Can a Division 1 program win by recruiting the state of Kentucky?
A former Big 12 coach says they can--And if he was still coaching Division 1, he'd "raid" the Bluegrass State.
Dupont Manual head coach Dr. Oliver Lucas coached at Colorado when the Buffaloes won the 1990 AP national championship, and is now entering his ninth season coaching high school football in Kentucky.
"In this state alone, there's enough talent that if you take all the top guys, you can be pretty successful," Lucas said. "I believe that with all my heart and soul.
"My credibility is pretty strong with recruiting, because when we (Colorado) won the national championship--I can assure you--out of the 22 starters, 13-14 I recruited personally. So when I speak about talent, I know talent, if I don't know anything else. And I think (WKU head coach) Jeff Brohm, you know being in the NFL, playing in the NFL, he knows talent. And (WKU assistant) Greg Nord, who knows the ins-and-outs of Kentucky for the longest, he knows talent too. I have nothing but the utmost respect for both him and Coach Brohm, they don't 'chase rainbows', and you can quote that. They don't 'chase rainbows', they chase kids that works for them, and I think that's the most important thing.
"That's what I like about Western Kentucky, they know who they are. Above all things, 'know thyself.' And that's how you do it. You gotta take on some personality, and you gotta believe what you believe in, in order to be successful. I love the fact that, the personality, the thing that Coach Nord and Coach Brohm believe, the things they want to get done. It's a winning thing. And others will just have to take note later on, and that's okay."
One of the reasons some high school players fly "under-the-radar" in Kentucky is the lack of Division 1 schools even trying to comb the area for talent.
Outside of the in-state teams and a select number of MAC schools (Ball State and Miami of Ohio, for example,) what programs even make the effort to scout Kentucky?
You'll be hard-pressed to name many others.
"That's other people not doing their homework," Lucas said. "Some have gotten so lazy, the recruiting game, the college coaches, they wanna know 'who's recruiting this guy,' and whatever.
"But I know Coach Brohm, Coach Nord, they're doing their homework. That's why it's gonna be successful. Truly, they look at film, they actually look at film. They make a true evaluation, and that will make them successful. I don't even worry about that. I remember when I took (former Colorado star running back) Eric Bieniemy, yeah, Eric, USC and UCLA and others wanted Eric, but Eric was a 5'9, 5'10 at the most kid, was like 190 or 200 pounds. But he finished 3rd for the Heisman trophy, played 10 years in the NFL. I go for players, that's me, I look for players, I don't give a crap who else is recruiting them. If I like em', that's the only thing that matters.
"If I was still coaching in the Big 12, this would be a place I would come, and I would raid it. The schools here, themselves, don't respect it enough. To me, it's a sleeping giant--it just means you have to work. But right now, no one wants to work, because in my estimation, this kid has to be a five-star or whatever. None of that matters. What matters is, does that kid fit the system, and can that kid play for you. You can't get caught up in that other mess.
"I do wanna say this, I give credit, I appreciate a school like (offensive coordinator) Neal Brown, at University of Kentucky, forthright guy. He'll look ya right in the eye and say 'Coach, we like the kid, but we just don't think he's good enough to play here.' Well you can live with that, that's the truth, and I say if the truth kills a person, then let em' die. I respect UK because of that. UK has gotten one, two of my players over there. I appreciate that kindof integrity and that kind of honesty."
Though they held interest from the usual suspects (Gonzalez had Ball State, Toledo, Kentucky, Louisville and Cincinnati,) the duo didn't have the same offer sheets as similar-level recruits from other states.
"Those kids, they meet the eyeball test, speed test, and playing ability," Lucas said. "They do that, and if you don't look at the film on them, you get caught up in all that other smokescreen.
"Jordon has major, major upside. We had him out of position (safety,) and we take full credit for that, that's called overcoaching. That kid is a corner, he runs in the 4.4's, 10.8 100 meters, the kid has a vertical that's 38+. You can't coach that, you can't pass up on that. He brings that to the table, WKU did their homework and actually looked at film, saw him against Bowling Green. His daddy's 6'6, played tight end at UL, this kid is gonna be huge--a large, cover corner.
"When you look at Horton's highlight film, you know why. You don't block him, you can't. His arms, wingspan is unbelievable, and he's a hell of an athlete, he's also a starting forward on the basketball team. I mean, this kid's technique is great, runs like hell to the ball, you just don't block him one-on-one. He's also got nothin' but upside, he's just now coming into his own, in regards to it. He's just an athlete that is getting ready to be a great one. And one of these days, he'll play on Sundays. He can go, he's got a motor, and he's a kid that doesn't point fingers. He's a quiet, good wholesome kid that's coachable. You can't help but like Ty'Ron.
"To me--and not because they're from Manual--to me, I would have recommended these two kids to almost anyone. And any scout that comes through here, they'll tell you, I don't talk just about my kids, I steer them towards great players."
Only time will tell if the Toppers' shift from Florida to Kentucky will result in more wins or less.
But WKU fans don't have to dive into the crystal ball to see the diamonds that can be dug up in Kentucky.
Topper tight end Mitchell Henry has transformed from Honorable Mention All-State at Elizabethtown HS in 2010, to preseason Mackey Award Watch List nominee as a senior.
Given annually to college football's best tight end, Henry is one of only 38 players named to the award's preseason watch list, and one of only three from Conference USA.
The team's top wide receiver target in 2014 may not be redshirt seniors Joel German and Willie Mcneal (both from Florida,) or highly regarded junior college transfers Antwane Grant and Jared Dangerfield.
As of today, the Toppers' have 11 commitments in the Class of 2015, all from the state of Kentucky.
Stay tuned with WKUInsider.com for the latest in WKU recruiting and team news.