Top 5 Impact Signees

In this KentuckyScout feature, we break down the five players from Mark Stoops' first recruiting class at UK who we expect to make the biggest early impact for the Wildcats, including juco defensive end Za'Darius Smith.

Five players from Mark Stoops' first recruiting class at Kentucky who we expect to make an early impact for the Wildcats:

1. Za'Darius Smith – No other position on the UK roster required as much immediate attention when Stoops arrived in Lexington as defensive end. The Cats are losing two starters at a position that wasn't exactly a strength to begin with during the 2012 season. Enter the player widely regarded as the best junior college defensive end available in this year's class, Smith, who at 6-foot-6 and 260 pounds and a wealth of athleticism gives UK an immediate physical makeover. The Greenville, Ala., native had 47 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and 6.5 quarterback sacks this year playing for new UK defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh at East Mississippi Community College. He was a second-team All-America selection by the NJCAA and should hit the ground running for the Cats having enrolled in January and being able to participate in spring drills.

2. Javess Blue – This year's class was the perfect storm for adding help in the receiver corps. Kentucky returns only six scholarship players at the position, and Neal Brown's version of the "Air Raid" offense will require a rotation of up to nine players due to the rapid-fire tempo the Cats will employ. UK has had good luck with juco receivers in recent years (Stevie Johnson, Chris Matthews) and is hoping the aptly-named Blue will be the next future star. The 6-foot, 190-pound Florida native caught 65 passes for 1,064 yards and 12 touchdowns this season at Butler Community College in Kansas on his way to second-team All-America honors by the NJCAA. Stoops said Wednesday that, when Chad Scott joined the UK staff and showed him film of Blue, the prospect immediately went into the "must have" category. His 4.41 speed will be an immediate boost to the receiver corps' explosiveness. He'll play a lot from Day 1 and should rack up huge numbers in Brown's system. Other newcomers like Ryan Timmons, Jeff Badet and Alex Montgomery will all probably have an opportunity to play a lot in 2013. We could have just listed all the receivers, but Blue gets the pecking order nod with his proven production at Butler CC.


Nate Willis
3. Nate Willis – Corner is something of a question mark for the Cats as they adjust to a new scheme under Stoops and defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot. Kentucky has some good, young corners in the program – guys like Fred Tiller, J.D. Harmon and Cody Quinn – but definitely needed an influx of experience and physical maturity after losing seniors Martavius Neloms and Cartier Rice. Willis, who was ranked by most outlets as one of the nation's best juco DBs, is a great fit at this time. The Florida native brings good size (6-0, 180) and speed (4.4) to the position. He recorded five pass break-ups and one interceptions last season at Arizona Western College.

4. Steven Borden – If you're sensing a trend here, you're on the right path. Another junior college signee, Borden was brought in to help address a position that has been inconsistent for the Wildcats since Jacob Tamme departed the program for the NFL five years ago. Kentucky has rotated a veritable army of tight ends in and out of the lineup since then, but none have been able to give them the combination of edge blocking and receiving ability the coaches have desired. Tyler Robinson and Ronnie Shields combined for just 18 catches and one touchdown in 2012. Borden, the son of professional wrestler Steve Borden, aka "Sting," brings nice size (6-3, 250) and athleticism to the table. He caught 11 passes for 181 yards and four touchdowns last season at Kilgore College in Texas, where he caught the eye of Brown while he was on the Texas Tech staff. UK thinks he's going to excel in run blocking and be able to work the middle of the field for a lot of catches.

5. JoJo Kemp – The only high school player on this list, Kemp may have been the crown jewel of UK's class from the staff's perspective. To a man, they all raved about the 5-10, 190-pound running back during Wednesday's signing day press conference. Stoops and Brown both used the term "home run hitter" to describe his big-play ability. He rushed for 1,469 yards and 23 touchdowns as a senior at DeLand (Fla.) High School against some of the best competition any running back in America faced. In addition to his running ability, Brown said he's got the potential to post 1,000 yards receiving out of the backfield and present a matchup nightmare for opposing linebackers. He provide a nice change of pace to some of the bigger, inside runners UK currently has on the roster.


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