it’s like some of the bigger schools in Ohio. You get in that school, and Coach Clinkscale is doing a good job with his relationships with the coaches there. And, they are loaded there for the next couple of years too. So, it just a platform that we keep going forward. We are going to Michigan, Maryland, Ohio, of course we’re going to recruit Florida. Coach Brad White, our new linebackers coach, he’s going to New Jersey, he is from Rhode Island, hopefully he does some recruiting there. We are still going to stay in a six-hour radius but also do some spot recruiting.”
On the process of getting players to think about the SEC in Big 10 Country …
“I told Coach Clinkscale, the message that everyone asks me what did I use in Ohio is the same thing I think now in Michigan: the closest SEC school is Kentucky. That message works in Ohio, Michigan, even Maryland and different stats up north. We have been told the SEC is the top football conference and has been for the past 10 years, so if you are a good football player, our selling pitch is, ‘Hey, come six hours and play for Kentucky against the nation’s best football players.’ That is the message that a lot of these kids are hearing and why they are coming here, they want to play against the best. I know this, just speaking for Ohio, Ohio High School coaches are some of the best coaches that I have been around in a a lot of different states. These kids believe. Ohio is one of the top-four states in producing Division I and NFL football players. The new thing was, ‘Let’s go to the SEC. We have been to the Big 10. Let’s go see if we can play with the kids from the south.’ That is the same message that is coming out of Michigan.”
On adding Michael Smith in the south to recruit …
“I have known Mike since we played together in Kansas City and that was 1992. We were in camp together. He was a charisma-guy then. I think he is going to use his hometown connections because he is from Louisiana. You look at Arkansas, they had a fair amount of guys from Louisiana there. I think he is going to use that and it will be huge. If he can get two to three guys out of there that is a bonus. If he can get four, that is a huge bonus.”
On if he grew up or knows every person in football …
“(Laughter) seriously, it is kind of weird. I just told someone that Doug Pederson, who just won the Super Bowl, is another teammate of mine. He was a high school coach just eight-10 years ago. I think when you walk through different styles of life – I coached middle school, high school, NFL Europe – and meet all different type of people. When you play in the NFL, you meet all different kinds of people and it is what it is. It’s a good connection to have. It is huge trust me.”
On change anything moving forward with early signing period …
“I think what we did was great. I think us signing and having 20 guys secured really played a factor in me going forward with Chris Oats. When you are trying to get that type of kid, it is a constant that you have to recruit that kid every single day. If we didn’t have the early signing period, we would have probably been battling Ohio State with two more guys that we already have locked in. I really like it. You get most of your class signed and you focus on just four or five guys. I’ll take that anytime. The earlier you can get guys the better.”