Stoops promised UK would not take back seat

When Mark Stoops was introduced as Kentucky's new head football coach, he promised the Big Blue Nation that the Wildcats would go toe to toe with the nation's best programs on the recruiting trail. National signing day proved he could deliver on that promise.

The message was loud and clear as Kentucky's new staff went into football hotbeds like Florida and Ohio to pick up one highly-rated prospect after another and also defended its home turf in the Bluegrass State en route to the Wildcats' best signing class in recent memory.

"I said that in the first press conference when we introduced the guys at mid year, that we would go toe to toe with the best schools in the country and with the best schools in the SEC," UK head coach Mark Stoops said Wednesday after formally welcoming 22 new players to the program.

"We're not going to take a backseat to anybody. We're going to recruit hard. We will win our fair share. We don't win ‘em all, but we're going to work hard."

The staff's efforts resulted in a class that is currently rated No. 40 by Scout, but could get even better as the Wildcats anticipate adding two or three more players later this month. It's a stark contrast from the mid-60s ranking UK was sporting prior to Stoops' arrival.

In the last week, the Wildcats beat some of college football's recruiting heavyweights for top prospects. They beat Tennessee for Florida running back JoJo Kemp. They beat Ohio State and Florida for Franklin County (Ky.) receiver Ryan Timmons. And last but certainly not least, they managed to flip Louisville (Ky.) Trinity defensive end Jason Hatcher from Southern California on signing day.

It's a far cry from winning recruiting battles over familiar sparring partners like Memphis, Middle Tennessee, Southern Miss and the MAC in recent years.

Stoops credited assistant coaches who have developed strong recruiting ties during their careers.

"The first year it's important when you hire guys that they have some connections, so that's a big part of it – guys with relationships that they have had either with players or with coaches," he said.

Coaches like Vince Marrow, who used his ties in the Buckeye State to help the Cats land four-star Youngstown Cardinal Mooney safety Marcus McWilson, three-star Cincinnati defensive back Jaleel Hytchye and three-star West Chester offensive lineman Kyle Meadows.

And Jimmy Brumbaugh, who was able to bring Za'Darius Smith, considered by many to be the best junior college defensive end available for 2013, with him from East Mississippi Community College.

And Chad Scott, who had established a three-year relationship with elite juco wideout Javess Blue, a player Stoops referred to as a "must have" after seeing his game film for the first time. Scott was also cited by Kemp as a big factor in his decision to bring his electric playmaking to Lexington.

Or new offensive coordinator Neal Brown, who likely influenced the final decision of every offensive player who signed with the Cats based on the pinball-like numbers he helped Texas Tech put on the scoreboard every week.

Don't forget new defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot, either, whose reputation for developing ends like Bjoern Werner (a 3-star prospect out of high school) into perhaps the top prospect at his position in this year's NFL Draft certainly played a role in being able to sign Smith, Hatcher and four-star Florida prospect Alvonte Bell.

"It was a group effort," Stoops said.

The new UK boss also thanked another recruiting assistant of sorts.

"I would like to thank the BBN," he said in reference to the Big Blue Nation. "Tremendous support. I think our recruits felt their presence. They felt the support of the fan base, so there's a lot of things that go into it, but great effort by our staff, great work ethic and a fantastic job."

The goal now is to carry the momentum over to the junior class.

"We feel like we have great momentum," Stoops said. "… We've been on the phone this morning talking to the top prospects in the '14 class, and we have been evaluating the '14 class for a week or so, which puts us behind, but we had to put so much time and energy and concentration into this class."

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