LEXINGTON — Second-year head coach Mark Stoops and his staff met critical needs across the board Wednesday on national signing day as Kentucky looks to take a step forward after this past season’s 2-10 record.
“It’s a great day for us, just a great day,” Stoops said as he announced a 28-player class that’s rated anywhere from No. 13 to 20 nationally, though only No. 9 in the Southeastern Conference. “We feel like we closed just like we started, just very strong.”
Fifteen of the 28 signees are on the defensive side, including six linemen, and four of the signees on the offensive side are linemen.
Seven of the signees are already on campus working out, going to class, after graduating from high school in December.
Topping that list is Drew Barker, the lone quarterback signed by Kentucky this time around. The 6-foot-3, 217-pound Barker threw for 6,264 yards, completing 65.9 percent of his passes, at Conner High School in Burlington.
Barker was generally considered the top prospect in Kentucky and one of the best QBs in the nation.
UK beat out South Carolina and others for Barker, who was one of the first recruits to commit to the Wildcats.
“I thought it was very important to beat quality schools on him,” Stoops said of Barker. “He could play just about anywhere in the country. We beat some really good schools for him, and that gives you credibility and starts that snowball effect. That caught the eye of some other recruits.”
Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown said Barker will compete for the quarterback job immediately.
“It’s his intangibles, first of all,” Brown said of Barker’s strengths. “He has tremendous leadership skills, high character, loves the game of football and studies it. And then there’s the tangible skills he has. He gets the ball out of his hands fast.”
Beyond that, Brown said Kentucky’s two biggest needs were at wide receiver and offensive line. Brown said he’s “really pleased” on both counts.
The Wildcats added five wide receivers to a good young bunch back from this past season.
Kentucky needs more size at wideout, in particular, and Dorian Baker of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, and Blake Bone from Woodruff, South Carolina may best fit that bill. Bone is 6-foot-5, 200 pounds and Baker 6-3 and 205.
“That was our number one goal in our receiving corps this year — we had to get size,” Brown said. “We really didn’t have anybody over the 6-foot, 6-1 range. Everybody can run in this league, but you have to have length.”
The other three wideouts also are promising, led by 5-10, 165-pound T.V. Williams from McKinney, Texas, who’s a playmaker like current Wildcat Ryan Timmons.
Kentucky also netted good size on the offensive line, with all of the four signees in that area at least 6-3 and 280 pounds.
Defensively, the Wildcats suffered the biggest losses on the line and at linebacker from a unit that generally played well this past season.
The biggest losses were middle linebacker Avery Williamson and tackles Mister Cobble and Dante Rumph.
Six ‘D’ linemen
Stoops and company have signed six defensive linemen, led by Matt Elam (6-6, 380) from John Hardin High in Elizabethtown; junior college grad Corey “C.J.” Johnson (6-3, 275) from ASA College in Brooklyn, N.Y.; end Denzel Ware (6-2, 240) from Crestview, Fla., and end Lloyd Tubman (6-5, 225) from Louisville Seneca.
Tubman had been committed to Penn State, but was an 11th-hour switch to UK.
The Wildcats signed four linebackers, led, arguably, by Dorian Hendrix (6-foot, 230) from Huber Heights, Ohio.
“I feel very good about the linebacker signees we got,” said UK defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot. “We had a big need there, losing Avery, and we needed to fill some holes.”
Kentucky also signed five defensive backs.
Eliot hinted that two DBs from Ohio, Darius West (6-0, 200) from Lima and Mike Edwards from Cincinnati, lead that group.
“Those are two great safeties,” Eliot said of West and Edwards. “They are guys that have the ability to be stout run stoppers, but can also cover.”