LEXINGTON – While the 2013 recruiting class for University of Kentucky football once again ranks at or near the bottom of the Southeastern Conference, this should not be construed as just the same old UK.
The 22-player class announced by Coach Mark Stoops on National Signing Day Wednesday is a clear sign that the Big Blue Nation’s early optimism about Stoops and his staff is merited.
For several reasons.
The Wildcats’ class, ranked as high as No. 30 nationally, was compiled in six weeks, give or take a day or two.
That’s a fact as remarkable as the statistics put up by Ryan Timmons the past three years at Franklin County High School.
Stoops and his staff flip-flopped a number of recruits that were previously committed to the likes of Nebraska, Florida and Southern Cal.
They persuaded Timmons into brushing aside offers from Florida and Ohio State.
They stole (so to speak) Jason Hatcher of Louisville Trinity High, one of the elite defensive ends in the country, from Southern Cal at the last minute.
“I said in my first press conference that we would go toe-to-toe with the best schools in the country and with the best schools in the SEC,” Stoops said Wednesday.
“We’re not going to take a back seat to anybody. We’re going to recruit hard. We will win our fair share. We won’t win them all, but we’ll work hard.”
Stoops estimated he and his staff signed 70 percent of the recruits they persuaded to visit campus.
That’s again, in just six weeks. Imagine what they can do given a year ... two years ...
“When you look at this league, we’re really proud of what we did over a six-week period to get the class that we had,” said UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown, a former Boyle County and UK player. “But everybody else in our league is standing around talking today about how great their classes are, too.
“To compete in this league, you’ve got to win some of those battles, and we were able to do it. And, in the future, I think you’ll see more of those battles being won by Kentucky.”
Stoops and Brown say they are selling – apparently, quite successfully – a vision of better days ahead for UK football.
“What we really sold guys like Ryan Timmons and Jason Hatcher on is, ‘Let’s build something,’” Brown said. “Let’s build something where you’re going to be remembered.
“A lot of these places in our conference have won and been in BCS bowls and done those types of things, you know what I mean?”
Yeah, we sure do.
“At Kentucky, we haven’t,” Brown noted. “So let’s go build something. Everybody is going to be remembered for being the first.
“That’s our No. 1 selling point: ‘Come be the first.’”
Still, the more immediate question is this: Given the impressive hauls taken in by Kentucky’s SEC opponents this recruiting season, why should UK fans believe they might see any upswing in the 2013 season?
To answer that, take a closer look at Kentucky’s class. More specifically, look at the number of dynamic play makers – guys with great speed and great hands – in this group.
Timmons may be the most dynamic of the bunch, but, boy, he’s far from alone.
“We’re not going to ask Ryan Timmons to come in and be the savior,” Brown says.
The playmakers, other than Timmons, include wide receivers Jeff Badet (6-foot, 170 pounds) from Orlando, Fla., Javess Blue (6-foot, 190 pounds) from Butler Community College in El Dorado, Kan., and Alex Montgomery (6-2, 210) from Weston, Fla.
Badet has great quickness, great hands and great body control. He makes tough catches in traffic. He caught 63 passes for 881 yards this past season. Badet is also a national caliber long jumper ... a great athlete, in other words.
“Jeff has tremendous speed,” Stoops said.
Brown said Blue was the best wide receiver in the junior college ranks this past season. Blue rated in the nation’s 10 jucos in receptions (65), yards (1,064) and touchdowns (12). He’s also an outstanding kick returner.
There are also running backs Jojo Kemp (5-10, 190) from DeLand, Fla., and Khalid Thomas (5-10, 170) from Tallassee, Fla.
Kemp could join Timmons among the freshmen vying for playing time in the UK backfield very early.
Kemp rushed 255 times as a senior for nearly 1,500 yards.
He’s rated as the nation’s No. 10 multi-purpose back. Kemp has great quickness and more strength than his 5-10, 190-pound frame would lead you to believe.
“I think we signed some guys today that can really run,” Brown said. “You look at Javess Blue, Jeff Badet, Jojo Kemp, Ryan Timmons ... those are elite type, fast guys.”
All of these so-called skill position guys are athletes that have the ability to score from anywhere on the field. They give Kentucky a puncher’s chance, so to speak, while some of the Wildcats’ talented recruits in the trenches grow up.
Stoops and Brown both say that this class gives the Kentucky coaches and program instant credibility.
“I think, if anything, it says to the 2014 class that these guys are serious, they know what they’re doing, and they’re going to make a great commitment to recruiting,” Stoops said. “It gives you some credibility.
“We feel like we have great momentum. We’ve been on the phone this morning talking to the top prospects in the ’14 class. We have been evaluating the ’14 class for a week or so, which puts us behind, but we have put so much time and energy in this class.
“We’ll get caught up with the 2014 class right now and get caught up with our players as well.”