Kentucky offensive coordinator Joker Phillips thinks he could have four players make the all-Southeastern Conference first team next season.
Quarterback Andre Woodson, receiver Keenan Burton, tight end Jacob Tamme and running back Rafael Little all have earned previous honors and all are being mentioned among the SEC's elite in preseason teams that have been announced.
What this shows is that recruiting is not always easy to evaluate because those potential four first-team all-SEC players were not players that made the national recruiting hot lists when they were in high school.
"You always think they will be really good players, but you also still hold your breath," Phillips laughed and said. "The first day I saw Rafael carry the ball at Kentucky, I thought we probably made a mistake. His first carry ever at Kentucky, he did not look very good coming off that knee injury. I worried we maybe had a made a mistake on him. He wasn't same guy we thought we were getting. But as he got comfortable with offense and got healthy, four or five weeks later knew we had not made a mistake."
What about Burton? He's from Louisville and his high school was a stone's throw from the University of Louisville. Yet the Cardinals didn't rate him that highly. "Keenan came on the scene as a true freshman and played well," Phillips said. "Then he got injured and injured again. But I always knew after getting him here that he could be good."
What about Woodson?
"I thought Andre had big-time arm and was very, very accurate. I thought he had to mature as far leadership and the ability to prepare himself for a game," Phillips said.
Tamme was ready to commit to Kentucky when Burton told then coach Guy Morriss earlier in the day that he wanted to come to UK. That prompted Morriss to withdraw Tamme's scholarship offer. However, when Morris left and Rich Brooks arrived, Tamme was offered a scholarship and took it over an offer he was contemplating from West Virginia.
"I always thought Jacob would be a nice tight end when we signed him," Phillips said. "He didn't gain weight that first year, so we kept him at receiver. After that, we got him moved to tight end and it has worked out well. He's an athletic tight end that few teams have. Now our deal is to get him the ball even more."
Phillips remembers Burton not having many other scholarship offers and that Eastern Kentucky and Western Kentucky might have been UK's biggest rivals. No other school wanted to let Little play running back. Woodson was courted by Tennessee, but no school went after him like Kentucky did. And Tamme has his scholarship offer pulled.
Now all four are among the best in the SEC — and the country — at their positions.
"We have to be great projectors here at Kentucky. That is what we have done, and what we have to keep doing," Phillips said. "You can't get caught up in recruiting rankings. You have to believe in your evaluations and trust your instincts. With those four guys, it turned out very, very well for us."