The Kentucky 2022 football recruiting class has received a ton of early hype. It’s deserved, after all, it is the highest-ranked in school history. Kiyaunta Goodwin, Barion Brown and Dane Key are already household names. One player on the other side of the line of scrimmage is being glossed over by too many around the Big Blue Nation, Alex Afari.
A four-star defensive back out of Lakota West High School in Cincinnati, he was a consensus Top 250 prospect. The Wildcats have only signed two other defensive backs of this caliber since Mark Stoops got to Kentucky. The head coach is excited to have him on the field this fall.
“Alex Afari is a guy that we’re really high on too, with great size, and he’s very versatile. Just seeing some things early in him that I really like,” Mark Stoops said at Kentucky football media day.
“To walk in as a freshman and to move with his size and his length, he’s got a rare blend,” added defensive coordinator Brad White.
Afari admitted it’s great to hear the early praise, but he’s just getting started at Kentucky.
“Keep being consistent, keep putting that work in, even when coach is not looking,” he told KSR. “(I’m) taking it day by day and working hard.”
Where to Start with the Versatile Defender
Cincinnati tried to pull Alex Afari away from Kentucky at the eleventh hour because of his versatility. He’s a broad shouldered, 6-foot-2, 203-pound athlete that is fast enough to cover receivers in open space. As White put it, that rare blend is useful at multiple spots in the secondary. He can play any of the five positions, but what will he learn first?
“It’s always been my philosophy going back 25 years, when I get a big, versatile guy, I always want to start him at corner,” said Stoops. “I want to teach him those man principles and put him in the hardest position. Corner is one of the very hardest positions as far as application. Just playing that position is difficult, and who has the talent to do it. Early on, it’s only one practice, but I feel he does, and that gives us the big corner that we’re always looking for.”
As Afari learns corner, those skill can be applied where he might fit best: nickel. Few have the athleticism necessary to cover talented slot receivers. Afari has the speed to stay on them, and also the size to fit the run. He’s trying to learn as much as possible to help the team right away.
“It’s tough, but I’m getting it down,” said Afari. “I get with my coach everyday and we go over the plays. I’m still learning, still picking up stuff.”
White is Looking for Opportunities for Alex Afari
Some guys are so good, they force the coaches to play them. Brad White expects Alex Afari to do just that during fall camp. In fact, finding a role for the freshman is already on the defensive coordinator’s to-do list.
“Finding ways to help him be successful early is gonna be a big task for me and the entire defensive staff. Because when you get special athletes, you have to find a way to let them contribute, similar to how Trevin (Wallace) found a niche. Maybe it’s not going to be 70 snaps a game, but you have to find snaps early and often in the season. Special teams will be a big deal there as well until they find a comfort level,” White said.
“The bottom line is when you come in as a freshman, there’s a lot of moving parts going real fast and we’re installing a lot of defense, they’re installing a lot of offense. Things get jumbled quick and so you got to try to narrow it down, narrow the focus give them little pieces that the freshmen can handle because we have a we have a talented freshman class. The future is bright.”
Alex Afari is bringing a ton of potential to Lexington. What does that mean for No. 3 in 2022? It doesn’t matter to the freshman. He’ll be grateful every time he steps onto the field.
“I just want to take it game by game,” he said. “Whenever I get the opportunity to play, I’m going to be appreciative and love it.”