The Kentucky Wildcats are currently one of the hottest teams on the recruiting trail this year for 2014 prospects. Yes, you read that right, and no, I’m not talking about basketball recruiting.
The Wildcats entered the off-season after enduring a 2-10 record in 2012 that included going win less in the SEC as well as firing their head coach Joker Phillips. Wildcat fans could not wait for the basketball season to finally kick into full gear as they experienced another dreadful season in Lexington, but then came Mark Stoops.
On Nov. 27, 2012 Kentucky athletics made a decision to make Stoops then next head coach of the Wildcats football program after spending the previous three seasons as a defensive coordinator at Florida State. The decision was one that has already made the football program turn a complete 180 without even playing a single game under Stoops’ tenure. For example, in the 2012 spring game under Phillips, the Wildcats played in front of a roaring crowd of 4,000 fans. This past season’s spring game in 2013 featured over 50,000 fans, which was the most in school history and sixth most in the entire nation.
The Wildcats currently have the No. 9 ranked recruiting class, according to 247sports, which compiles all of the rankings from Scout, Rivals, and ESPN into one composite ranking. Kentucky has even been as high as No. 1 in the Rivals.com rankings. If you follow college football and recruiting, it is somewhat mind-blowing how Stoops has been able to come in and change the culture of the Wildcats without even coaching a game.
Stoops and his staff have reeled in 19 recruits so far with 10 of them coming in the month of June. The class is headlined by unanimous four-star quarterback Drew Barker. The 6’4 210 pound Kentucky native is No. 89 in our Fansided150 rankings and is just what the doctor ordered for the Wildcats. Barker’s height allows him to stand tall in the pocket, and he has a big arm to deliver it well down field. One of the specialty skills that Barker possesses is his ability to run the football with success out of the spread read-option offense.
Alongside Barker on the offensive side of the ball will be all-purpose back Stanley Williams who pledged to the Wildcats on June 13. Williams, a Georgia native, had been committed to the Georgia Bulldogs since the summer before his sophomore year in high school, but the two decided to part ways this past spring and the Wildcats took advantage. Williams, who stands at just 5’8 190 pounds, does not have the prototypical size to be an every down back, but has great athleticism and quickness that is hard to teach. Williams’ size and play is similar to current Wildcats running back and 2012 leading rusher Raymond Sanders.
Coupled with Barker and Williams is fellow four-star outside linebacker Denzel Ware out of Crestview, FL who sits at No. 105 in our Fansided150 rankings. Ware has had a roller coaster ride of a recruiting process already as he was once committed to Florida State and decommitted to pledge to Kentucky. Ware then decommited from Kentucky after flirting with Auburn, but then once again committed to Kentucky. Ware will fit in great with Stoops’ defensive scheme at Kentucky by adding great athleticism to the outside linebacker corps.
Stoops and his staff have transformed the identity of the football program in Lexington, but when it all comes down to it he must be able to not necessarily win SEC titles at Kentucky, but at least be competitive and make them a bowl contender each season. Kentucky will always be a basketball school, but if Stoops can produce on the field like he has already off the field, then football may begin to grow on the folks in Lexington.