The Kentucky Wildcats have wrapped up the bulk of their historic 2022 signing class.
Now sitting at 22 signatures to go with two college transfers, Kentucky has laid the groundwork for Stoops and his program to continue reaching new heights in the coming years.
On Thursday, Stoops held his early signing period press conference to recap a 2022 class currently ranked 10th in the nation at Rivals. Here is a recap of what Stoops had to say via UK Athletics.
MARK STOOPS: Before I get started, I just want to say that our hearts and minds are still with the people in western Kentucky. I also want to thank all the people that sacrificed their time, energy, money to help with that cause.
You know, really excited about this recruiting class. Can’t say enough about our coaches, teammates, the guys on the team that recruited all these guys. It’s hard to put into words how much time and energy and effort we put into this, and it’s been a lot of work. Very grateful for that and ready to move on and get ready to play Iowa in a big bowl game, to be honest with you.
Q. I know you can’t talk about guys who aren’t signed, but —
MARK STOOPS: Tony and Susan just informed me that that was going to be the first question. (Laughter.)
Q. When you recruit a guy for a really long time and it’s down to the wire, apparently past the wire —
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, we continue to work. Recruiting is a never-ending process, and regardless of a specific person that you may be asking about, there are others that we’re working on, as well. So it’s really never ending, and so for us, we’re going to just continue to do that.
Q. Even with all the success that you’ve had on the field, it seems like the recruiting process should get easier, yet it seems like it’s getting harder and harder. Why do you think that is?
MARK STOOPS: Well, that’s a good question. It’s always a battle and a fight. To the best of my recollection and information I have in front of me, since I’ve been here, we’ve never been ranked (highly) in the SEC, even though we may have been nationally ranked in the top 25. I’ve never by the experts been ranked ahead of ninth, but yet we continue to seem like we out-perform that, so it would be nice to continue to raise the talent level and see what we can do with it.
Q. Is this your best class? The experts think it is.
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, by national experts, it’s my understanding that this is the best class that the University of Kentucky has ever signed. That’s what Tony (told me) — to the best of his information with the way they keep track of it and all that, that’s the way we understand it.
Q. Seems like one of the top picks, at least defensively, in recruiting in this class, length was a big thing that you guys went after. Why is that so important for defense?
MARK STOOPS: Length is important across the board, and size — I want to be a big, physical football team, and length matters. We have some very good football players on our team, one of the best if not — one of the best players we have without question in Wan’Dale doesn’t have the length but he’s an unbelievable player. So it’s not always the case, but it’s a big part of it.
But there’s been other years where we’re going to take the best player available, and we still do, but I do make an emphasis on length.
Q. Tayvion is another transfer receiver. Do you expect his impact to be similar to what Wan’Dale was able to do?
MARK STOOPS: It’s hard to say exactly what that impact may be, but Tayvion is an extremely good football player, explosive, can run, was one of the top punt returners in the country, as well, so we need that. We need to fill that void with Josh and possibly Wan’Dale leaving. He’s a very good player, and we’re excited to add him.
I can say with this — also some things that jump out at you as you talk about this class, we signed the No. 1 player in the state in Dane Key, four top players in the state. You add that to the 16 we already have, that’s 20 players in-state. That’s probably the highest number we’ve had since I’ve been here I would think, unless maybe when I walked in the door. No. 1 player in Delaware in Tomiwa, and then No. 2 player in the state of Tennessee, three of the top players in the state of Tennessee in Barion Brown, Keaten and Destin Wade.
No. 3 player in Michigan in Deone Walker, and you talk about size, the length on him is amazing. Terrific player. No. 3 player in Pennsylvania in Tyreese Fearby, the outside linebacker. You put him with Keaten, those are two of the best edge rushers I think you could recruit, two terrific players.
But just overall very proud of this group, and we’re continuing to work and hopefully add to that No. 1 in state. So we’ll see.
Q. Is it going to be a battle between your offensive and defensive coaches to see where Kobi Albert plays?
MARK STOOPS: I think it could be. It really could be, because he is a terrific player. Kobi can play defensive back or wide receiver for us and walk in the door. He might have to play both early on, to be honest with you, to see what his most natural fit is and to see where he can maybe immediately help us.
We used to do that back in the day when we had a bunch of two-a-days and all that, kind of rotate athletes like that until you figure out what’s best for them, and we really may have to do that with him. It gets hard because you want to learn and you’ve got a guy like that that’s so explosive that can come in and help you somewhere, but he truly can play either side.
Q. In terms of immediate impact, who could you see doing that right away?
MARK STOOPS: I mean, take your pick. I can’t point that out. You go right down the list, yeah, Dane Key is a terrific football player. He’s also very mature. He’s very intelligent, works extremely hard. So he definitely can.
I’ll go down and talk about each guy a little bit, but Grant Bingham, a guy from right here in Kentucky, Paintsville, big, physical guy, highly recruited, four-star guy, terrific player, is going to help us.
Barion Brown, as high as a five-star with certain people, extremely explosive. Hopefully he comes in and helps us right away.
Tomiwa as I mentioned, No. 1 player in Delaware, great defensive lineman, impact player.
Alex Afari, we had people going to extreme lengths right down to the wire to try to get him away from us, and Alex has been committed to us for some time. He’s a DB, a big corner that can also be very versatile, playing in that medium position that we know is so important for us and could play safety. He’s a guy that’s a five-position player in my eyes, just a terrific football player.
Kobi we just mentioned, one of the best athletes we’ve recruited, can play multiple positions.
Jordan Anthony is one of the fastest players in the country. He’s No. 2 in the 100-meter. He told me he’s going to get sub-10. I’m like, okay, that’s like ridiculous. He can absolutely fly. He’s a burner that we needed.
Tyreese Fearby out of Pittsburgh, great outside linebacker, that length that we were talking about that with needed.
Zah Frazier, big-time length, 6’3” corner, junior college player, one of the top junior college players in the country that we needed. I wanted that size at corner.
Nik Hall, we needed him, and obviously with his mom and dad playing at Kentucky, Mom running track and Dad playing football, a legacy recruit that was extremely important to us, great player, terrific family. So we’re excited about him.
Quentel Jones, defensive lineman out of Peach County, a guy that our coaches worked extremely hard late in the process, and we were able to secure him, which we needed.
Josh Kattus, terrific tight end out of Moeller, keep that tradition going out of Ohio and the great Moeller players, and terrific tight end.
Dane, I already mentioned Dane. He’s a guy that I would expect to come in and play just because he has the size, he has that ability to make competitive catches, and the great length that he has, but he’s also very sudden, another legacy and great player there in Dane.
Tashawn Manning is a big, physical guy, a transfer from Auburn. There’s a guy that you talk about immediate help, we wouldn’t recruit him if we didn’t think he could come in and help us. Big, strong guy that’s proven to play and played successfully in this league.
Elijah Reed, great length, another corner. He’s a guy that played wide receiver during the COVID year was a wideout, switched to corner and he had that length that we were talking about, and so he really is a late bloomer and a guy we’re very excited about.
Tayvion, again, a proven player that we needed that experience at that position to come in and help us. Terrific player.
Jackson Smith, great field goal kicker, kicker from right here in Danville. Tough kid, plays on a terrific football team, terrific program as we all know. Not only a kicker but plays defense for them, so love that attitude from him.
Andre Stewart has been committed to us for a while. A really big corner out of Atlanta that we needed, and excited about him.
Destin Wade, a quarterback, but a terrific player. Him and his brother Keaten, two terrific players out of Tennessee. Took their team to the state championship game, top players in Tennessee, terrific people, great leaders. Going to be unbelievable fits for us.
Deone Walker as I mentioned was a big, big get. Coach Wolford did a great job going into Detroit and keeping that streak alive and continuing to recruit and beat some terrific teams on him, and we felt good but never really secure. It was a battle all the way to the end, and Coach Wolf did a tremendous job with him along with Barion. We all know the Big Dog. He’s actually sick. I ran the Big Dog so hard he’s sick. I don’t know if he’s going to get with you guys today or not. I don’t think he will. But Vince always does a terrific job, but Wolfy landed some big-time players, as well.
And then Brandon White, another slot receiver out of Moeller that can just flat-out run. Terrific football player, but unbelievable speed that we’re looking for. If you look at the wide receiver position alone, you’ve got experience, you’ve got dynamic speed, you’ve got height, and you’ve got some playmakers.
Then you’ve got a guy like Barion, who’s the complete package that we needed.
A lot of good football players. As I mentioned, we hit a lot of different states. Right now to this point, we’ve got four out of Kentucky, three out of Ohio, three out of Georgia, three out of Tennessee. That’s kind of our main bread and butter, and then we got a lot of one-offs and guys going to different parts of the country and landed some terrific football players.
Q. When you go into a battle for some of these top guys against some of these other big schools, how much has that changed from early on when you were here? You’ve got to think you can battle a whole lot better with some of those big schools.
MARK STOOPS: Well, I told you day one probably sitting right here, or wherever the heck we were, that I was going to battle the best in the country, and we may not always win. We’re going to win some and we’re going to lose some, but we’re going to fight and we’re going to recruit at a high level, and we’re continuing to do that.
Q. How did you address the cornerback position? I know your numbers were a little thin. And how important was it to get some guys in here for the spring?
MARK STOOPS: It was. Just like you know, we were certainly thin there. Two of our top three won’t be back, and so we needed to address that position, and I like who we got. I like the length. I like the experience, the talent. It was really important for me to address that position.
Q. You’ve had a lot of success with junior college corners, in particular Brandin (Echols) and Lonnie (Johnson). How big is that with Zah?
MARK STOOPS: I think it was very important with Zah. He knows he has an opportunity here. When you’re recruiting a junior college player they’re going to look at opportunity and what have you done. Do we have the ability to develop them quickly? We’ve shown that. We had two corners that are playing big roles in the NFL in recent years that have come here, that have graduated, that have done very well, and we’ve turned it around quickly. They’ve helped us and we’ve helped them.
Q. When you were talking about Kobi Albert, you’ve had a few flashbacks to when you recruited Lynn (Bowden). He came in and he said he wanted to play both —
MARK STOOPS: Yeah.
Q. I don’t want to put that kind of pressure on him, but is he that kind of player?
MARK STOOPS: Yes, I agree with you. I’m not comparing him saying he’s the next Lynn Bowden. I’m not saying that. Neither one of us are. But he’s that kind of an athlete, just a great athlete, put a football in his hands and he’s going to play.
Then you put a basketball in his hands, you’re going to see him dunk it. It’s like he’s explosive, and he’s a very good football player and could definitely play either side of the ball for us.
Q. How concerned or unconcerned were you recently that Brad (White) was being courted?
MARK STOOPS: I think that’s a fair word. I don’t know concerned, if I would use that, but I did not want to lose Brad. We as an organization did not want to lose Brad. He is a quality, quality man and a great football coach. He’s a terrific — he’s a great person, great coach. Very selfless, and he does a terrific job in all areas.
He recruits at a high level, and maybe not getting all the credit, but recruiting all those defensive guys, evaluating those guys, does a terrific job. Really wants to fly under the radar. He did not want to mention this at all, but before he even decided to turn down some very lucrative offers and stay with us, he was — he donated his bowl bonus in its entirety and didn’t want anybody to know about it. I was like, Brad, if that helps motivate people to maybe give some more, then he understood that, and he’s like, that’s a good idea, because we do that at my fundraiser in the summer, kind of like matching and pushing people and motivating people to give, and that’s the only reason he even brought it up.
Very excited to keep Brad and Liam in our staff. We’re going to miss Jon Sumrall, and we wish him nothing but the best. He recruited all the way through and helped us through with some of these guys, including Kobi and some guys, and that shows the class that Jon has and who he is, but he’s moving on to a head coaching job, and we wish him well. But very excited to keep this group intact.
Q. When you were talking about your own extension, how big was the staff salary for part of the next investment so you can pay like LSU and those schools?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, it was the most important. We all know I’m paid too much. So for the staff and for the support staff — everybody talks about specifically recruiting budget. It’s not recruiting budget. There’s a lot to it. There’s guys over here with me, Chase Heuke over here, and I could point out Chase. I can’t even tell you the amount of hours that he works and what he does and what he puts into it. So getting some support and some building — continuing to build our organization, that’s all.
It’s important. So we had that conversation during the bye week, so everybody thought it was because maybe people were coming at us in different ways. It really wasn’t about that. It was mentioned and I just simply had a conversation about what the expectations are, and if we’re truly going to go compete for the East (SSEC Eastern Division), if we truly want to go win SEC championships, then are we truly going to continue to grow this program. It’s as simple as that, and we all have a big commitment to do that.
Once we agreed on those things and the things you’re talking about, building out the program, building out the support, then it was a done deal. It was over with then. That’s why you saw the articles of when I’m talking with recruits, talking with recruits a parents and talking with Mitch, it was done.
One thing about working with somebody for nine years, going on ten, is that Dr. Capilouto, Mitch and myself, I trust them. So when we have a conversation, we can have a handshake agreement. Now, agents don’t like that, but that’s — but I know people I can trust; know what I mean?
Jimmy (Sexton) is a Big Dog, but he still works for me; know what I mean? So when people give me a handshake agreement, I trust our president and our administration that it’ll get worked out, and so we moved on quickly.
Q. You mentioned the legacy signings. You got three, I think. Is it as easy to recruit them as we would think?
MARK STOOPS: It’s never easy. We don’t take anything for granted. So with the legacy guys, sometimes it’s harder, sometimes it’s easier. It just depends. But they’re all terrific players, and we take nothing for granted and recruit them just as hard, if not harder, than anybody we recruit.
Q. How excited was Liam about that wide receiver group? It looks like you guys got some really good guys.
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, it’s really important. As you know, we need to continue to build that position, and I’ll tell you this. The guys we have on our team are getting better as Liam and his system gets further along and we’re starting to get into another spring.
We’ll get through bowl practice first, but we get these practices and then spring, you can see it, I can see it. I can see our guys getting better, and with the quarterbacks that we have now and with the system we have now, you see the growth and the players we have on our team getting better.
Q. It seems like Liam gets a pretty fair amount of credit for some of those guys for bringing them into the class. What is he like as a recruiter, and has it been easy for him to get used to —
MARK STOOPS: You’re right, and it’s actually surprised me in some ways, you know, how good he’s been. As I mentioned earlier, I think the relationship piece in coaching is at an all-time high. We’ve mentioned this, we’ve talked about that, just the whatever you want to call it, the player’s coach, the relating to players. I think that’s at a premium.
You never know when a guy comes from the NFL how he’s going to — but he relates very well to our current players, and he does an exceptional job in recruiting, and that’s what I mentioned Brad, doing the same thing with all the defensive guys and Liam with all the offensive guys. They really both do a terrific job.
Q. Name, image and likeness, some like it, some don’t. How do you feel like you and your staff have dealt with that, your first full class having that available?
MARK STOOPS: I’ve never done that before, but I promise you I’m working. I mean, it is what it is. I don’t know who talked negative or positive. I don’t really worry — in my opinion, I just go about what they tell me, what are the rules? What are they? It’s definitely a factor.
You know, you’d better embrace it and you’d better be on board and support, and that’s all we’re allowed to do is support it. So until some rules change, it’s a different world, but we’re all adapting to it the best we can.
Q. How can it be used as inducement for improving — do kids ask about it?
MARK STOOPS: Well, they can ask our players, and so when you see and you feel the support for our current team, that has an effect on recruiting. So I don’t know if I’m allowed to say that or not, but I encourage to continue to help and support because I mean, that word gets out to other players, and our players have received some pretty good deals. When I have time, I need to dive into it, educate myself some more, meet with our compliance people and see exactly what’s going on because a lot of it I don’t know, but I know they can talk to a few of our players and realize real quick, if you make plays on the field, you’re going to get paid some dollars.
It’s kind of a direct correlation.
Q. The other day about having conversations with guys who might enter the transfer portal, being honest with them about what their role is going to be. How do you balance that immediate need with development? I think about guys like Bunchy (Stallings) and Jamin (Davis) who didn’t play for like three years and maybe early in their career might have transferred somewhere where they could play more? How do you tell guys that even though you’re not playing now we think you could be this down the road?
MARK STOOPS: That’s part of our evaluation and our conversation, and that needs to stay confidential and stay private. But anybody that we feel has that ability to do that, then that’s part of maturing, of growing, and that’s still what we’re all about.
This is a different era. We’re playing by the rules that they put before us, and this is free agency in some ways. But the core of who you are still needs to be to recruit high school players and develop them and help them have a terrific college experience.
But you know, with this many guys on your roster, you can imagine there’s going to be some turnover, and turnover is just part of it now. You might as well just accept it. I really don’t even know why anybody even puts it out there like it’s big news. It’s just like — that’s daily news.
Q. Vince mentioned that Elijah Reed is a guy — I think he was asked if there was a guy who could be competitive in this group. What do you see —
MARK STOOPS: Now, you know that’s the only reason you guys are missing the Big Dog here, because he gives you some one-liners. You know you guys just — you could serve one up to him and he’s going to take the bait. Yeah, Elijah is a terrific player. I really believe that. Like I said, he is a different guy. He kind of bloomed late at corner with a shortened COVID season, playing wide receiver and then switching to corner. But you see the potential in him and in that great size, as well.
Q. Is your recruiting —
MARK STOOPS: I can’t say — did you see that movie? I see nuttin’. That’s a Youngstown thing.
Q. Has it changed at all what you look for in a player now as opposed to three years, five years ago?
MARK STOOPS: Yes, I think it does. I think I still have to use your skills and your staff’s skills, everybody using their — because football you still have to project out. It’s very hard — sometimes you can watch the no-brainers, NB, like watch three cuts and you know the guy is a beast. But there’s still a lot that goes into it, a lot of evaluation. We look at — Chase, will we look at thousands and thousands of guys in the system? And we go through and you still have to trust that, but I think as we continue to build our program, it’s fair to say that we’re looking for a more polished player and certain dynamics that we always — we always have set parameters of what we’re looking for, and that does change, and those standards do change year to year.
Q. Are you breathing easier than you were two minutes ago?
MARK STOOPS: Not yet. You guys probably know more than me.
Q. Going through this list, you look at a guy like Destin Wade, who was from everything I’ve seen (indiscernible)?
MARK STOOPS: Destin is a terrific athlete, but he’s also a very good quarterback, so that’s what we’re playing him at. But he definitely could play multiple positions, that’s for sure, and that’s just a compliment to him. That’s no knock on his quarterback skills. It’s more just a compliment rather than to say he’s not a quarterback. They’re both just terrific athletes.
Q. The rules are a little different this year; I think you can sign up to 32 guys. Do you anticipate that you’ll get close to that number?
MARK STOOPS: It’s still early to say. We crunch out numbers every day where we’re at and what our depth is.
I’ll say this, after this class and the transfers and what we’re working on in the next month, month or two until February, I feel really good about our roster. We’re starting to really get in a good spot with — you just look at all the position groups and where we’re at with numbers and evening things out between offense and defense and position groups and all that.
It’s constant. We’re constantly working at that, and that’s one of the things that Eddie (Gran) works with me quite a bit with. He has a big picture board on his office and I’ll walk in there and we just constantly work through that, where we’re at with numbers, with years players are, know what I mean, just keeping everything in balance, because it gets challenging year to year.
Q. You mentioned earlier that recruiting never stops. This question will fall in line with that. What’s a big area based on what you just told us about that balance and how the roster looks like for the next group?
MARK STOOPS: The next group? I mean, can you give me five minutes? My feet have not hit the ground since the last game. I literally have not stopped. Somebody was like, yeah, you celebrated a great class yesterday with a bourbon. I’m like, yeah, I’m right on my couch with my feet up trying to catch my breath for five minutes until I get in there today. So it’s still going.
Now we have to concentrate, we have to wrap up a few things, and I should say we’ve got to wrap up a big present, and then we have to — and then we’ve got to get going on Iowa. We’ve had some practices, but that was just good against good, just playing ball, getting guys out there running around, and really pleased with the way our guys retained things, in particular offensively. Defensively we’ve been around for a while, so you expect them to come out at practice and be ahead with offense, throwing, catching, precision, all those things. I was impressed with the early practices. We’ll get back at it today.
So what we’re doing is today will be a Monday, so we’ll have a Monday, a Tuesday, a Wednesday. Sunday I’m going to do something fun with those guys. We’ll see. And then do another Tuesday, Wednesday practice, so essentially I’ll have two Tuesdays, two Wednesdays before I leave, in football terms. Know what I mean, what we do prepping for the game. So I want to be totally prepared to play a football game when we take our break for Christmas, and then we’ll go down there and have some more practices to brush up.
Q. You were speaking about the running back position. That’s the only position that’s missing (in the signing class). Is that because of the move of Drennen to running back and Wright’s emergence?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, we still have five on the depth — we’re five deep with good players. That’s why. It’s hard to get six guys the ball.
Q. Talk about your offensive tackle depth moving ahead.
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, we’ll be good. We’ve got some guys that can swing. We’ve got some guys that are coming along on the roster. We’ve got some guys that we’re recruiting. So we’ll get it straight by next year.
Q. Everybody, fans and media alike, are really excited about the success on the recruiting front. You yourself seem energized. Is this fun for you actually to get in there and battle and see where you’ve gone from beginning to now?
MARK STOOPS: Oh, it’s always — recruiting is nothing but a different type of competition. So yes. We’re constantly battling and fighting, and that’s what it is. You’ve heard me use that analogy many different times because it’s true, whatever it is. When I step out of here and I go back to my office, I’ll be fighting something. I’ll be in a battle with something.
I just told my secretary, she’s going to start boxing people out of my area, give me five minutes. But no, it’s fun. It’s good.
I’m excited to get on to Iowa. I’ll tell you, I’ve already stepped in the coordinators’ rooms and watched film on both sides of the ball of Iowa, and it gets me excited to start that — get going. Obviously the coordinators have been prepping and the coaching staffs, they’re ready to go today for a Monday practice, and we’re in pretty good shape. We’re working on that game plan already. But it’s going to be a real challenge.
I love watching the film of Iowa because I love how fundamental they are. They really are a good football team. So well-coached. It really puts a smile on my face because it’s like they are truly well-coached, and the technique and the effort that they play with is fun to watch, and that’s what I want to look like. We have a good football team, but I constantly want to look the right way, like we’re well-coached and put in a position to be successful, and we want to constantly get better. I’m ready to get back out to practice today.
Q. So many good things have been said about your experience at Iowa. I think they’d say the same thing about your family. Do you need somebody from the Hawkeyes to say something bad about you to get that chip on your shoulder?
MARK STOOPS: I do. I do. I need that. Don’t worry, I’ve got some of my buddies that I played with. They’ll say some stuff to get me going. But yeah, I do. I do like going into the game with a chip on your shoulder. You’re right about that.
But no, I want to end by saying this again, really. Thank you to all the folks that have helped with the people of western Kentucky, our athletic department, our players in all different sports, our coaches in so many ways, everybody that’s stepped up. All the people that are helping with the recovery that’s going on right now and people that are constantly stepping up, I really can’t thank you enough.
We get isolated in our own little worlds, and it only took a few minutes to watch some of the damage and watch some news and see what was going on to step out of your own little box and try to help in some small way, and so many people have done that, I can’t thank them enough.
Part of that is Kirk Ferentz and his wife Mary and the people of Iowa, the Citrus Bowl folks, Clark Lea and Vanderbilt University and their football team. Just thank you to all those folks. Really, truly amazing to see the way people respond, and so many more. But it’s been a great tribute to our great people in Kentucky, and we’re all thankful for it, and we’ve got to continue to help where we can.
I want to wrap up, but —
Q. Can we keep asking questions?
MARK STOOPS: We can kind of have a little shoot-the-breeze session if you want. That’s fine.
Q. The SEC, Nashville, Birmingham area, Atlanta, do you feel like y’all’s brand is better accepted year by year, that you can go into these high schools, oh, that’s a team, they just beat Florida, do you feel like —
MARK STOOPS: There’s no doubt, you know, when you go into Alabama and get Kobi, a guy like that, and get three of the top players in Tennessee and go into Pennsylvania and the other areas of the deep south that you talk about and do well. I think as we get better, our brand gets better, it definitely helps us.
I think our bread and butter has still got to be Kentucky and Ohio and branch out from there, but you see a lot of one-offs on here, and we’ll continue to do that.
And with Vince, I’ve got to, again, give a shout-out to Vince because he gets overextended. He does a lot. He does a terrific job of I put him in Kentucky a few years back and he’s done a terrific job in Kentucky because we want to lock down on state, and then he still gets three great players out of Ohio.
We can continue to — we’ll continue to do that. We’ve still got to make — continue to make Kentucky and Ohio a priority and then continue to branch out from there.
Q. Do you have an idea of how you want to go about replacing Jon (Sumrall) or what that might look like?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, I’ve got to put some time and thought into that. It’s different because as you know, I want to make sure I always have like coordinators in place. If Brad left this year, Jon was definitely in line to do that. There’s a lot of things to take into consideration. You’ve got recruiting, you obviously have coaching. But for me it’s also big picture, guys. This game is hard and complicated, and you really have to stay up. You need multiple coordinators on each side of the ball, so you need guys with great experience and big-picture ideas so that position will definitely — that will be one thing if you’re asking one thing specifically I want to make sure I have a coordinator type of big-picture guy that can help us, that can help Brad and help our defensive staff continue to grow and get new ideas and stay up with the times because this game evolves constantly.
Q. Jon helping finish recruit this class, he’s going to come back and coach in the bowl game. What do you think that says about his commitment?
MARK STOOPS: It doesn’t surprise me. Jon is just a terrific human being, great family, him and Jenny and the kids. Heck, he couldn’t miss that. His wife would kill him. You’re going to Orlando, you’ve got to get to — no, but he finished out the recruiting. He stayed and did things. He’s just a class act, and he’s done a great job for us, and we wish him and Ginny nothing but the best.
Q. Is he angling for a game?
MARK STOOPS: I don’t think he’s barking up that tree yet. Tell him to bring it on, though. (Laughter.)
Q. (Indiscernible) do you feel like certain players maybe he feels like deep down inside he can’t get it, so he knows?
MARK STOOPS: Maybe. Maybe. He does a great job. He does a terrific job down in Alabama, being from there and knowing a lot of people. Yeah, he does a really good job. He’ll do a good job with that. Yeah, he can always help us.
Q. It’s not often we see you branch into a new recruiting territory unless a coach you hire has a connection there. Why Nashville this year specifically? Why did you kind of emphasize that?
MARK STOOPS: There’s a lot of people moving there. It’s a big area, a lot of people. The football is getting better and better there, as well, in that state.
Q. We expect Vince to land everybody he goes after; what’s he like when he misses on somebody?
MARK STOOPS: He gets competitive, like all of us. But it’s going to happen. We’ve got to keep on swinging. He’s like any of us; he gets competitive and frustrated because the biggest thing for anybody is your time, and so we invest a lot of time in this. That’s where some of it is frustrating is maybe you’re recruiting somebody and you put all kind of effort into somebody and we fly all over the place, or in his case he drives a lot. Big Dog likes to have his wheels, and driving all over the place and doing these things and maybe you know all along you don’t have a shot or whatever. That’s the kind of — some of the frustration.
But you’re dealing with young people. Young people aren’t always going to be — let’s just leave it at that. You’re dealing with young people.
Q. As far as the bowl game, is anybody opting out that you’re aware of?
MARK STOOPS: Not that I know of.
Q. Do you expect this year’s bowl game to be back closer to normal than last year’s bowl experience? Do you expect activities and that kind of thing?
MARK STOOPS: I do expect it back to normal, as normal as we can be in this day and age. But yes, it’ll be really good for our players. I know they were excited to go back to Orlando. They had mentioned to me that even prior to making the bowl announcements, some of the guys were saying, Coach, I hope we get back to Orlando because I really enjoyed that experience the last time we were there. So that tells me they like it, that the activities were good and the bowl was first class and all those things, because the players don’t lie to you, and they really loved it the last time we were there, and it didn’t hurt that we capped it off with a victory. As I mentioned to them, the most important thing, what they’ll remember the most is the outcome of that game and how you walk off it.
Q. You mentioned the trust that you had to the people at the top level of the administration. When you look down the road at Louisville, there’s all that turnover. As a football coach, how important is that for you to have stability up there at that level?
MARK STOOPS: Well, for me, I can’t comment on any place I’m not at, so I won’t comment on Louisville or anybody else, but for me, it’s extremely important to have trust and to have that relationship. So we’ve been together — the continuity that we’ve had with the president, the athletic director and myself is extremely important. It’s one of the reasons they kept my brother at Oklahoma for 19 years, and it’s a big piece of why and what I like so much about this place.
I brought Alex (Montgomery) with me today. Alex stopped over to say hi to me. I said, I’ve got one minute.
Q. How do you think your brother is going to do coaching the bowl game?
MARK STOOPS: He’ll do just fine. He’s got a lot of experience. I think he’ll be just fine. I think he was excited to hand over those recruiting reins to Coach Venables, to Brent, because I think that one week that they activated him and made him go back to full time, I think that was enough for him to realize that retirement is good.
Q. What role did Bob play in your decision to stay put?
MARK STOOPS: He played no part in my decision. I mean, I consult with Bob. We’re brothers. We are very close, but he played no role in what I do as far as going or staying, and he wouldn’t want that. He gives me advice when I need it, and we talk and consult, but other than that, that’s it.
But I am proud to wrap up the 2022 signing class by announcing Kiyaunta Goodwin to the class. It is official from my understanding. If I get in trouble, it’s on you guys. We are happy to welcome Kiyaunta, the big fella, into our organization officially. As I talked with Kiyaunta last night, I said, welcome to the program; however, it feels like you’ve been a part of it for nearly a year now or more. We’ve recruited and known Kiyaunta since he was in eighth grade. I want to say eighth grade or ninth grade or that transition between eighth and ninth, so we’ve known him for a long time, built strong relationships with him and the people close to him, and a terrific young man, unbelievable football player, and we’re excited to add him to our program.
Q. How nervous were you yesterday?
MARK STOOPS: I wouldn’t say nervous. I would say just — it’s just work. It’s just constant work. We got it done.
Q. What do you like about him from a football standpoint?
MARK STOOPS: A football standpoint, number one, it’s very rare to see a human being move at that size. He is unbelievably athletic for his size. He can move his feet. He can bend. He can do a lot of things, and that’s rare for somebody so large.
We talked about it, length and size matters, being physical at the line of scrimmage, and so that’s a big get for us just with the size alone. If you see him and Deone next to each other, there was a picture at the All-Star Game with him and Deone next to each other. Those are two large human beings, and on both sides of the line of scrimmage, those are two good anchors.
Q. When you are on a guy for so long all these years, how gratifying is it to finally have that all done?
MARK STOOPS: It’s very gratifying. It’s a lot of hard work, a lot of years. Coach Marrow has spent so much time with him, along with all of our staff, and so that’s really a big get for our program because here’s a young man that could truly play anywhere in the United States, any college in the country would take his signature today, and so for us to land him, again, it says a lot about him and staying committed to us.
I felt good about it the whole time. That doesn’t mean you count it in the bag, but you continue to work and answer questions and do the best you can. Again, it’s a credit to Coach Marrow and the countless hours that he has put in recruiting this young man and our whole staff. But that’s who we are. I think Kiyaunta comes in, he comes and sees me — where is my room (game day office), over here? My little office down here before games, and he comes in every time he’s in town and brings people in to meet me. Always has a smile on his face, and terrific young man, and I’m happy to officially welcome him into the family.
Q. You said before the sign of a good program is being able to play veterans and let the young guys sit and then come up through, but from what you’ve seen from Kiyaunta, do you think he has a chance to start year one?
MARK STOOPS: Well, I would never put it past him. Yes, he has that ability. It’s always about — whenever we talk to anybody like that, when they say what’s my opportunity to come in and play as a freshman, our answer is always ‘that’s up to you’. I can’t determine the way somebody is going to pick things up, how fast it moves once they get here and everything. You have to go play and see.
Athletically it’s a no-brainer, and I also think he’s very mature in a lot of ways. Maybe not all ways, he’s a young man, and we’ve got to continue to bring him along like so many great people around him have developed him. We have to continue to do that with him and then — but then you get him on campus and you see what he can do. So that’s up to him.
But I know he likes to work. I know he trains hard. He’s very serious about his craft. So we’ll see where it goes.
Q. Is he going to be enrolled in January, too?
MARK STOOPS: That’s the plan.
Q. How many middle schoolers have you offered over the years?
MARK STOOPS: Not many.
Q. How do you gauge something like that —
MARK STOOPS: Two I remember offering the youngest was him and Landon (Young), and Landon went on to be a five-star, Kiyaunta is a five-star. That’s kind of those NBs that I was talking about, right, no-brainers. Even at that age. But sometimes you see a young man and you see him — there was another young man that I remember as an eighth, ninth grader, his name was Everson Griffen, remember him, who ended up going to USC, but we recruited him at Arizona. He came to our camp as an eighth grader, and we were all like, wow, that’s an athlete.
Some guys you could just tell that are very big but still very athletic at a young age, and those are just three guys that I can think of right off the top of my head that all panned out.
Q. Does this group of guys, including Goodwin, give you a chance to kind of keep that ball rolling?
MARK STOOPS: It’s pretty solid — yeah, we’ve got a pretty solid O-line group right there, and that’s big. We needed to. We needed to right now. We needed a really solid class there. So it was good to get that, to continue that.
Q. In your years of recruiting, who’s the best athlete you’ve ever seen?
MARK STOOPS: Ooh. You put me on the spot there, but I might give you one. His name was Sean Taylor. But yeah, I think Sean was just — you saw that length and that athletic ability and a guy that could play really — he could probably truthfully went on to college and played maybe five, six, seven different spots, not only on defense but on offense. He could have played a lot of positions.
Q. Including Kiyaunta, in the national recruiting rankings you’re now 10th, 11th and 13th.
MARK STOOPS: That’s good, and Kiyaunta, I could say he’s the No. 1 — when I was talking about the No. 1s and the high picks, the No. 1 player in Indiana, but really he’s Louisville, so really we count him in state because that’s really where we recruited him from the start, from in state, so really that puts another guy — that puts us, the way we look at it, five from Kentucky this year, and signing him out of Louisville, one of the top players in state along with Dane.