The Kentucky Wildcats have secured the best class in school history in terms of recruiting rankings.
With several other four-star recruits will uncommitted, Kentucky has already established a tremendous class that will finish inside the top 25 of the final team rankings.
As Kentucky was still landing commitments, head coach Mark Stoops met with the media to talk about the big day. Here is a recap of everything they said via UK Athletics.
COACH STOOPS: Really proud of today. Really appreciate the hard work of our assistant coaches, the sacrifices their families make with the guys on the road and traveling, day in and day out. Greatly appreciate our players. I think that’s one of the biggest compliments to a great recruiting class is the players in your organization and the way they recruit other great players. Really is a team effort and had an exceptional day.
You heard me talk many times about build, select and develop, and as we get better and continue to recruit we can be more selective and make sure we are recruiting the players that best fit the University of Kentucky and best fit our organization. Really proud of this class of 19 signatures at this point, 11 on offense and eight on defense. I do anticipate to continue to recruit throughout today. I appreciate your patience in backing this up a little bit. We are continuing to recruit throughout today. I expect up to four more significant additions to this signing class, some guys that are very heavily recruited. We’ll continue to recruit and to continue to battle for these remaining recruits.
Q. We know what websites say. Do you think this is your best class that you’re signing at Kentucky?
COACH STOOPS: I don’t know. That’s up to y’all, I guess. You could look at it and see. We’ll tell you in three or four years. That’s the big thing. I could tell you I am very confident in this group. I really feel very strong about this group, both as football players and probably more importantly as young men and what they do away from the field and the leadership that I feel that we have within this group.
Q. You’ve had success recruiting in the trenches previously, but it feels like this year there’s even more star power than before?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, I think it’s a really good class, when you look at that, if you’re looking at the O-line and D-line. Offensive line with five guys and five quality players there. And then defensive line we have three, if you put Sam (Anaele) in that group, who is a really big guy, much like a Josh Allen, you have four along the front right there. And we’re going to continue to recruit one or two more. But it’s really a strong class with our front guys.
Q. I know a lot of the -- especially on the offensive side, they’re offensive tackles. Are they all tackles? Do they move down? How do you kind of figure that all out?
COACH STOOPS: We needed some tackles and felt like we met that need. Definitely four of the guys are prototypical tackles. But some of them are really big, if you look at Jeremy Flax, he’s enormous, probably could play a lot of positions. But they are tackles and that’s what we recruited four of them. RJ (Adams) is an inside guy.
Q. Flax, there was a story you read to the class, his mom?
COACH STOOPS: That’s accurate. That’s right.
Q. What book did you read?
COACH STOOPS: I can’t tell you the name of it. I wish I did know it. But I took a picture. I’ll have to tweet it out of Clink (Steve Clinkscale), when Clink was reading. And he was butchering it up so bad I felt the need to grab the next book. So, I did a really good job of reading mine. And then I asked the kids afterwards, ‘Who did a better job, me or Coach Clink?” They all pointed to Coach Clink (laughter). I was a little disappointed. That bummed me out because I was real enthusiastic, showed them the pictures and everything. It was good. I was good. Got a lot of practice with that. Definitely. We’re all in.
Q. Couple years ago he was getting a lot of flack from fans about defensive back play -- this was around the time you were establishing relationships with these guys from Michigan. How important has he been to recruiting in that state but also the development of the secondary the last few years?
COACH STOOPS: He’s really done a remarkable job, he really has. He’s worked exceptionally hard. He listens to criticism like we all need to, and try to improve in all areas like all of us in our program try to do. He does a great job of building relationships, both with our current players and with recruits. And that’s showing up, because really if you even look at Jeremy (Flax), you go back to his connections in that state and some of the other guys in the junior college that knew Coach Clink from the Detroit area and those relationships really helped.
So, he’s done a really good job. And our players on the field really responded to him well this year. He did a really good job coaching some young, inexperienced guys. And on the recruiting trail he’s just, he’s really crushing it, doing a great job. Got the Big Dog (Vince Marrow) here, maybe get a nickname for Clink going.
Q. This class is even more spread out than before. How do you -- do you still have to keep things focused on one state or --
COACH STOOPS: We kind of have to here with where we’re at. We have to branch off a bit. I think it goes to where some of our connections are and where each individual coach is connected to. And you look at Coach Sumrall, Jon Sumrall, going into Mississippi and signing Josaih (Hayes), that was an enormous get for us. And that was one that you really kind of feel like you pulled a rabbit out of a hat today. And we really kept that really far under the radar for a lot of reasons.
Coach did a really good job and Josaih is a fantastic young guy and a great player and a great person. And so that’s a big get going into Mississippi and getting the number two rated player in the state of Mississippi.
Q. Another of these guys, D’Eryk Jackson, there’s a story about him camping. How did that kind of recruitment --
COACH STOOPS: We saw him in person. Got him up here and got a chance to see him in person. And Jon just did a nice job of watching him and D’Eryk is a big guy. And you know we needed a little size in there at inside linebacker. He’s kind of like a big thumper type but he moves around really well.
Q. You said in the past you’d like to get the program in a position where you can redshirt, like, any freshman that comes in. Is there a position group or any players that you anticipate playing early?
COACH STOOPS: That’s hard to say. That’s up to the individual. That’s up to these guys that we recruited. We constantly talk about opportunity. There’s going to be opportunity there for them. And it’s up to them to take advantage of it. They know we have a good competitive team, but there’s some really talented players in this group. And so, we’ll see. Just go right down by the position there.
You guys all know Beau Allen and our recruitment of him. We’ve been recruiting him for a long time. And Beau, that was a big, big piece of this recruiting class to sign Beau. He was extremely important to us for a long time. And really built strong relationships with him and his family and really important to have him in our program. So, we’re grateful to have him and looking forward to big things from Beau.
The addition of Joey Gatewood was also really important, when that opportunity arose just a month or two ago and we started recruiting him and where we were at with quarterback this year, it was important. We never want to be caught thin again with departures or with injury.
And then offensive line, RJ Adams, picking him up this past week. Coach (Brad) White did a great job recruiting him, extremely big, physical guy, inside that we really felt like we needed.
And then you go Deondre Buford, Josh Jones, John Young and Jeremy Flax, four really big, long, athletic guys. And we really went into this recruiting period knowing that we needed to sign some offensive linemen. We feel like we’re going to get thin there.
And then the receiver positions, with Kalil (Branham) and Izayah (Cummings) and Earnest (Sanders IV), three impact players there, guys that can really stretch the field, make competitive catches. All three of those guys will have an opportunity to come in and help. So we’ll see.
And then with running back, JuTahn (McClain) is a guy that’s extremely fast, can make you miss, big play-type guy.
And on defense, linebackers, we talked about D’Eryk and then Sam. Sam Anaele is a great big guy, very long and athletic and just what we’re hunting on the outside, difference-makers there.
And then you look at our defensive line, and Justin Rogers and Tre’Vonn (Rybka) and Josaih, those are three big-time players and really difference-makers. And you know how I feel about the front guys; you’ve got to have them in this league. To have three players like that in one group is special.
Then you go to the defensive backs with Ricky Hyatt and (Andru) Phillips and Carrington Valentine, again, three guys with really good play-making ability. They could do a lot of things. They’re athletic, can change direction, they’ve got some length to them. So, really solid class.
And, again, we’re trying to continue that right now. We’re still actively recruiting a couple of guys today. And a couple of guys will be a little further along.
Q. What was (indiscernible) Beau Allen when you saw that he was going to be one of your main --
COACH STOOPS: I really feel like our coaches did a great job of identifying his talent very early. And so we knew right away that he was going to be a special guy. Our coaches have done that, especially when we get a chance to lay eyes on guys in camps and get them around here early on. They’ve done a really good job of identifying guys. You remember all the way back to Landon Young, we offered him as a freshman in high school, I think, or sophomore.
Beau, same thing. We just felt like he had the ability. He just had the all the intangibles for a quarterback. He worked extremely hard. He was very bright. He had great arm talent. And I think you look at that and you can watch quarterbacks in person, and you see the anticipation that he has. I went and watched him play in person this year, and I walked away with feeling like he was better than I even thought. Just seeing him live and the way he makes plays, eludes pressure, steps up in the pocket, constantly with his eyes down the field. He’s a special player.
Q. Would Beau have played if you had him on campus this year?
COACH STOOPS: It’s hard to say. I would think so. Probably not that hard.
Got another addition to our group. They can probably pass out the sheet there. We got Octavious (Oxendine) in the boat. That’s another really big guy in state. That’s why I was hoping to get that commitment today.
I had to back this up (the news conference time) to make sure we could talk about him. Octavious was going to announce today sometime around 3:45. And so we just got word that he’s in the boat and that’s another big get for us. Another feather in the cap there for the Big Dog (Vince Marrow). He had to work the phone. Octavious made Vince work a little bit longer today than he wanted to. But that’s another -- you put the four interior defensive linemen and all of them are four- or five-star guys and big, athletic, talented guys.
Q. Re: John Young being active on social media trying to recruit more players to this class
COACH STOOPS: John’s been fantastic. Again, a great young man, great family. He’s been a lot of fun to recruit. He’s been part of the core group in this group that has helped us. And you could see the leadership in a lot of this group.
Q. Justin Rogers committed in May. What does that say about him and the relationship you guys built?
COACH STOOPS: It’s really great to see. It was a great feeling for us as well to go through this recruiting process with a guy like him so heavily recruited, committed to us relatively early. It says a lot about Coach Clink and the relationships that he has with the family. He’s a special player and he’s a great young man, in Justin. Every time we see him, whether he’s on campus or when I got a chance to go visit him, you know he’s one of those guys that puts a smile on your face; he affects other people in such a positive way. And he’s been -- for such a highly ranked player, he was a joy to recruit. And it says a lot about him and his character.
Q. Along the lines of Justin, (inaudible) Beau and John Young and some of the others, I think all of them signed, what do you remember about that (recruiting) weekend and did you have a feeling when they all --
COACH STOOPS: That was a great weekend. It really was. I think Andru (Phillips) was in there as well. it was a lot of fun. Those guys are great people, great families and I think it was at a time of year when we could spend two days with them. It’s hard -- and we try to help educate our recruits as best we can of when they come in, because when players come in in-season, the positive is that you get to fly them in and take care of them and put them up and entertain them for a game weekend. But the bad thing for us is we’re so distracted. We’re consumed with trying to win the game. And a lot of those games are over late at night. And so our time gets condensed with what we’re able to do and spend time with them. So they came in in the spring. I want to say April, wasn’t it, Vince? April, we got to spend some good time with them.
Q. Next year, you’ll have seven scholarship quarterbacks on your roster?
COACH STOOPS: We’ll see where that goes. I think for sure at least one has talked to me about going in the (transfer) portal at this point in time. So we’ll see where that heads with those guys.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about how your recruiting strategy has changed? In the early days you could really only promise playing time. And now you can go in there with the full confidence that you can compete for a championship. How important is that to these guys?
COACH STOOPS: It’s really important. What these guys know, they grew up in high school where we played in four straight bowl games. That’s what they understand and know about Kentucky, that we win games and we’re playing in bowl games and we want to continue to build this program and take it to another level. So it’s really important to have a quality recruiting class like this one to help continue to build.
Q. Hayden Fry (Stoops’ coach at Iowa who died), what did he mean to you?
COACH STOOPS: Hayden meant the world to us. He was a guy that had a great influence on my life, and really my entire family, because he really changed the outcome of a lot of us with -- when he arrived on campus, I think it was right after Bob’s first semester there, and everything really changed from that point on with Iowa, with Iowa football, what it is today. It really started at that point in time with Hayden.
And we just built such a strong relationship with him, with three brothers played there. Bob played there and then Mike played there. By the time I came out I was recruited by a lot more schools because they probably figured they blew it on those two because they went and played really well at Iowa. So I probably had more opportunity.
And then, I remember making that decision and I felt why would I go somewhere else and risk that when we had so much trust in Hayden Fry and in that program. Bill Brazier was the defensive coordinator, the same coordinator there with Bob and Mike, so I went there.
But we didn’t know at the time that we would have this type of a run in coaching. But he just affected our lives. We all played for him. We all started our coaching profession under him. And, so, I was very fortunate and very blessed to spend that time with him because he was a remarkable man. He really was.
There was one story that I could tell you that we’ll just never forget as a family. My father passed away while I was playing at Iowa. It was the night before we were playing Wisconsin. And it was a Friday night. My dad was coaching -- I think you all know the story -- he was coaching against, the opponent was a rival of ours. My oldest brother, Ron, was coaching the opponent.
But anyway, my father passed away, and the next week we’re playing Michigan. And the funeral was either on a Tuesday or Wednesday but heavy workday. Being a coach now and head coach and understanding what we were getting into week-to-week, a big game.
And lo and behold Hayden Fry shows up at my father’s funeral and walks in and makes an appearance before the ceremony and paid his respects to my mom and our family. It just meant the world to us, to take that kind of time and to go that far in season, just tells us what type of man he was. So, had a great influence on me, certainly my brothers and our whole family.
Q. What kind of recruiter was he?
COACH STOOPS: He was a character. He was a character. He was very likable. And he was a bigger-than-life-type personality. He really was. He left the heavy lifting to the assistants, kind of like the Big Dog. Barry Alvarez recruited me; he was the assistant that recruited me. But Hayden, I remember him coming in and having dinner with us and spending time with us.
Q. (Inaudible) with kids coming in from the transfer portal. How do you balance that with high school recruits?
COACH STOOPS: You balance it as best you can. It’s still -- you’ve heard me say this -- but it’s true it’s still relatively new. Roster management for all of us is more of a challenge.
I would think this is a good year for us to try to get evened out. So, we’ll see. Hopefully we’ll be right at 85 (scholarship players) next year because it’s hard for all of us coaches to be at 85. Everybody seems to be under with the way the portal is and things of that nature. You’re only able to sign 25. For us it was good that we had a smaller class, so you try to get balanced back up.
Q. Do you expect the recruitment coming into January?
COACH STOOPS: We’ll see. We got our sights on, now that we’ve got Octavious in the boat, we’ve got three more we’re zeroed in on specifically.
Q. What’s the biggest thing about Izayah (Cummings)?
COACH STOOPS: Izayah is just a competitor, comes from such a great program. He’s a competitor, he plays extremely hard. He’s a big guy with a great big catch radius, so he can go up and catch the ball over people and he competes at a high level.
Q. When you first sit down with a guy (indiscernible), what’s changed from maybe when you first got here to now?
COACH STOOPS: When I first sit down with a recruit?
Q. The first time --
COACH STOOPS: Well, I’m sure it’s quite different. I don’t know how I could put that into words, but I’m sure it’s different. Jason (Cummings) could probably tell you back there. He always keeps his eye on me as I’m growing as a coach. Try to keep me straight, huh, Jason (smiling)?
Q. Your last year at Florida State, you had five NFL defensive linemen in your defensive line group when you were a coordinator. Over the last several years you’ve been able to develop SEC-caliber starting defensive linemen, but not many have gone to the NFL. But you look at this class, you’ve got pretty much what could be pretty good NFL talent. How do you coach your defense in the past and now going forward?
COACH STOOPS: It won’t. We constantly evolve and try to build around the strengths of our players on offense and defense and special teams. We try to put them in the best position to be successful both for themselves and for the team. I don’t think there will be much wholesale changing in what we do. We’ll have some guys on this year’s defensive line that will have an opportunity to play in the NFL.
Q. Sam Anaele, the name Josh Allen is brought up whenever he comes around, but we haven’t seen much of him. Is that a fair comparison?
COACH STOOPS: For Sam? Anybody that’s big and long like that, you want to compare him to -- same with J.J. (Weaver). J.J. looks really good to me. And J.J. is a guy, I’ve mentioned, that’s taken a big jump in the last four to five weeks.
But Sam is another guy that you would like to have that kind of length. And he’s a great big guy, probably even thicker coming out of high school. He’s probably, I think -- we saw him, oh, just over a week ago or so, I want to say it was over 243 or something like that, 6’5”. Big old joker.
Q. What did you all specifically like about Oxendine?
COACH STOOPS: He’s another guy that’s very athletic for his build. He’s a big, strong guy, but really moves well, plays hard. Again, very well coached coming out of high school. Really have big hopes for Oxey. He was another one that was major importance to us for a few years now.
Q. Gene Chizik, when he had the 2010 national championship team, said he had the number one quarterback and the number one guy on defense, and the rest of the team is made up primarily of 3-star guys. (Inaudible)?
COACH STOOPS: I take pride in developing. And as I mentioned, we’re very intentional about what we do, how we develop guys in all areas. I really like what our strength and conditioning team does. I think those guys do a fantastic job. And it starts down there with a mentality and getting those guys as athletic as they can and mental toughness and a lot of things. I really feel like it starts there and our coaches do a really good job as well.
Q. Is that something you can start selling in the future with the way you build your offensive line and your quarterbacks to wide receivers -- you have good wide receivers in this class, but the four- and five-star guys, is that something you pitch later?
COACH STOOPS: We recruit a lot of these guys before any of these stars are out, before they’re identified. You’ve seen that from us. We recruited Justin when he was in the eighth grade. He didn’t have any stars there. So, we just felt like we saw a good player.
We’re going to continue to rely on ourselves and our evaluation and who we think can fit into our system. But I think as I mentioned in the opening statement, the selection process for us improves as we get better and better.
Q. To get Kelvin (Joseph) to come from LSU and Joey from Auburn, taking some these guys from the West (Division), what does that say about Kentucky football?
COACH STOOPS: I think, again, if you look around and these guys, these guys -- again, I’m not throwing any shade on anybody -- but they’re not worried about the past. When I first got here it was always about the negative talk about the past and we’re beyond that now. If you look at these guys, they care about the last four years. And I don’t mean that in any disrespectful way, but everybody hangs on when you’re here or writing about it and the history and all that. These guys know the history that we’re going to bowl games and won a New Year’s Day bowl game a year ago and won 10 games and beat Penn State and going to a bowl game this year and overcome some adversity and still a fun program to be around. That’s what they know.
We don’t have a hard time. And I told you day one when I walked in here, my first press conference, that we were going to recruit the best players we can and recruit the best players in the country. Doesn’t mean we’re going to get every one of them but we’re certainly going to battle.
Q. I don’t know if you pay attention to Coach Marrow and his tweets, but he likes to talk a little bit. Do you put him up to that?
COACH STOOPS: I do not. I do not monitor his Twitter account. We have some other people that do that (smiling).
Q. Since you have had a 10-win season, and you’ve had four AP First-Team All-Americans the last two years, and guys winning major national awards, how do teams recruit against you now ?
COACH STOOPS: That’s right. I think there was only -- was it, who, Alabama and Ohio State?
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: In the SEC (along with Kentucky), Alabama, LSU and Georgia, all those schools have had four major award winners in a three-year span.
COACH STOOPS: We’re doing some good things. But it just, again, a testament to the coaches in our program and the guys we’re recruiting and developing them as best we can. Build, select, develop -- I’m not going to stray too far from that. That’s what we do, build a winning culture, continue to build and do things as best we can. Select the very best players we can. And once they get here, no matter what they are, we’re intentional about developing them and taking them to another level.
Q. Re: Lynn Bowden this season, showcasing him in a completely different way outside of his position, help in recruiting?
COACH STOOPS: It helps in recruiting, I hope, but it helps Lynn as well. And I think we all talk about and we know how unselfish he was to do that and to accept that role. And in doing so, I think it’s really helped him as well because it just puts all his ability on full display.
Q. Replacing senior guards Logan Stenberg and Mason Wolfe, was there any thought of moving some of your current tackles inside to guard? How do you look at that?
COACH STOOPS: You don’t know. We don’t know. We’ll see how it goes. We’ve got some guys that are versatile, but they’ve also played some really good football. I think the guy you look at is Darian (Kinnard) because -- I know, and you could look at that and say you look at the top five, and you could do that. And of course we think that way as well. But he’s played so darned good at tackle. We’ll look at options.
Q. How big of a (inaudible) athlete like Earnest Sanders? You see all the basketball highlights --
COACH STOOPS: That’s a good point. Earnest is a guy that I think has really big-time potential and big-play ability. You do see that on the basketball floor, and it was fun for me and Coach Clink to fly up there to Flint to see that area. Reminds me a lot of Youngstown, very industrial. He’s a real athlete, he really is and big-play ability. He was another one, extremely important, but a core guy, been committed to us for a while. Really tight with the rest of the group and special player.
Q. In general how should we view verbal commitments that are not signed? (Inaudible) the process a couple years now. How do you see it?
COACH STOOPS: Well, this class was really solid for us; to think that you’re going to shoot 100 percent, you know what I mean? That’s not it. We understand that too. Sometimes these guys go out there and commit and we’re like, really? We’re just in the lead. So, we understand. Again, everybody follows it so closely now and makes a bigger deal of it than others. Again, roster management takes some work. And then managing your signing day is touchy as well because you’re dealing with numbers and initial scholarships and it does get tough.
Q. Do you think you’ll add a tight end or roll forward with the group you have?
COACH STOOPS: No, we will not add a tight end. But with that, I can’t remember going into the last week with, I want to say we had like six guys (still recruiting) maybe up until this weekend. And I felt like we’d shoot about 50 percent. And if we did we’d be pretty darned good. And we’ll add a couple more. And it’s going to be really good.
Q. Are skill guys still in play?
COACH STOOPS: Yes. We’ve got enough hosses (smiling).