Kentucky Wildcats expanding presence in Sunshine State

If you're a Kentucky football fan who follows recruiting, you've probably noticed some not-so-subtle changes to the Wildcats' plan of attack after experiencing some significant turnover on the coaching staff.

Kentucky has been huge in Ohio since native son Mark Stoops arrived in Lexington four seasons ago, and the Cats will undoubtedly continue to hit the Buckeye State hard as long as Stoops is head coach and right-hand man Vince Marrow serves as recruiting coordinator.

It's an obvious strategy for any coaching staff at UK, although many predecessors have puzzled observers in failing to establish a solid pipeline with our neighbors to the north over the years.

Ohio is one of the top five talent-producing states in the country on an annual basis, ranking No. 5 in 2015 with 135 players going to FBS programs. The Cats strongly believe that they should come away with a handful (or two) of the best players in that state on an annual basis, and they've been doing that ever since Stoops became the UK boss.

But another talent-rich state has been something of a mystery for the UK program.

Florida, which produced an eye-popping 389 FBS signees in 2015, has something of an on-again, off-again recruiting relationship with the Wildcats. Stoops' first class featured eight players from the Sunshine State, but the three classes that followed included only eight between them. UK had no Florida high school players as part of its 2016 class. 

That figures to change moving forward, thanks in large part to some hefty turnover on the UK coaching staff since the end of the 2015 season. The Cats added three new assistant coaches in the spring with strong ties to the Sunshine State in the form of offensive coordinator Eddie Gran, quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw and wide receivers coach Lamar Thomas (pictured above). 

What we've seen since that time is an impressive spike in scholarship offers issued across Florida. UK typically had less than two dozen reported offers in Florida prior to the staff changes. For 2017, that number has already swelled to over 50, including a commitment from elite quarterback prospect Mac Jones. Several others in the rising senior class have already expressed high interest, including D.J. Edwards, a receiver out of West Palm Beach, Jarques McClellion, a defensive back out of Delray Beach, and Jordan Wright, a linebacker/defensive end out of Ft. Lauderdale, just to name a few. 

The Cats have also made 34 reported offers for 2018 and 10 for 2019 in the Sunshine State. Those figures are likely far bigger in reality as news is just now developing in regard to the junior and sophomore classes.

Why is that important?

As noted above, Florida produces a staggering amount of football talent. The "big three" programs in that state -- Florida, Miami and Florida State -- all recruit nationally and, as a result, will only claim about 35-40 of those players in any particular year. For example, FSU and Florida each signed only 11 this year, while Miami signed 17.

That leaves an enormous amount of talent for programs like UK -- and every other Power 5 school in the country -- to supplement their rosters. The approach has been particularly beneficial to Louisville in recent years, especially under former head coach Charlie Strong. 

Consider this: Approximately one out of every 100 players from Florida signed with an FBS program in 2015. The state accounted for 13 percent off all FBS signees that season. On a per capita basis, that blows away every other state, including football factories like Texas and California. 

If Kentucky is going to keep up with the Joneses, so to speak, a strong presence in Florida is essential. Stoops and defensive coordinator DJ Eliot already gave the program good connections from their time at Miami and FSU. Bringing on Gran, who also spent time with both the Hurricanes and Seminoles before several stops across the SEC, Hinshaw, who played and coached at Central Florida, and Thomas, who starred for "The U" and played eight years in the NFL, figures to give the Cats a significant edge over a lot of the competition. 

Don't be surprised if the "Ohio pipeline" starts to be rivaled by one out of Florida in the classes to come. 

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