Mark Stoops talked to the media on national signing about the most recent class.
Mark Stoops on signing day
Transcript from UK Athletics
COACH STOOPS: Okay. Exciting day for us. Really good to put the wraps on such a good class. Greatly appreciate our staff and the hard work they’ve done for the past year, past two years in some cases, recruiting some of these players.
I feel very good about this class. I feel they’re excellent football players, excellent people, very good in the classroom. Feel good about going in state and getting some of the top prospects in state to stay home. Definitely some difference makers that were very important to us.
So, across the board very excited about this class, top to bottom. And there still could be one or so out there in this class. And of course, we’ll have a couple of spots left to continue to work for the February signing period. So, I like where we’re at.
Q. The in-state guys, how did that come together getting five guys? And how important specifically to get into Louisville was it?
COACH STOOPS: I think it was very important. We’ve been working these guys for some time. They’re very — there’s very good players. You don’t know where the players are going to be in state, as I’ve mentioned every year. I think there’s always good quality in this state. Sometimes there’s not always the quantity. This year, there were certainly a good amount of very good football players. And it was a group effort. Really appreciate the work of our staff and certainly Coach (Vince) Marrow, our recruiting coordinator, went in there and had a strong impact and built some strong relationships with these kids, along with our position coaches and other guys. Coach (John) Schlarman started it years ago in that area. So it was a group effort.
But Coach Marrow will talk to you in a minute, let the big dog come up here in a minute. He certainly did a very good job and definitely had a big hand in landing some of these guys.
Q. Six linebackers in this group. And they’re all kind of considered outside. Do you start them there and kind of work out? How do you —
COACH STOOPS: They’re versatile guys. There’s definitely some versatile guys. Some of them, there’s the really — there’s a couple really big ones, big outside backers. There’s the athletic guys. There’s some guys that played inside and outside. So there’s a lot of versatility in this group.
When you’re a 3-4 (defensive system) you need some linebackers. So outside backer was the biggest area of need that — with defensive back — coming into this year. So certainly feel good about what we did at those positions.
Q. Did Josh Allen’s success make it easier for you to get some of these guys?
COACH STOOPS: I think that definitely helps. You see the way we feature the linebackers and what we do. And playing heavy dose of 3-4, playing with four linebackers quite a bit definitely helps.
Q. Did you all start with a conscious push in Georgia or did it just work out that way?
COACH STOOPS: We definitely did. We always recruit that area. I think with our success this year being, having some success on the field certainly helps in that area. You know it’s the heart of the SEC in there and everybody goes into Georgia. There’s a lot of good football players in there. But we were definitely dead set on going in there and making sure we get the right players and getting good football players out of that state. They’re definitely there.
Q. The outside linebackers draw comparison to Josh Allen for you guys?
COACH STOOPS: That wouldn’t be fair to put it on any one person at this time. Plus you’d be putting down the other guys. Nobody knew Josh Allen was going to be Josh Allen when we were talking about this many years ago, right?
I don’t think one person probably had a lot to say, Freddie (Maggard). Yeah, Freddie, Freddie made you all look bad (laughter). Why do you think I hired him? (Laughter) so Freddie had it pegged right away.
Q. You had as many as nine early enrollees. Is that a direct correlation to the early signing or just the trend?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, I think it has a lot to do with the early signing period. Once you put the majority of your class to bed, you can move on to the next class. And I just walked out of a meeting — Vince can attest to this — maybe three minutes ago and wasn’t very pleasant, to be honest with you. I appreciate our guys’ effort but it’s on to the next. It’s on with developing our players that we have, pushing them academically to meet the standards we want and recruiting the right guys in ’20.
So there’s no rest, no time to sit back. But it does speed things up. So we need to be working hard on ’20s right now, and as we get out in January and February we’ll do that, and also with finishing up this class. But I think it does speed things up a bit.
There’s quite a few players that are getting in position to get out early, which it’s really good for them. It’s good for the players. This has been going on for some time. The first couple of years you were maybe a little skeptical, just see how it works out. But I’m in total favor of it. I think it’s very good for the young men.
I think spring is a much easier semester for the student-athletes in football because the fall is just so extremely busy. Their time demands are through the roof. And it’s very strenuous mentally and physically and so when you come in in the spring, got an opportunity to get your feet on the ground and help you academically, physically get going and lifting weights and then spring is so much slower because you only have 15 practices, and it’s very fundamental in the spring. It certainly helps.
Q. Do you remember what it was like when you played early in the fall?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, it’s definitely like drinking with a firehose. There’s just a lot going on. It’s very, very fast. Things move fast. And it’s just so monotonous. It just takes time. Just day after day for so long it gets very difficult on those freshmen.
And we talk about it, I think a lot of coaches do. At some point guys can look really good, but they’re going to go through ups and downs because they’re not just used to that consistency for that long. And certainly hit some highs and lows and at times hit a little bit of a wall that you have to help push them through.
Q. Only one running back in the class. Does that show you how much faith you have in Kavosiey (Smoke) and A.J. (Rose) and some of the guys coming in?
COACH STOOPS: Without a doubt. We felt very good with Chris (Rodriguez) and Kavosiey and A.J. going into the year. You heard me talk about it throughout the year, we really wanted to see those guys, but when you have Benny (Smoke) and A.J., it’s hard to get to those guys. But Kavosiey and Chris, when you did see them you saw the talent that was there and the maturity and how physical they are. They’ve got some speed. So definitely felt like we could just go with one running back at this point in this class, yes.
Q. Re: importance of speed and playmakers?
COACH STOOPS: I think that’s always important. It’s important across the board to get difference makers. It changes the digits on the scoreboard and certainly on defense the same way. We needed some — we needed to make sure we went and got some defensive backs and some corners.
Q. You said in recruiting Georgia, the success you had there helped you there. Overall what does the effect of the success you had this year help with this particular class?
COACH STOOPS: I think it definitely had an effect. I don’t think there’s any question. You look at some of the guys that we closed on, some of the guys we got, some of the guys in state had an opportunity to go to quite a few schools and chose to stay home.
And when we went out of state, again, the same way. You look at the battles that we had with some of these kids, went down to the wire again last night. I’m not going to mention any names, but there’s schools and there’s people top 10, traditional top 10 powers calling our kids up until last night. We fought them off and got the signatures this morning.
Q. You mentioned the word versatility. Do you ever recruit some of these guys knowing that you can maybe switch their positions?
COACH STOOPS: Definitely. You recruit some kids as athletes and knowing that they’re just — I just want them wearing blue. And exactly where they end up, sometimes you just have to figure it out.
Q. Re: wide receivers
COACH STOOPS: Tae Tae (Crumes) and DeMarcus (Harris), both guys that are very productive, both guys have an ability to catch the football in traffic and catch the ball with people around them.
You look at DeMarcus and the production he had in the state of Florida, remarkable. He can go up and catch the football and, again, make contested catches. And very, very excited about him.
His father’s a football coach and plays for a guy, Mark, his father, coaches. And DeMarcus plays for a friend of mine down there at Vero that I’ve known for 15 years. Comes from a very good program. Good coach. So very excited about that.
And Tae Tae is another guy that can really run. And that was something that was very, very important to us. It was very evident to us when we saw him in person and watched him in camp and in practice that he can go and had another gear. And that was certainly important for us to get.
Q. What did you like about the two quarterbacks?
COACH STOOPS: Again, winners, both of them are winners. Both did an unbelievable job leading their team to state championships. And just winners and playmakers, just the things we’re looking for.
Obviously, they can throw the ball. They can run it a little bit. They can ad-lib. But they’re also very, very serious about the job. They work extremely hard at studying and have been very productive.
Q. The position groups, you’re still looking at specifically with those last four or five spots? Or just best available?
COACH STOOPS: Best available. We’re working on one defensive back right now late into the day here. Maybe have some news later on today. We’ll see. And then obviously I want to carry some forward into February. I want to have some available. You never know what’s going to happen, what’s going to shake out. There’s a lot of talk and motion with kids nowadays with transfers and things of that nature, and certainly just the recruiting, the guys that are available still. And we’re on some really good kids that we knew were going to take it into February. And we’re still going to continue to battle with those guys as well.
Q. Junior college signings, outside linebacker and also cornerback. Are those two positions you thought that maybe you had to fill right away?
COACH STOOPS: Without a doubt. Yeah, without a doubt. We definitely wouldn’t have recruited junior college players if we didn’t feel like there was a need to come in and help. That doesn’t mean that it’s a guarantee. But both of these guys are very good players. And Brandin Echols is a corner that we all know we need some help in that area. And Marquez Bembry is an outside linebacker, unbelievable speed and can run and change directions. So both of those guys should help.
Q. Two defensive linemen out of Ohio were pursued by other top schools. How difficult is it to recruit interior defensive linemen?
COACH STOOPS: That’s a great point it’s such a key with Cavon (Butler) and Isaiah (Gibson), both really good football players. When you go, and you’ve heard me talk, and you know just watching and seeing recruiting, you have big defensive tackles that are big and athletic and playmakers, they’re hard to get and they’re hard to hold onto. And we really did a good job as a staff. Again, Vince was the lead guy on both of those guys and did an excellent job in landing them. And that definitely was not easy. And really did a good job as a staff and Vince did a great job of holding them down the stretch. And I was on the phone texting back and forth with Cavon until about 10:30, 11:00 last night, I said, I’ve got to get up early tomorrow, dog, I’ve got to get to bed. But I wasn’t going to go (laughter).
Q. Is that the hardest position to recruit? Are there fewer D-tackle prospects out there ?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, I think it’s fair to say. D-tackles are just so important. And everybody wants the big, long, athletic guy and they’re difference-makers. In this league, that’s one of the positions that really changes (teams). That’s one of the positions that separates the top from the bottom. You look at the great programs and the teams traditionally in the top 10 they’ve got some defensive linemen. Obviously they’ve got a lot of other things as well but you’ve got to have some D-line.
Q. When you’re having success and maybe you can get in some doors that you couldn’t get in previously, how do you balance that against not neglecting the type of kid you’ve got and been able to develop in the past?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, I think that’s a great point and something that we’ll always do. We’ll always trust our evaluations and what we do and when we go on kids. There’s examples of that in this group that we went on kids early, when not a lot of people knew about them and weren’t highly rated. And then eventually they would move up, but we trust our evaluation on that. And we’re always going to do that with the core group of guys that come in and hit that piece that we always talk about, that developmental piece. And you always gotta make sure you get the right guys. Jimbo (Fisher) used to call those guys the glue, the glue guys and the guys that are just solid and excited to be here and are going to work extremely hard, do things right and you can win a lot of football games with them.
Q. Eli (Cox) another local offensive linemen who signed with you guys, joining Landon (Young) and Drake (Jackson), what about these local guys?
COACH STOOPS: Eli, he wanted to come in. He saw those guys having success. He saw the way our offensive line plays and wanted to be a part of it. So we’re very excited about Eli, and he was a fun guy to recruit. He’s the type of guy we’re looking for. He’s a Kentucky kid that wants to play here and wants to continue that legacy of playing very, very physical, tough offensive line play. So that wasn’t a very hard sell and we’ve been doing some very good things with our offensive line. And it’s great to add Eli.
Q. Mark, the success of this season helped you down the stretch for this class. Given a lot of this class has already committed during the season, do you expect on-the-field success this year to pay off more in the next class?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, that’s a good point as well, and we do. I think certainly we have a good feel and a good jump on ’20. And there’s some good players and there’s some good players within a two-, three-hour radius of here that have great interest in us and we’ve had on campus many times and we’ll continue to do that and certainly the winning should help.
Q. Re: recruiting of J.J. Weaver
COACH STOOPS: Well, again, you have to understand, number one, what these guys go through. And they’re entitled to change their mind. Then also they’re trying to do things sometimes and announce that on their own terms. And that gets very hard and frustrating for them. At no point did we have any concern whatsoever that he was going to sign with us.
It was just a matter of how and when he wanted to do it. And that’s what gets tough and then everybody reads into it. He has a ton of family that’s coming that he wanted to do it in February. So, he just really wanted it around all of his people, to be quite honest with you. It had nothing to do with — but everybody reads into it. And there is a lot of pressure. Let’s not kid ourselves. And believe me, I wanted his signature this morning as well.
But he was very, very good about it. Very respectful. Unbelievable family. There was never any doubt about that. And it was just a matter of semantics. Just a matter of how you’re going to go about doing it. And a lot of people sometimes read into that. And rightfully so, because sometimes things have happened before and that’s going to happen. And we learned to deal with that and move on very, very quickly.
But we weren’t antsy with J.J. We felt very good about J.J. and what he was going to do. He was very open and honest with us, and he was great. So, terrific family, terrific young man. He was solid as a rock with us. And as far as them saying then, well — again, things happen. Things happen and coaches change. And so I understand the story there. Young kids have to understand as they work their way into this spotlight, what they say sometimes can bite you in the ass. Just take a look at some of the things I’ve done over the years, right? So you just have to — they’ve just got to understand that, get here, get media training and everything. But again, fantastic young man. Never a problem for us at all. It was just a matter of when, where, how to go about signing.
Q. Is there a benefit to playing in a Florida bowl when you’re going after a lot of these kids; did you see that a couple of years ago?
COACH STOOPS: I don’t think it ever hurts to get down there and play. And most importantly to play on New Year’s Day in such a big bowl against a quality opponent and that exposure is really going to help you. But playing down there definitely helps as well.
Q. What was your reaction when you saw all the tickets the allotment for UK had been sold out?
COACH STOOPS: It didn’t surprise me. I knew we were getting close. It was a matter of some singles and top rows and things like that. But the majority of our tickets sold out very quickly. Doesn’t surprise me and again we greatly appreciate it and look forward to seeing a bunch of blue down there. Our color blue. (Laughter).
Q. When you started the early signing period did you envision it being like this, that it could be 20 signing now and just a few signing later?
COACH STOOPS: We were unsure probably going into last year exactly what would happen. Because last year was a little different. And Vince can talk about this some, too, because even last year as we prepared all these players for the signing, they were so used to doing it in February, that they were waffling a bit with — waiting until February. We’re like no, no, let’s get — let’s get this done. If you’ve been committed for six months, let’s get it in the books.
So this year, I guess, would be easier process than last year being that it was the second year in a row. But, yeah, we were unsure and I think the players spoke a year ago with, again, whatever that percentage is, 90-some percent I think of Power 5 players signed in an early signing period last year. I don’t know what it’s like this year.
So it’s good. I tell you, it’s brutal. It’s a brutal December. There’s no doubt about that. And it’s a hard month. So you feel good about it and everybody’s like, yeah, don’t you want to go celebrate? No, I want to go to bed (Laughter) but we have to go prepare for Penn State right now. So we’re right in the middle of that. So it’s been real. And I’ll talk to you guys later. I gotta go to work, basically, going to get back to work here.
Q. Amani Gilmore talked about playing baseball. What are the challenges in that?
COACH STOOPS: I encouraged him to do that. He was football all the way. But I felt like Nick (UK baseball coach Nick Mingione) owes me one on that because I told him, I really did, I felt like he was too talented. I felt like he’d regret it. I was a dual-sport player coming out of high school and wanted to do that in college. I never got the opportunity. I wasn’t good enough really, to be honest with you, to play both and was always scrapping for a position, got hurt. It just never worked out. I always wish I had that opportunity and I don’t want him to feel that way. I feel like he’s too talented. He could throw. We practice every other day, 15 practices. There’s no reason where a guy with that kind of talent shouldn’t go explore it and go throw a little bit. He could throw the baseball. And I’m sure Nick can use an arm. So that will be — it will be good to see him.
Q. Baseball kept him out of the camp circuit and I know that’s where a lot of guys get ranked. Do you prefer that guys go get their rankings up on the camping circuit, or do you like when they’re a little bit —
COACH STOOPS: I could care less at that point. You won’t care either a year from now or two years from now when he’s in there playing. Doesn’t really matter. The stars don’t matter.
Q. Does it make it easier for you?
COACH STOOPS: Does it make easier? Maybe. Maybe. I mean, we knew him. (Assistant coach) Michael Smith had a relationship with him, knew his dad and knew of Amani for a long time. Maybe it helped us. I know once we offered and he had such a good year, and in fact he didn’t play a year also slowed him down — but once he started lighting it up this year, he got plenty of attention.
Q. What’s the big difference for you from the first class you came in here to now in terms of what these recruits say to you, what you’re sort of selling them? The program is in a different place, how does that change?
COACH STOOPS: I think early on there was plenty of really trying to find the diamonds in the rough. And we certainly won, certainly in year two maybe, Vince, we won some big battles and got some marquee players.
But there was still a really good dose of those diamonds in the rough-type guys, Josh Allens and guys you had to find that had you to project. This year as you move forward you start recruiting guys that you feel like are definitely a little bit, you know, maybe more developed coming out of high school and can project a little bit easier for us.
It’s also good because we’re in there competing with some traditional powers, and beating them at times, and it’s never easy. I never said that I told you day one that we were going to compete with traditional powers in recruiting and we’re going to win some and we’re going to lose some. But we’re going to battle them and do things right and I think players can really come in here now and see what we have in effect, the program that we have in effect, top to bottom, the way we develop players in all areas of their life. They can believe in that, they can see it. They can see the results.
Q. Is it an easier sale?
COACH STOOPS: I think it’s easier in that way as well because the organization is more organized. There’s more people in place. There’s good people in place. The production has been there and they can see it, and I think that helps as well.
Q. We all know a lot of attention is made when guys flip away. Does the conversation change with recruits once they’re verbally committed in some way, or do you just keep saying still keep recruiting everybody all the time?
COACH STOOPS: In this day and age with some players, if they’re verbally committed, it just means you’re in the lead. And so you better — we never stop recruiting, so we’re always on the phone recruiting.
Like I said, with Cavon, I was texting back and forth until 10:30, 10:45 last night. And then I turned it over to Vince and said I’m going to bed, make sure he stays — I said stay on him, big dog, all night. (Laughter) But no, you’re going to stay recruiting all the way through. We never take things for granted and we never — believe me, we don’t worry too much about the ones we don’t get either. Believe me, it’s personal. We recruit hard. We put a lot into it and we’re all competitors. But we’re going to get the ones we’re supposed to.
Q. What are your expectations for Moses Douglass? He’s kind of a big kid.
COACH STOOPS: That’s a great point. Because not a lot has been said about him. He’s such a dynamic player because he’s been so solid to us. Wouldn’t even take another trip. The kid has been offered by practically the entire Power 5. (He) can play just about anywhere in the country and has been recruited by almost all those schools in some form or fashion. He’s just been so solid with us and remarkable family. He is a guy that we should not take for granted because he’s been so solid. He’s a talented football player, very good size on him and again very versatile. But no, he’s a safety.
Q. He’s not going to go into a linebacker?
COACH STOOPS: No, he’s a safety. We like big safeties. He’s not nearly as big as Sean Taylor and everybody told me Sean Taylor was going to be a safety.
Q. A lot of people talk about his football intelligence. What have you observed there just being around him on these visits?
COACH STOOPS: Doesn’t surprise you. Again, being Mo’s son (former UK player Maurice Douglass) and — son of a coach — and they’re constantly working at it, whether it’s watching film, working out, around, seven-on-sevens, and he’s with his dad and around football all the time. So, it doesn’t surprise me that he has a high football IQ.
Q. There’s been a lot of social media buzz about parents putting on the uniform. Did you guys feel you were ahead of the curve when you let Nik Ognenovic father —
COACH STOOPS: He was the only one. I thought he was the player. (Laughter) No, no. We saw Nik, yeah, he’s a big dude. So he looks good in that uniform. As for the rest of them I don’t know if we’ll do that all the time (laughter).
Q. What’s the story on Taj Dodson?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, we’ve been on him all year and brought him in this past weekend got him committed finally. So, he’s a guy that we’ve liked and recruited and he’s been I guess relatively quiet in the recruiting front and just kind of going about his business and going through his visits. We had an opportunity to get him up on campus and got him committed. And so I was very excited about that. It’s a big need.
Q. Re: big cornerbacks
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, he’s definitely got some range on him. That’s for sure. He’s got some good length and he can run but, yeah, real good size and he can run and change directions. So definitely very excited about him. We needed it. We needed some bigger corners. I don’t know if we could ever get as big as we were this year, those three monsters. But we’ll continue to look for them.
List of players signed
Marquez Bembry, Outside Linebacker, 6-3, 240, So-JC, Stone Mountain, Ga. (Mount Vernon Presbyterian/Jones County JC) – Played for head coach Steve Buckley at Jones County Junior College in Ellisville, Mississippi … Recorded 36 tackles during his redshirt freshman season in 2018, helping the Bobcats finish 10-2 overall and 6-0 in conference play … Advanced to the MACJC State Championship … Led Jones to a 27-7 win over Eastern Arizona in the Mississippi Bowl on Dec. 2, highlighted by his six tackles, including 4.5 TFLs, one QB sack, one forced fumble and a fumble recovery … Rated a three-star pass-rushing specialist out of high school by each of the major recruiting services … Graduated from Jones in December as a two-time Dean’s List member and will enroll at UK in January … Will have three years of eligibility remaining … Played for head coach Wayne Babbs at Mount Vernon Presbyterian High School … Chose Kentucky over Ole Miss and Tennessee.
Cavon Butler, Defensive Lineman, 6-3, 300, Fr-HS, Toledo, Ohio (Whitmer) – A three-star recruit, who is considered a top-50 interior defensive lineman by Rivals.com and 247sports.com and No. 29 player in Ohio by Rivals … Named Three Rivers Athletic Conference defensive player of the year and was selected first-team All-Northwest District and second-team All-Ohio in Division I (largest classification) … Helped the Panthers to a 21-4 overall record and two Division I playoff appearances … Had 71 tackles as a senior, including nine for loss, along with 7.5 sacks … Caused four fumbles, recovered five fumbles, and scored two touchdowns in helping Whitmer compile a 9-3 overall record in 2018 … As a junior, had 91 tackles (nine for loss) and 12 sacks … Coached by Ken Winters … Comes from same high school as current Wildcat Phil Hoskins … An all-around athlete who also plays basketball and throws the shot put … Recruiting finalists were Michigan State and Ohio State before tabbing the Wildcats.
Jared Casey, Outside Linebacker, 6-3, 230, Fr-HS, Louisville, Ky. (Ballard) – A four-star prospect by all of the major recruiting services … Rivals.com ranks him as the No. 15 outside linebacker nationally … As a senior, totaled 70 tackles, 15.5 TFLs, three sacks and one forced fumble in 11 games for head coach Adrian Morton … Played two seasons at Trinity before transferring to Ballard … Chose UK over Oregon and Louisville.
Eli Cox, Offensive Line, 6-4, 300, Fr-HS, Nicholasville, Ky. (West Jessamine) – A three-star recruit by 247sports.com and Rivals.com … Ranked as the No. 14 Kentucky prospect in the class of 2019 by 247Sports … Has the versatility to play at either offensive guard or tackle … Has been instrumental in West Jessamine improving its win total each season of his prep career … Named to the Blue-Grey All-American Bowl watch list … Represented West Jessamine at the Louisville vs. Bluegrass Senior All-Star Game … Coached by John Gilliam … Chose UK over Cincinnati, Marshall, Ohio and Toledo.
Tae Tae Crumes, Wide Receiver, 6-2, 180, Fr-HS, Louisville, Ky. (Butler) – A quality in-state prospect that is ranked as one of the top 10 players in the Commonwealth of Kentucky by Rivals.com and 247sports.com … An incredible senior season at Butler with 42 receptions for 877 yards … Averaged 73.1 receiving yards per game, which was fourth most among all Class 6A players while his 14 receiving touchdowns were third most in the division … Had 30 receptions for 779 yards and 14 touchdowns his junior season … Finished his high school career with 35 touchdowns and 2,021 receiving yards … Was named to the 2018 Lexington Herald-Leader Class of the Commonwealth and was also tabbed an all-state honoree and all-Louisville metro performer this season … Speedy wide receiver that has been timed at 4.3 in the 40-yard dash … Coached by Gary Wheeler … Chose Kentucky over Louisville, Michigan, Michigan State, Oregon and Pitt.
Taj Dodson, Defensive Back, 6-2, 190, Fr-HS, Union Grove, Ga. (Creekside) – A consensus three-star recruit by all the major recruiting services … Coached by Region 5-6A Coach of the Year Maurice Dixon … Had 19 returns for 737 yards and two touchdowns, including a 92-yard score … Named first-team All-Region 5-6A after totaling 86 tackles, 12 PBUs, two interceptions, one sack and once forced fumble in 2018 … Also had seven catches for 106 yards … Chose Kentucky over Syracuse, Louisville and Ole Miss .. First name is pronounced the same as Taj Mahal.
Moses Douglass, Defensive Back, 6-2, 200, Fr-HS, Springfield, Ohio (Springfield) – Four-star recruit and one the nation’s top-30 safety prospects by Rivals.com and 247sports.com … The No. 7 prospect in Ohio and one of the nation’s top 300 players by Rivals … As a senior, helped lead Springfield HS to a 9-3 record and second round of the state playoffs … First-team All-Ohio in Division I (largest classification) … Coached by his father, Maurice, at Springfield … Maurice was a defensive back at Kentucky in 1984-85 and went on to an 11-year NFL career with the Chicago Bears and New York Giants … Chose Kentucky over Georgia Tech, Louisville and Michigan State.
Brandin Echols, Defensive Back, 6-0, 180, Jr-JC, Southaven, Miss. (Southaven/Northwest Mississippi CC) – Went to junior college as a receiver but switched to defense back in his freshman season and found his niche … A three-star recruit who ranks as the fifth-best cornerback among junior college recruits by Rivals.com … Earned NJCAA second- team All-America honors … Named first-team All- MACJC and All-Region 23 NJCAA in 2018 after leading the MACJC and ranking second in the NJCAA with six interceptions … His 12 pass breakups ranked fourth in the country … Added 49 tackles, a forced fumble and blocked kick in helping lead Northwest to an 8-2 record and a No. 8 national ranking in the NJCAA … Coached by Benjy Parker … Played for head coach Ed Rich at Southaven High School … Totaled 11 total tackles, two sacks and an interception as a senior … Offensively, caught 29 passes for 406 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 906 yards and eight touchdowns … Added 604 return yards with four touchdowns … Also played basketball and ran track as a senior, earning a spot on Clarion-Ledger’s All-State boys’ track team after winning the state championship in the long jump … Chose Kentucky over offers from Ole Miss, Houston and Memphis … Will have two years of eligibility remaining.
Jalen Geiger, Defensive Back, 6-1, 190, Fr-HS, Columbia, S.C. (Spring Valley) – Last name is pronounced “GI-ger” … A three-star defensive back by 247Sports.com … Considered the No. 9 overall recruit and No. 2 corner in the state of South Carolina by Rivals.com … Competed in the 82nd Annual Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas and finished with four tackles, including two solo … Recorded 71 tackles, three interceptions, four PBUs … Helped the Vikings finish 11-2 with a playoff berth as a junior in 2017 … Coached by Robin Bacon … Transferred to Spring Valley after playing two seasons at Cardinal Newman … Also a basketball player … Chose Kentucky over South Carolina, Virginia and North Carolina.
Isaiah Gibson, Defensive Line, 6-4, 300, Fr-HS, Springfield, Ohio (Springfield) – Consensus choice as one of the nation’s top-50 defensive tackles and one of the top 33 players in Ohio by all the major recruiting services … Rated as high as the No. 32 DT by 247sports.com and No. 17 in Ohio by ESPN.com … As a senior, helped lead Springfield HS to a 9-3 record and second round of the state playoffs … First-team All-Ohio in Division I (largest classification) … Coached by Maurice Douglass … Maurice was a defensive back at Kentucky in 1984-85 and went on to an 11-year NFL career with the Chicago Bears and New York Giants … Chose Kentucky over Wisconsin, Purdue, Florida and Louisville … Joins high school teammate and fellow signee Moses Douglass.
Amani Gilmore, Quarterback, 6-2, 200, Fr-HS, Amite, La. (Amite) – A three-star dual-threat quarterback … 247Sports.com ranks him as the No. 42 pro-style quarterback nationally in the class of 2019 … Led his team to the 2018 Louisiana 2A State Championship, the Warriors’ first championship in 14 years and just the fifth title in team history … Named the game’s Most Outstanding Player after accounting for a remarkable 366 of the team’s 442 yards total yards and six touchdowns … Completed 11-of-17 passes for 286 yards while rushing 23 times for a team-high 80 yards … Totaled over 2,000 total yards in his senior year, including 1,000 rushing yards, while also averaging 40.0 points per game … Dual-sport athlete as he also excels on the baseball diamond as a left-handed pitcher and outfielder … Amite head coach Zephaniah Powell said “Throws the ball very well, is very accurate. Can stay in the pocket, can beat you with his arm from the pocket and also can beat you with his legs from out of the pocket. Very good high IQ when it comes to football. He is a gym rat, loves to lift, loves to work out.”… Chose UK over Tennessee.
DeMarcus Harris, Wide receiver, 6-1, 180, Fr-HS, Vero Beach, Fla. (Vero Beach) – Considered one of the nation’s top 150 receivers … A three-star recruit according to 247sports.com and ESPN.com … Became Treasure Coast’s career record holder with 2,864 receiving yards … Only Treasure Coast player to register back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons … Had 1,582 receiving yards with 73 receptions and 16 touchdowns as a senior … Had eight games with at least 100 receiving yards, including a season-high 238 receiving yards on five catches vs. Treasure Coast High School on Oct. 12 … Averaged 131.8 receiving yards per game for the Indians in 2018, helping them finish 11-1 with the loss coming in the 8-A regional final … Recorded 43 catches for 1,001 yards and 11 scores in 2017 and led Vero Beach to the regional finals … Earn first-team all-area and all-state honors … 2017 Class 8A Player of the Year candidate … Head coach Lenny Jankowski said “He’s the total package when it comes to the wide receiver position. As far as wide receivers go, he has a great combination of size and athleticism. His hands have improved to where he’s capable of catching all kinds of different balls all kinds of different ways. He’s really good when the balls not in his hands, too.” … An all-around athlete who also excels in basketball and track and field … Chose Kentucky over Syracuse, Purdue and UCF.
Shawn’Kel Knight-Goff, Linebacker, 6-2, 220, Fr-HS, Louisville, Ky. (Doss Magnet Career Academy) – Ranks as one of the top 10 players in the state of Kentucky … A three-star prospect by both Rivals.com and 247Sports.com … 247Sports.com ranks him as one of the 50 best weakside defensive ends in the nation … Had 66 tackles, nine sacks, three fumbles forced and one fumble recovered as a senior … Also was a led the team in receiving with 16 catches for 180 yards as a senior … Posted 50 tackles as a junior with a fumble recovery and interception as a junior … Was named an all-state performer as a senior and tabbed to the Louisville all-metro first team … Coached by Phillip Hawkins … Chose Kentucky over Louisville and Purdue.
K.D. McDaniel, Outside Linebacker, 6-2, 240, Fr-HS, Tifton, Ga. (Tift County) – Consensus pick as one of the nation’s top-40 outside linebackers and one of the top-61 players in Georgia by Rivals, 247sports and ESPN … First-team all-region as a junior and senior, with this year’s all-state teams yet to be selected by signing day … Helped lead Tift County to the state playoff quarterfinals in Class AAAAAAA (largest classification) as both a junior and senior … Coached by Ashley Anders … Chose Kentucky over Ole Miss, Tennessee and South Carolina.
Quandre Mosely, Defensive Back, 6-2, 180, Jr-JC, Brunswick, Ga. (Glynn Academy/Eastern Arizona CC) – Signed with Eastern Arizona Community College out of high school in 2016 … As a sophomore in 2018, totaled 50 tackles, a league-high six interceptions, one for a touchdown, and a fumble recovery as a safety for the Monsters … Earned 2018 All-WSFL All-League honors … Helped Eastern Arizona win the Salt City Bowl game … Former wide receiver in high school … Helped Glynn Academy go 11-2 as a senior in 2016, including undefeated in region play … Named GHSA Region 2-6A All-State Honorable Mention as a wide receiver … Played for head coach Rocky Hidalgo … Chose Kentucky over Utah and Oregon … First name pronounced “QUAN-dray.”
Nik Ognenovic, Tight End, 6-5, 250, Fr-HS, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (Cardinal Gibbons) – Last name pronounced “Oh-GIN-oh-vick” … A three-star prospect by all of the major recruiting experts and considered one of the nation’s top tight ends … Caught 11 passes for 170 yards and one touchdown as a senior in helping Cardinal Gibbons win the program’s first state title in Class 5A … As a junior, caught eight passes for 57 yards and a score … The pair teamed together to win the Adidas 7-on-7 National Championship with South Florida Express in the spring of 2018 … Coached by Matt DuBuc … Also a talented basketball player … Chose Kentucky over Pitt, Boston College and Louisville … High school teammate of fellow signee Nik Scalzo.
Jake Pope, Offensive Line, 6-7, 290, Fr-HS, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (St. Thomas Aquinas) – A three-star tackle by all of the major recruiting services … Listed as one of Florida’s top 100 players … Helped lead perennial powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas to a 13-2 overall record, a district championship and the 7A state championship runner-up title in 2018 … Selected to play in the Blue-Grey All American Bowl on Jan. 5, 2019 in Tampa, Florida … Coached by Roger Harriott … Chose Kentucky over Michigan State and N.C. State.
Nik Scalzo, Quarterback, 6-0, 175, Fr-HS, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (Cardinal Gibbons) – A three-star prospect by all of the major recruiting services … Rated one of Florida’s top-10 quarterbacks … A dual-threat passer who led Cardinal Gibbons to a combined 32-6 record in his three seasons as a starter … Completed 59.6 percent of his passes (522 for 876) for 6,471 yards with 74 touchdowns to only 23 interceptions in three seasons … Also rushed for 613 yards on 147 carries with four scores in his career … Helped lead the Chiefs to their first Florida 5A state championship as a senior, completing 173-of-279 passes for 2,185 yards and 24 touchdowns before injury sidelined him in the regional semifinal … Earned first-team All-State and first-team All-County honors by the Sun Sentinel … As a junior, completed 175-of-307 passes for 2,065 yards and 23 touchdowns in leading the Chiefs to an 11-2 overall record and his second straight FHSAA Class 5A playoff appearance … As a sophomore, threw for 2,221 yards and 27 touchdowns in leading the Chiefs’ Air-Raid offense to a 9-2 season and regional semifinal appearance … High school teammate of fellow signee Nik Ognenovic … The pair teamed together to win the Adidas 7-on-7 National Championship with South Florida Express in the spring of 2018 … Coached by Matt DuBuc.
Travis Tisdale, Running Back, 5-9, 175, Fr-HS, Valdosta, Ga. (Lowndes) – A four-star recruit and one of the nation’s top-300 players by ESPN … The nation’s No. 18 running back by ESPN and the No. 11 all-purpose back nationally by Rivals … Rated as high as the No. 33 prospect in Georgia … Region Player of the Year as a senior as he rushed for 1,903 yards and 21 touchdowns, with all-state teams yet to be announced … Led Lowndes HS to a 10-4 record and a berth in the Class AAAAAAA (largest classification) state playoff semifinals … “Dynamic all-purpose back with difference-maker speed and quickness” according to ESPN … Senior season was highlighted by 413 yards and six touchdowns – both of which are school records – against crosstown rival Valdosta High School … Also a 1,000-yard rusher as a sophomore, he set the LHS career record for touchdowns … Coached by Randy McPherson … Dad serves in United States Air Force … Chose Kentucky over Nebraska, Ole Miss and Penn State.
J.J. Weaver, Outside Linebacker, 6-5, 240, Fr-HS, Louisville, Ky. (Moore Traditional) – One of the nation’s best linebacker prospects, ranking as the 213th best player in the nation according to Rivals … The site also has Weaver as the 14th best player in the class at his position and the fourth-best prospect in the state of Kentucky … Rated as a four-star prospect by Rivals and 247sports … Recorded 70 tackles, 10 sacks, three interceptions and a fumble recovery this season … His strong performance helped Moore win 11 games and advance to the quarterfinals of the state championships … Also played tight end in high school and caught six passes for 102 yards and three touchdowns last season … Was named to the 2018 Lexington Herald-Leader Class of the Commonwealth … An all-state honoree … Coached by Carlo Stallings … Chose Kentucky over Louisville, Miami and Purdue.
Tra Wilkins, Linebacker, 6-0, 215, Fr-HS, Stone Mountain, Ga. (Stephenson) – Highly recruited linebacker who chose Kentucky over Louisville, Arkansas and South Carolina … The nation’s No. 46 inside linebacker by 247sports and No. 69 outside linebacker by ESPN … One of the top-100 players in the talent-rich state of Georgia by both selectors … Helped lead Stephenson HS to a 9-2 record and berth in the Class AAAAAA playoffs as a senior … All-state and all-region teams yet to be announced as this was written … Coached by Ron Gartrell … Comes from an athletic family as his cousins include linebacker Sam Maxwell, who helped take Kentucky to four straight bowl games from 2006-09 and was an All-SEC linebacker as a senior, and current Georgia wide receiver/kick returner Mecole Hardman.