"Mama told me there'd be days like this..."
When it comes to Kentucky football, she never actually told me that and had she spoken those words about Kentucky football, I certainly wouldn't have believed her. The day started with a dream, a vision, and a fax machine. As we prepare to close the books on one of the busiest days in KSR history (unheard of for football, mind you), Big Blue Nation should sleep soundly tonight knowing that National Signing Day for Kentucky football was a huge success.
One particular piece of technology took a little bit of the spotlight today though. Even though the seemingly outdated fax machine has been the method by which schools obtain the letters of intent from players for years now, for some reason this was the year that it felt like everyone decided to talk about it. In my lifetime, I think I have used a fax machine a grand total of 3 times. I have successfully used a fax machine maybe once-- but that's probably being generous. Remembering to press 9 isn't always as easy as it seems. With all of today's technological advances, it does feel strange that a fax machine is still being used. With that said, there is something kind of neat and funny about imaging a coaching staff sitting around a little machine, waiting for the moment when a high schooler on the other side of the connection puts down their iPhone long enough to send the prized piece of paper.
Regardless of the sport or the school-- national signing day is a very cool and memorable day for thousands upon thousands of athletes across the country. Many high schoolers make a big event of it in front of their classmates, teachers, administrators, communities, family and friends. Some may hate on the hoopla of it all, but for these kids this day is special and one in which they deserve to enjoy. How many kids who play a sport their entire life, dedicating time-- sacrificing other aspects of their life in order to chase the dream-- actually get to sign a collegiate scholarship? Today was a day of celebration across the nation for athletes who's hard work has paid off, and for the people who have supported them in the stands and in life to come together and rejoice. And send faxes.
And now on to the news from a wonderful, wonderful day in the Bluegrass...
Heading into perhaps the most important day of the off-season for Kentucky football, I believe Kentucky football fans had 4 main goals/wishes:
1) Confirmation of all of the previous 21 expected verbal commitments
2) A commitment from a big time in-state player in 4-star Defensive End Jason Hatcher from Trinity
3) A pleasant surprise or 2
4) The continuation of the excitement that has been brewing since Mark Stoops' arrival in Lexington
Mark Stoops and his staff made good on 3 out of the 4 goals, with a fairly strong belief that goal/wish #3 will likely come true sometime in the next week or two.
-Goal/wish #1: Kentucky was 21 for 21 on the anticipated signings heading into this morning
. All 21 players faxed their letters of intent, with only JoJo Kemp putting a slight fear in the heart of Big Blue Nation as he waited a little while longer than the rest of the class to send his letter. Even though the verbal pledges had already come from all 21 players before today, Kentucky (as well as other schools) has been known to experience some signing day flip-flops and surprises (not the good kind either). That was not the case today.
- Goal/wish #2: Just after 3:00 p.m., Jason Hatcher put the stamp on the signing day festivities when he announced his commitment to the University of Kentucky. The general consensus, which picked up significant steam last night, was that Hatcher would in fact pick the Wildcats this afternoon. Hatcher, who originally committed to USC, backed out of that commitment yesterday before picking the Wildcats less than 24 hours later. Next to Ryan Timmons, Hatcher was the other prized in-state recruit for Stoops and his staff from Kentucky for this year's recruiting class. The coaching staff had a big challenge in swaying Hatcher away from the Trojans, especially with only a 6 week time frame to work with. Add to that the fact that Hatcher had essentially written off Kentucky as a joke, saying that he could never pick a school like Tennessee after they lost to a team like Kentucky. "You lose to UK, you lose to everybody." In 6 weeks, Mark Stoops and his staff walked into Trinity High School (not exactly an area of success for UK recruiting as of late) and pulled a major coup in changing Hatcher's opinion on the program. The significance of that change in attitude simply cannot be overstated (more on that later...)
- Goal/wish #3: Jason Hatcher wasn't necessarily a surprise by the time it was all said and done. And between Hatcher and the 21 other members of the 2013 recruiting class that we expected heading into the morning...there were not really any "surprises." With that said, Neal Brown made it very clear in his remarks to the press today that the staff isn't done with the 2013 class just yet.
With the likes of Tevin Lawson (4-star LSU de-commit) on campus this weekend for a visit, a few slots were left open in this year's recruiting class for a few late surprises. Don't be shocked if the final number for the 2013 class is closer to 24.
- Goal/wish #4: Matt shed some light on this with his 9:30 p.m. post, but the buzz around the Kentucky football program in the last few months since the announcement of Mark Stoops has been intense and ever-present. The excitement, interest and amount of attention paid to the happenings of signing day today for Kentucky by the fans was like nothing we've ever seen before
. The hype leading up to this morning, along with the confirmation of a top 30 nationally ranked recruiting class, capped off by a "home run" press conference filled with great quotes from the coaches... made for yet another exciting and buzzworthy moment for the Kentucky football program. Kentucky football matters right now. Kentucky football is exciting right now. I repeat, it's February and Kentucky football really matters to people.
Here's another look at the 2013 recruiting class as it stands after National Signing Day:
Jeff Badet (WR)
Alvonte Bell (DE)
Javess Blue (WR)
Steve Borden (TE)
Justin Day (OT)
Jason Hatcher (DE)
Nick Haynes (OL)
Jacob Hyde (OL)
Jaleel Hytchye (CB)
JoJo Kemp (RB)
Austin MacGinnis (K)
Blake McClain (DB)
Marcus McWilson (S)
Kyle Meadows (OL)
Regie Meant (DT)
Ramsey Meyers (OL)
Alex Montgomery (WR)
Reese Phillips (QB)
Za'Darius Smith (DE)
Khalid Thomas (RB)
Ryan Timmons (WR)
Nate Willis (CB)
The 2013 class includes 11 players from the state of Florida and 3 from the state of Ohio. Both of these states will clearly be targets moving forward due to the previous connections with the coaching staff.
The commitments of both Jason Hatcher and Ryan Timmons represent much more than simply adding two additional 4-stars to the 2013 class. After beating out schools like Ohio State, Florida, USC and Louisville for these two in-state players, it's clear that Kentucky is no longer a "long shot" for these talented local kids
. Kentucky has proven with these two talented young players that Stoops and his staff can not only go to bat, but can also succeed in the battles with bigger and more prominent out of state programs who have interest in Kentucky kids.
In my mind, Kentucky just completed the 1st of 5 phases.
*Phase 1 was to use the small time frame given to them to salvage a top 30 recruiting class in the nation
. Even though the class still ranks near the bottom of the SEC, Stoops and his staff secured a number of talented players who are of a much higher caliber than Kentucky is used to getting. The number of 3 and 4 star players the staff was able to secure in just 6 weeks time is impressive to say the least. They did in 6 weeks what Kentucky has not been able to do in the last 10 years. As of right now, Kentucky's recruiting class ranks as the 28th best in the country. 6 weeks folks. 6 weeks.
"We did this in six weeks. Give us a whole year. It's going to be good."- UK assistant Vince Marrow
*Phase 2: The staff has to strike while the iron is hot and ride the wave of a strong 2013 class
, in addition to the current level of excitement surrounding the program under the new staff. Kentucky has to hit the 2014 recruiting trail hard. According to Vince Marrow (see quote below), the plan is already in motion. Kentucky will be hosting a "Junior Day" later this month to get next year's recruits on campus early. Immediately building on the success of this year's class will be crucial. The staff will have plenty of time this time around though.
Marrow said he's already all over the top 15 recruits in Ohio for 2014. "We'll get the top guys. We're not taking third-tier guys. We're going to get five-star, four-star guys."
Stoops on the message sent to the 2014 class today: "If anything, it says to the 2014 class these guys are serious. They know what they're doing. We've been on the phone this morning talking with the top prospect in the 2014 class."
Assistant Bradley Dale Peveto: "We never really have an end to recruiting season. Nobody in the country wins with average or bad players." Peveto went on to call the 2013 UK class "difference-makers."
*Phase 3: Developing the players currently on Kentucky's roster
. Mark Stoops mentioned the necessity of going to work on developing the current players on campus in Lexington. Don't forget that Joker Phillips' last few recruiting classes at Kentucky were considered to be quite good by old Kentucky standards. Phillips brought in some exciting young talent, especially at the skill positions, in last year's recruiting class. Many of those young and promising players were forced to play a lot of SEC minutes due to injuries this season. Although the players already on the team may not have been hand picked by Stoops and his staff for the expected offensive and defensive schemes-- some serious talent still remains on the roster. The ability of the new coaching staff to get the current players to "buy in" as well will be huge. One returning player from last year's team has already been putting in some work in the off season...
Stoops on this next phase: "Very anxious as a staff to get back now and start working with our players. Next phase is to develop our players.
*Phase 4: The Spring Game--
The spring game already has more excitement built around it than it has in years. I fully expect that Commonwealth will be packed with fans anxious to see the new coaching staff in action. The spring game will be the first opportunity to show off some of the things fans have to be excited about when it comes to the Air Raid offense and the prowess Stoops has for successful defenses. The scrimmage will be yet another chance to gain even more momentum, especially with the fan base, heading into the summer.
*Phase 5: Playing the actual games:
We won't know how any of the other 4 phases truly add up until the team actually takes the field next season. Being excited about a recruiting class is certainly different from achieving results on the field. The coaching staff will likely need a few years to fully implement everything they want to with this team in addition to having a full roster of players they have recruited as well. With that said, everyone will be anxious to see the product on the field for that first game...
In a few other notes from the day... Mark Stoops was very complimentary of the fan support during the 6 week recruiting period for Kentucky
. He said not only did the fan base to a good job to generate excitement, but when the players started committing to Kentucky--they started working on each other.
"Players want to play with other great players."
As good as today was for Kentucky, the coaching staff still has its sights set on bigger and better things for the future:
"I felt there was great potential here, that there was some form of a sleeping giant here. It's a big challenge (talking about the many top classes in the SEC), but it's a real credit to this league and it's a big reason why I'm here. Let's not kid ourselves. They matter (the rankings). And we want to be higher rather than lower. And that's what we try to do."
After today, I think we can also rest assured that Mark Stoops has a tremendous staff in place around him. Stoops made it a point to hire on a staff full of great recruiters, and the results showed after a day like today.
Stoops credited Neal Brown as being a big reason why Kentucky was able to land Ryan Timmons. Timmons had a great relationship already with Brown and loved the Air Raid offense. Some of his other staff members (such as Vince Marrow), helped expand the recruiting pipelines for Kentucky to places like Ohio that had previously been a somewhat untapped resource.
And in one final quote from a great day for Kentucky football, assistant coach Bradley Dale Peveto had this to say about Mark Stoops, "Hey, if he tells you it's Easter, dye your eggs. I'm telling you."
Mark Stoops is the real deal, folks. It's Easter. Dye your eggs Kentucky blue.
In non-football related news, John Calipari and Orlando Antigua got to see John Wall lead his team to a 3rd straight victory tonight over the Knicks. The win was considered a pretty big upset for the Wizards. Wall finished with an impressive 21 points, 9 assists and 5 rebounds in front of his old coaches. #LaFamilia
P.S. Ole Miss is going to be good.