"Today is a good day for us at UK football," Morriss, would say at a news conference, then. "It's a good culmination of a long year of hard recruiting, and we feel very good about the class that we have signed."
NCAA sanctions had cut UK's scholarship allotment to 16 for 2002, but 21 players were signed to fill the class that season, despite the restrictions.
On the surface, it seemed extremely encouraging for fans of the program. Middlesboro (Ky.) linebacker Durrell White would attend UK on an academic scholarship and five others, would grayshirt and enroll in January, 2003. Junior college transfer, Kamaal Ahmad would count against the 2001 allotment, thus allowing the ‘Cats to bring in some additional talent in January, as opposed to the fall.
Morriss oddly enough, arguably owned the state of Kentucky in 2002. He nailed down nine commitments from the Bluegrass state, including the state's top linebacker in White, top offensive lineman in Joe Brady (Fort Mitchell - Beechwood HS), top 100 safety in Glasgow's Randy Driver and two glamorous running backs in Ashland's Arliss Beach and the state's second overall best prospect in Monquantae Gibson from Moore HS in Louisville.
One thing was for sure, the staff needed someone to come in and contribute right away. They instantaneously felt, their two junior college studs would do the job.
"Obviously Ahmad and Chris Bernard, coming out of (junior-college) should be ready," he said. "We're counting on those two guys, and they were recruited to come here and play right away.
Ahmad, whom was unfairly targeted as the cornerstone of the new linebacking corps, was recovering from a high ankle sprain that plagued his entire career when he signed with Kentucky. In his first year of action, he recorded just five tackles in six games, with four coming in the UTEP game alone. He would play in only four more games in his career for Kentucky, becoming mainly a special teams practice player. He's considered by many to be the biggest recruiting bust in the Morriss tenure.
Bernard caught only 14 balls in 2002, for 197 yards and 1 touchdown. His 49-yard touchdown grab in an onslaught against the Miners was the lone highlight of his junior season, before a solid senior campaign. Despite only one productive season in a Wildcat uniform, Bernard was the most productive of the recruiting class.
"We're counting on Chad Anderson to come in and play some," Morriss added. "He's a year older and he's gotten more mature. Jared McGowan, the big lineman out of Mississippi, has a chance to see some time next fall, and Yancey Reynolds, the junior-college All-American from Georgia Military, was recruited to be a starter."
Anderson, whom was recruited by the who's who of America at the time, including Miami (Fla,), Michigan and Ohio State, chose the Wildcats because of the ties to his cousins, UK products Ellery Moore and Antonio Hall.
He was expected to be the biggest addition to the recruiting class and the future star of the defense, but after a mediocre freshmen season (1 tackle) and junior season (44 tackles), that sandwiched a star sophomore campaign that saw him average a league-leading 11.4 tackles a game, Anderson became more of a negative than a positive. Unable to handle the criticisms of new defensive coordinator Mike Archer and the added competition at linebacker, Anderson was ultimately asked to leave the program.
McGowan was one of just six freshmen who earned playing time for Kentucky in 2002, seeing game action in five games at offensive guard. Academics, which were a question mark from the beginning with McGowan, ultimately forced him into a transfer to Memphis.
Reynolds was a junior college All-American, yet never stepped foot on the field for the University of Kentucky football program. One of the more prominent signees on paper, Reynolds ballooned while redshirting in 2002, after losing out on the guard spot he was expected to be handed. The staff became so upset with Reynolds; he elected to transfer and was never to be heard from again.
Of UK's 22 signees in 2002, 11 were offensive players, six were linemen, and 11 were defensive players, with linebackers handling 4 of those spots.
Despite being claimed as Morriss' specialty in recruiting. Only three of the six offensive linemen that were signed contributed anything past a year and are still with the program. Oddly enough, all three were the least highly recruited of the bunch. Slaydon, Lane and Aitcheson are still among the scholarship players of the Rich Brooks Mafia in 2005.
Slaydon has yet to see game action at Kentucky.
Running back Beach and Holt are the only remaining offensive players from Morriss' first recruiting class. Beach had a breakout freshmen campaign for Morriss on special teams, both running and blocking, but it is Holt whom has contributed the most to the program. Lamar Mills, Smith and White are still standing as impact defensive players, with Mills having the surprisingly best career of the group.
Late arriving Travis Day has yet to make his impact felt, but the staff feels his potential is great.
''Our overall philosophy is to build this program with high school players (in Kentucky),'' said Morriss. ''We need to sprinkle in a few junior college players because we needed some immediate help.''
Sadly, of the nine in-state kids that committed to the program, only Beach, White and Smith stayed past a year. Transfers Paul Webb, Maurice Marchman, Monquantae Gibson, Brad Booker, Randy Driver and Joe Brady, all left UK within a year or two (Marchman and Booker both failed at return attempts, as well).
Some of the numbers aren't all that bad, though for Morriss.
This year, class of 2002 alums Michael Aitcheson (OG), Bo Smith (DB), Glenn Holt (WR), Lamar Mills (DT), Hayden Lane (OG) and Durrell White (DE) are expected to fill starting positions this season, making it nearly 33% of the class that has started a game at Kentucky. Not bad, considering, but with only two contributing backups of the group (Day, Beach), the class greatly illustrates why it has been so tough on Brooks and company to make the numbers grow.
In comparison, the first class of Rich Brooks in 2003 has the same amount that have started already; Ricky Abren (nose tackle), Keenan Burton (wide receiver), Draak Davis (running back), Joe Shuler (linebacker), Eric Scott (tight end), Jacob Tamme (tight end), and Andre Woodson (quarterback) all got a starting nod last season, the same amount of members as the 2002 group. Of the members that enrolled in school from that class, every single member of the class has seen game action, with the lone exception being Kurt Jackson. Jackson is also the only member of that class to be no longer with the team.
Even more impressive, Brooks' class of 2004 saw 14 of its members receive prominent playing time. Only five members are no longer with the team (Miller, Bullock, Wallace, DeWalt and Hannaford), yet only one has insisted he won't be back (Hannaford).
What does that say about the 2002 class?
Morriss final full class at Kentucky set the Wildcats back tumbling from the get-go and with the improved look of the future wouldn't have seen many of them get playing time, even if they did stick around. If Brooks has shown anything in his years at Kentucky, it's the ability to find talent.
Something Morriss continues to desperately seek as a head coach even today.
Best Player : Bo Smith (Owensboro HS)
Not highly recruited and coming out of a much undisciplined high school at the time, Smith was considered to be an average corner, with above average speed. He's been everything they said he ‘wouldn't' be and more for the Wildcats. A year after having to watch from the sidelines, he'll not only be Kentucky's best cover corner this season, but quite possibly have NFL dreams in his future.
Biggest Bust : Yancey Reynolds (Georgia Military Acad.)
At least Kamaal Ahmad made it to campus and participated in football for a couple years. That's more than can be said for JUCO All-American Yancey Reynolds, whom was overweight and under motivated when he committed to UK. He was the prototypical offensive lineman whom had little work ethic and whom got by with his size. Nobody in the SEC offered him a scholarship, yet Kentucky did. Perhaps they saw something offensive line coach Guy Morriss didn't. At the time this was Morriss' biggest catch to date. Looking back, it was the worst bust in the program's recent history.
Most Productive : Hayden Lane (Lawrenceville, Ga.)
You got to hand it to Hayden Lane. He was the least highly publicized lineman to come to UK and was received with little fanfare when he walked on to UK's campus a few years ago. Today he's one of the best linemen the school has to offer. Nobody has gotten more out of himself than Hayden, and nobody is more underappreciated for his efforts on and off the field.
Strike = Transferred/Quit/DNP
(*Slaydon has not seen game action, yet)
1. Kamaal Ahmad, 6-2, 230, LB, NE Oklahoma A&M;
2. Michael Aitcheson, 6-3, 270, OL, Killian (Miami, Fla.);
3. Chad Anderson, 6-2, 240, LB, McKinley (Canton, Ohio);
4. Arliss Beach, 6-0, 185, RB, Blazer (Ashland);
5. Chris Bernard, 6-1, 190, WR, Saddleback College;
6. Brad Booker, 6-2, 210, LB, Bowling Green (Smith's Grove);
7. Joe Brady, 6-3, 280, OL, Beechwood (Fort Mitchell);
8. Travis Day, 6-4, 265, DL, Carver (Columbus, Ga.);
9. Randy Driver, 6-1, 208, DB, Glasgow;
10. Monquantae Gibson, 6-1, 195, RB, Moore (Louisville);
11. Glenn Holt Jr., 6-2 ,175, North (Miami, Fla.);
12. Andre Jones, WR/DB Choctawhatchee (Fla.);
13. Hayden Lane, 6-5, 265, OL, Brookwood (Lawrenceville, Ga.);
14. Maurice Marchman, 6-0, 185, WR, Ballard (Louisville);
15. Jared McGowan, 6-4, 295, OL, Horn Lake (Walls, Miss.);
16. Lamar Mills, 6-1, 285, DL, Archbishop Rummel (Slidell, La.);
17. Kareem Reid, 6-5, 240, DL, Coral Springs (Fla.);
18. Yancey Reynolds, 6-5, 325, OL, Georgia Military College;
19. *Travis Slaydon, 6-3, 275, OL, South (Harlingen, Tex.);
20. Bo Smith, 6-0, 180, RB/DB, Senior (Owensboro, Ky.);
21. Paul Webb, 6-4, 275, DL, Johnson Central (Paintsville);
22. Durrell White, 6-3, 230, LB, Middlesboro.