The Wildcats got out of the gates strong and appeared to be in position to land another Top 25 class, but saw 10 prospects de-commit as the process unfolded. Six of those came in the final two weeks, setting up a harrowing conclusion for UK before Mark Stoops & Co. closed with a flurry of impressive 11th-hour additions that left Big Blue Nation feeling much better when the dust settled on National Signing Day.
"I feel very good about this recruiting class," Stoops said Wednesday as Kentucky announced the signings of 23 new players, including four early enrollees and two junior college transfers. "As you all know and have been following, it's been a little bit of a grind. It's been a tough year in certain aspects and great in others. I feel like we really hit on a bunch of guys we were looking for. The big thing you'll notice with this group is great size, great length, and we hit a lot of areas of need."
The class includes 13 defensive players and 10 offensive players. The Cats made offensive line, defensive line and secondary their top priorities for 2015 and came away with what they think will be impact players at each spot.
Two on the defensive line came through on NSD: junior college defensive end Alvonte Bell (a 6-5, 260-pounder who originally signed with UK in 2012) and his Pearl River teammate Courtney Miggins (6-5, 285) at defensive tackle. They'll join Ohio defensive tackle Javon Provitt (6-3, 305) and North Carolina defensive end Kengera Daniel (a 6-5, 250-pound early enrollee) to give the UK D-Line a new injection of size and talent following the departure of Bud Dupree and Za'Darius Smith.
"Two guys that stand out right away are Alvonte and Courtney," Stoops said. "Those guys are difference-makers.
On the O-Line, Ohio product George Asafo-Adjei (a 6-5, 315-pound early enrollee) headlines a strong unit that also includes Levon Livingston (6-7, 250) of Washington, D.C., Logan Stenberg (6-6, 330) of Alabama, and Mason Wolfe from Henderson County High School in Kentucky.
"It's always important to continue to build quality depth and get solid class after solid class with the offensive line," Stoops said. "It takes time to develop those guys, so I feel very good about that group. With that class, with the offensive line, it was good to get size once again. We needed more girth. We needed to be more physical. You've heard me talk about that time and time again."
In the secondary, UK signed perhaps the tallest group of defenders in program history. The group includes 6-3 Florida product Derrick Baity, who committed to the Cats on Tuesday night, 6-3 Will Jackson from the D.C. area, 6-4 Chris Westry from Florida and 6-1 Marcus Walker from Florida. Only Ohio prospect Kei Beckham, at 5-11, comes in under the 6-foot mark.
"The biggest area I thought that we hit was the secondary," Stoops said. "I know you listened to me enough after each game, we had some bad matchup problems at times. We played against guys in this league that have great size and great skill at the receiver position, and I felt like we really needed to upgrade and get some quality guys in the secondary."
It's a similar theme at wide receiver, where the Cats landed 6-6 Therrell Gosier, a one-time Miami commitment, out of Florida, 6-3 D.C. product Jabari Greenwood and 6-3 South Carolina native Tavin Richardson. They also added a pair of tight ends with nice size in Nebraska transfer Greg Hart and Ohio prospect C.J. Conrad.
"We're starting to build a quality group of receviers," Stoops said. "We have a good nucleus, a good group coming back for next year's team that's already on campus, and with the addition of these guys, once again, we continue to build some size."
Stoops added that tight end was another big "area of need" for the Cats this year. Two of UK's three players on scholarship at the position graduated following the 2014 season.
Rounding out the class were four linebackers (Josh Allen, Eli Brown, Jordan Jones and Courtney Love) and one running back (Sihiem King).
Kentucky did not sign a quarterback in this class, but has a preferred walk-on lined up in the form of Louisville Male standout Davis Mattingly (6-4, 225), who threw for more than 2,300 yards and 33 touchdowns as a senior. He was named the Bluegrass State's 6A Player of the Year.