In this edition of All Wildcats' "Four Downs," we take a look at four prospects from talent-rich Ohio who will be prime UK targets in the Class of 2018.
Kentucky recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow noted on National Signing Day that it will be another banner year for elite recruiting targets in his old stomping grounds, and you can bet he's eager to get some of them on campus as soon as possible. If the Cats can find a way to pull just one of these four players out of Ohio, it would go a long way toward helping them take the next step in competing for a national Top 25 class.
Here are the four highest-rated players to keep a close eye on:
1. JAELEN GILL, RB
Gill is currently rated the No. 69 prospect in the junior class by Scout after a terrific showing at The Opening events last spring and summer. He missed his junior season with a broken ankle, but still commands respect as one of the top players at his position nationally. The offer sheet already includes programs like UK, Ohio State, Michigan, Notre Dame, Penn State, Florida, Tennessee, USC, and a host of others, which could look daunting to Big Blue Nation, but there are two things an optimist should consider: (1) Gill is from Westerville, the same town that produced current UK standout Benny Snell and the same program (South HS) that produced former Cat Darryl Long; and (2) Kentucky's offense under Eddie Gran may be extremely attractive to backs coming off a year when the Cats developed a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in Snell and Boom Williams. Remember what UK head coach Mark Stoops said when he was hired and reiterated earlier this month on NSD: the Cats are not going to back down from anyone in recruiting battles.
2. CHRIS OATS, LB
Cincinnati is home to the Midwest's No. 1 linebacker in the Class of 2018. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Oats is currently ranked No. 92 nationally by Scout and is the type of long, rangy, versatile athlete that the Cats love at their outside linebacker position. He holds early scholarship offers from UK, Ohio State, Michigan State, Oklahoma, and Cincinnati while commanding strong interest from a long list of other top programs. Oats plays for Winton Woods High School, which produced current UK safety Mike Edwards. Stoops & Co. should be making an all-out push for this potential impact defender.
3. DALLAS GANT, LB
Another four-star outside linebacker prospect, Gant (6-3, 208) is rated the No. 2 player at his position in the Midwest behind only Oats. The Toledo St. John's Jesuit standout is currently ranked No. 113 overall by Scout nationally and holds offers from programs like UK, Ohio State, Michigan, Notre Dame, Michigan State, Penn State, Louisville, and UCLA. He possesses the type of speed and aggressiveness that are reminiscent of current UK standout Jordan Jones. Early on, it sounds like it will be an extreme challenge to get him away from the Big Ten powers -- especially the home state Buckeyes -- but some of Marrow's best work has come in northern Ohio.
4. TYREKE SMITH, DE
Some familiar competitors are lining up for the four-star defensive end from Cleveland Heights: Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Penn State, along with some SEC foes like LSU and Tennessee. The 6-foot-4, 255-pound Smith has a strong relationship with Marrow, who issued one of his first scholarship offers prior to last season. He is currently rated the No. 1 defensive end in the Midwest and the No. 162 prospect overall. This position will be a major priority for the Cats in the Class of 2018, and Smith may wind up at the top of the wish list. He's the type of difference-maker setting the edge and rushing the passer that UK hasn't had since Za'Darius Smith departed.
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