On Wednesday, Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops announced that the Wildcats have signed defensive tackle Cory Johnson and cornerback A.J. Stamps, but not without a few nervous moments going up against some of the nation's top programs.
"Coaches are competitive, you know that," Stoops said. "And believe me, we were working all night last night. This deal, one of them, didn't get closed until (Wednesday morning). We were working all the way through, and it's not easy. We're all competitive, and these guys are important to our program."
Originally from South Carolina, Johnson played at Chambersburg (Pa.) High School ebfore moving on to ASA. He signed with Temple out of high school.
A.J. Stamps (6-0, 190) began his stint at East Mississippi Community College as a wide receiver, but converted to defensive back and excelled in 2013. He led the team's secondary with 51 tackles, including seven tackles for loss and a sack, broke up nine passes and intercepted four as Lions won the NJCAA national championship. He chose UK over Ohio State, Mississippi State, Missouri and a host of others as one of the fastest-rising juco prospects this fall.
Stamps played at Vicksburg (Miss.) High School, where he was all-state as a senior after catching 77 passes for 1,289 yards and 19 touchdowns while recording 114 tackles and two interceptions on defense. His uncle, Sylvester Stamps, played for the NFL's Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Stoops said the staff was in a battle for Stamps all the way up to the morning hours of Wednesday, the first day that December juco grads can sign with their new schools.
"It's a grind," he said. "It's never easy."
UK may have gotten an assist on Stamps from the presence of senior defensive end Za'Darius Smith and assistant coach Jimmy Brumbaugh, who both came to Lexington from EMCC last year.
Both players will be able to enroll in January and go through spring practice with the Wildcats.
"Much like Za'Darius a year ago, to come on campus and go through winter conditioning and be a part of the team and be impact guys right away – that's why I'm so fired up about these guys," Stoops said. "Very good players."
The UK boss described Johnson as "a very productive player. A big, physical guy. Very mature. Very active on the D-Line."
Defensive tackle was a priority for the UK staff with seniors Donte Rumph and Mister Cobble, who each started all 12 games this season, and senior reserve Tristian Johnson departing the program.
Regarding Stamps, Stoops said: "A guy who really blew up this year. He started as a wide receiver his first year at East Mississippi and played corner this year. Just did a fantastic job. A big, strong conrer. Again, a guy coming in here at mid-year can really help us."
Kentucky returns several players at corner, but the position failed to record an interception during the 2013 season. The only two interceptions the Wildcats had last season came from linebackers Khalid Henderson and Josh Forrest.
Johnson and Stamps will report to UK along with five other newcomers – early enrollees Drew Barker (QB), Mikel Horton (RB), Thaddeus Snodgrass (WR), Dorian Hendrix (LB) and T.V. Williams (WR) from the high school ranks – next month.
Stoops said he expects the program to add 28 total players by national signing day, which falls on February 5.