Kentucky Football’s recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow spoke to the media on national signing day

Vince Marrow

Transcript from UK Athletics 

Opening Statement …

“Good Evening. I’m just going to piggyback off of Coach [Stoops]. This probably was the best linebacker class we’ve signed since we’ve been here. I know we signed six or seven linebackers, and they’re all interchangeable, but this is a very athletic group and they were very highly recruited. I was very excited about that. Defense, we needed to address in this class because we’re losing a lot of guys on defense and we should be pretty good on offense next year, so defense was a big emphasis this year.” 

On how the current group takes this new group being the best linebacker class …

“Because it is! To be quite honest, losing Josh [Allen] and Jordan [Jones] and we may have a transfer here and there, but overall this is, like Coach Stoops said. We used to have to project guys. We’d take guys that were 6’2”, 210 pounds, and then hope they grow into 6’3”, 230. These guys are already the type of guys that ‘Bama or Ohio State would take, or Oregon and schools like that. It’s a great group.” 

On what makes this group so great …

“Very versatile. They can do it all. You can take all six of these guys and they can be Sams (strongside LBs), Jacks (hybrid LB/DE position). Some can play Will (weakside). Some can play Mike (middle). Some can play Sam. These are the type of guys, like I said, that Nick Saban would take. You just take these guys and they become good special teams players and just interchangeable. Some guys may grow into a D-end. You just never know, but it’s good size and length coming in.” 

On how recruiting in Louisville worked …

“I just think our perception. I think we were pretty good in most of the state. Pretty much 85 percent of the state. Louisville was a different monster. It was just a thing where I think Louisville just had a strong hold on a lot of the kids there, a lot of the inner-city kids. Just came in with a message to say hey, this state is pretty much 90 percent blue, Big Blue Nation. For some reason, it was like the kids there were 90 percent, but in that 10-15 percent was Louisville. We just said a different message and the success we were having on defense. Three of the top linebackers we took out of there were top guys in the country. I think they saw success of our linebacker group. A lot of people don’t know that we’ve been pretty good in the NFL for the last couple of years with linebacker play. It was just getting these guys here to come play in the best conference in the country and come play with the best school in the state. It wasn’t a hard sell.”

 On in-state recruiting …

“I’m always going to go where my boss wants me to go. It was just a thing where we … Don’t take any credit away from John Schlarman. He really did a good job there, I just came in and just closed it out. The way I recruit now was, like in Ohio, a lot of people were asking me in Ohio like, ‘What’s going on? Did we lose our power in Ohio?’ No. It was just we shifted emphasis into Louisville and the state of Kentucky. But the guys we got out of Ohio were top guys. I’m always going to fluctuate in between Ohio, Kentucky, and then some national guys. It’s just where I needed to go this year.” 

On how his recruiting approach has changed …

“Those first two years here it was trying to sell something. It was trying to sell a lot of stuff, and a lot of traditional schools that we were starting to try to recruit against would send pictures of us playing Vandy with 10,000 people in the stands. It was just a lot of negative stuff we were dealing with, and it was like they’re not going to win there, they don’t have the facilities. The fans aren’t going to come out. So, we kept jumping the hurdles, then we started beating these guys. When we started beating like the lower tier of the SEC, because we were the bottom, and then we started coming up, the message was easier because they were seeing success and their coaches started seeing success. This might have been, from beating Louisville the previous year where we upset them, to being 9-3 now is pretty… I think we more expand in other states because our logo is more known and not just for basketball, but it’s known. They know our football program, but in our traditional states that we recruit in, Ohio and Kentucky, it just kicked it through the roof. The message now is let’s go beat Georgia. We’re climbing up the hill and beating some of these other teams, but we got to get Georgia. We’ve got to get SEC East soon. So, that’s our message now.”

On if former players of an area help in recruiting based on performance …

“Yes. In Ohio, I have reporters saying, ‘Man y’all got a lot of good players from Ohio.’ So, it’s easy to go in there and do that, but we also got some good players from the state of Kentucky. We really got a great number of talented players this year, but I still don’t feel satisfied because we should have got them all. When we get them all, or get 90 percent of them, then I’ll be happy. I know Coach Stoops will be happy. When you have success with guys that are already doing well, it is easy to go in there and get the kids we need. That’s how we got Chris Oats because of Mike Edwards. Chris Oats was a lock to go to Ohio State. The message we sold him was look at Mike Edwards. Mike Edwards had like 30-something offers, and he came here and was an impact player as a redshirt freshman. It is easy to do that.” 

On if the success of this year will pay off more next year …

“Yeah, because, I’m going to tell you, some of the dudes that we lost in the ’18 class, even the ’17 class, you’ll see them talking to some of our other players saying ‘Man, I knew we should have went there.’ I saw it, but it was like they didn’t believe it. Then when we went down to beat Florida, it really changed the whole game. It seemed like with Kentucky there was always a stigma that you had to get over the hurdle. So, when we started beating all these schools and beating other schools and then everyone was like, ‘Well, they haven’t beat Florida in 31 years.’ So, we beat Florida, and I think when we beat Mississippi State, because of the way people were projecting them before we beat them, that they were probably the second-best team in the SEC, it really went far in our recruiting. You’ve just got to keep climbing those hurdles though.” 

On if Penn State is a hurdle …

“I think, because I was up late, and I was watching the news. C.J. Conrad was on and he made a comment. Someone asked him about playing in the Big 10 and he was like, for these Ohio kids, it is. Most of our kids in Ohio, we played Northwestern, but now when you play Penn State and Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State in a bowl game, trust me those guys will be really up for that. I’m even up for it! Because you grew up in that area, and that’s what we grew up in. These kids came here because our message was come play in the best conference in the country. We have a Big 10 mentality on our team, so it’s going to be interesting.”

On C.J. Conrad being able to play in the bowl game …

“Yeah. I’m not one of those dudes who knock on wood, I pray. I’m so excited for him because I still think this kid is very, not with our staff and I think even with our local media and our fans he’s very unappreciated. I’ll tell you, he’s going to play well in this bowl game then he’s going to East-West Shrine game. That’s where scouts are going to see that he’s really who he really is. I’m just excited for him because he means so much to me. He was one of those guys that, that ’15 class, where I think getting a kid like him, because he was so highly ranked, it really sent a message to the rest of the country that we really were recruiting some top-notch guys. I’m going to really miss him personally because he was actually like a son to me and him being out of that room (tight end meeting room) is going to be strange next year. I’m very excited that he’s going to get to play in this bowl game and finish his career off. I think he had one of the best careers you can have as a tight end, but also as a student-athlete and him being who he is.”

On if it’s rewarding finding the kids with a hunger and desire for the game …

“That’s like striking gold. You tell me, if in 2015 Josh Allen was going to win all of these awards, he probably should be the first pick of the [NFL] draft when you really look at a guy like him. I mean, the last guy I saw dominate like him was Ndamukong Suh when I was at Nebraska. He would just take over games from a defensive standpoint. When you’ve got 20, we signed 20, that’s what Stoops was saying, with the next five, two of them are probably guys you would say we’re taking a reach on. Let’s say with this guy he’s a 200-pound linebacker and we take him as an athlete, maybe he’ll grow into a 225-pound, 230-pound linebacker. You’re still going to look at guys. We’re still going to develop. The main thing is about developing our players. Maybe you guys will put him a four- or five-star, but maybe a two-star to you guys, but in our eyes that’s projection. We see him as a three- or four-star down the road. We’re still always going to recruit guys like that.”

On how to balance getting the top recruits while also looking at the lesser noticed players …

“You think when we get to a certain point, that we want to take this football program, that we are like you want to be like Ohio State, you want to be like Alabama, you want to be like Georgia, you want to be like Florida. That you’re going in and getting the Jimmy’s and the Joe’s. When you get to that point that you can take a 235-pound linebacker coming out of high school, run a 4.6, 4.5 (in the 40-yard dash). It’s easy to project what you’re going to get out of that, but you still can’t miss out on that you’re going to find a guy like Josh Allen or find a guy like Benny Snell. When I recruited Benny, it was more Stoops going to find that we couldn’t get a yard, an extra yard, or score a goal line one-yard run. He said let’s go get a back that’s going to get us that yard. I got to be honest. I had no idea that this kid would turn into potentially the all-time leading rusher and break all these yards. So, it is something about our development here. We’re going to keep on trying to find those type of players.”

On Tae Tae Crumes possibly being the best of the Louisville signees …

“It’s not crazy talk. I think Tae Tae is going to be like Jeff Badet. I think because he stayed committed and a lot of these guys want to be drama kings or drama queens and all that stuff, he stayed committed and sometimes you get lost in the shuffle, but this kid is fast. Ohio State was recruiting him, Michigan, Michigan State, he was committed to that school down the street, and we flipped him from them. I think you’re going to be very surprised with this kid and his speed when he comes in here. He’s going to be a great addition to our receiving corp.”

On five signees being from Georgia … 

“Georgia is the number one state that really produces college football players right now and I think even pros. When you have success, you’re not looked at as a joke going in there. I’m telling you when I was recruiting a quarterback years ago, and I went in there and started taking over his recruitment, Kentucky was looked at as, ‘Why you want to go there if you’re from the South? Why do you want to go there? You’re going to skip over all of these schools to go to Kentucky?’ But, when you starting beating those schools. When you start beating South Carolina, Florida, Missouri and all of those schools, Mississippi State, well, oh, this is a school I really want to go to. That’s what happened with us in Georgia now. This kid [Travis Tisdale], reminds me of Boom Williams so much. He has some traits like him. I really think this kid is going to be a homerun. I’m very excited to see him play.”

On the personal benefit of beating top programs for recruits …

“We really played a poker face with Cavon [Butler]. He took his visit this past weekend, and Coach Stoops gave him a good strategy, I’m not going to tell you what he told him, but he was like, ‘Hey, I know these other schools are still pounding you. Let’s let you guys [the media] think all these crystal balls that he’s going to Ohio State, and he’s going to Michigan State.’ Even though I know we said it to him in there, and he was good with it, I started getting nervous. In that state, there’s pressure that you guys really don’t understand. You got teachers in that school, you’ve got coaches, you got principals that are all Big Ten people, and they’re really pressuring this kid. I think what the kid did, he never said that because if he would have said, ‘I’m going to Kentucky Sunday.’ He would have been hit really hard for the next three days, and so he played a good poker face, but I got to say that’s why we were still texting him until midnight. You get nervous because that school up there is pretty good at getting guys. Personally, when we got Chris Oats, that was really a thing of saying, ‘Wow, we really battled these guys.’ We really battled these guys for Cavon Butler. I know Stoops is very excited about that.”

On what DeMarcus Harris brings to the program …

“He kind of reminds me of Garrett Johnson, not as fast as him but very productive. He’s a son of a coach. He really put up some numbers this year, too. You look at the stats, but what I love about this kid is he is an even-keeled, not flamboyant, not all on Twitter, he just goes about his business. He’s going to come in here and work, and I think you’re really going to see that, because I know you guys joke about it, but we need guys that can catch the ball, and he can really catch the ball. I think he’s going to a really great addition to that receiving room.”

On if he thinks coaches’ sons are ahead of the curve when they get to college …

“No doubt. I heard Mark [Stoops] get asked about Moses [Douglass]. Here’s what people don’t understand about Moses. Moses had about 31 offers. He had everybody. I want to give parents credit right now, parents like the Douglass’s, his mom and dad. You had everybody pulling at this kid. This kid never took another unofficial visit. He still had five visits where he could have taken visits anywhere, and the kid was loyal to this University and loyal to us. Some say because his dad played here, but his dad had an open mind with Moses. But he did say, ‘When you commit, you’re shutting it down.’ I really want to take my hat off to his parents there. Keeping a guy like that, he’s really been underrated because we’ve been talking about so many guys, underrated with the media, but this kid is a good football player, and he will play as a freshman. He’s a big, physical kid, and I know you all say, ‘Are we going to move him to linebacker?’ No, you want guys like that. You want to be intimidating. You see the big corners that we had. People were very intimated by our corners, so I really do think that players whose dads our coaches or even teachers, you see those kids are a little more polished. They’re no nonsense, and they are ready to go. I wish I could recruit a lot of high school coaches’ kids because they know the drill. They know what it means.”

On the one signee that we will look back and say that was a find four years from now …

“Me personally, I think it’s Shawn’Kel Knight[-Goff], the kid out of Louisville. He is a very athletic kid. He can play safety, he can play linebacker, he can play receiver, and he can play running back. He’s so athletic. I think this kid would have been a high four star but his circumstances, he worked in the summer and never went to really any camps, but he came to our camp and ran real well for a guy that big. I think he’s going to be a guy that surprises a lot of people. I really do.”

On signing a tight end from Florida after signing eight straight tight ends from Ohio …

“That will show you that I must really like this kid from Florida because this kid from Florida –have you seen his dad? He’s got guns like there’s no tomorrow. I really like this kid. He’s a very smart kid, just a respectful young man, and he’s big. He comes from a big traditional school, and I kind of want to go down in January when I got to go see him, I can go to Florida now instead of staying in Ohio. I’m very excited about Nik [Ognenovic]. Big Nik, I like him a lot.”

On figuring out which person you have to convince to help your chances with getting a recruit …

“I always tell our guys, ‘You better find out who the decision makers are quick.’ It can be the girlfriend, it can be the pastor of the church, it can be the teacher, this year, it was a principal and an assistant principal who had a really strong pull on a certain kid. In Moses’ case, I remember his dad would come up here a lot. ‘Coach, when are you going to jump on board Coach.’ ‘You’ve got to talk to my mom,’ he said. ‘You got to talk to my mom before I do anything.’ I think she wanted him to have his own way because his dad played here. She wanted him to have his own life, and I had to convince her, ‘Just come up and visit.’ Here’s the great thing about this city, I say the state, but this city. Since I’ve been here, we always tell parents and they come in and stay where they stay downtown somewhere, ‘Just go out, go into the community.’ Now, this could backfire against you if you really didn’t know this city, but they’re really for the most part, nice people here. They’re really respectful, and she said she didn’t even tell us she got a room, stayed downtown, went around, went to restaurants and people were just so nice and people were so respectful. She came back and told us because she’s a professor herself, she teaches at a college, ‘I could see my son going here, and I can see why he wants to go here.’ But, I think the people in Lexington really played a big part in their hospitality and just treating these parents respectfully. Because, you want to know where your kid is going to school. You want to know what kind of people are going to be around. So, I think that was a big part. I know she told me that, and if you interviewed her, she probably would tell you that, too.”

On looking back at this senior class and thinking they were a game changer when you signed them …

“It was a combination of our ’14 class as some of the guys redshirted and then the ’15 class, but yes. I can honestly say, so you’re talking about Mike Edwards, Darius West, even though he gets criticized a little bit, but Dorian Baker has really won some really big games for us here. I can go down the line with Josh Allen, C.J. Conrad, George Asafo[-Adjei], Bunchy Stallings, all five of the DBs. These were guys that we said we’re going to win some games with, and you start seeing it immediately with the ’15 class in their true freshman year. Here’s another thing, a lot of them redshirted, so they were true four-year seniors, I’m talking about the ’15 class, so we did look at it and say we can do really do some damage with these guys and win some games. Now, I knew we were close to beating Florida. I thought we should have done it in ’14 when we got robbed down there, and then I thought we should have done it the next year when they came here, but then we took a back when we went down there and got our teeth kicked in, was that ’17? Or ’16, Benny [Snell] lets me know that because he didn’t play, he was still mad about that. But yes, I think you guys will remember these guys, and they will go down as guys that really changed Mark Stoops’ program and changed the culture because I’m going to tell you, when you go places in the SEC, you better have some dawgs. We say dawgs or goons. You better have some dudes because you’re going to get ate up quick and for the first time, I think Steve Superior said it in ’14, and it was kind of like he said a joke, but he really meant it. It was a compliment. ‘They look better than their uniforms.’ What he was trying to say was that it ain’t these pipsqueaks coming out there no more, guys that don’t look like SEC players, so we knew in ’14 or ’15 that would be the class that we said we should win the East. Because the vision, that was hard, but we did it.”

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