NCAA F

Kentucky football program punching above its weight to snag a top recruiting class

Kentucky football earned a top-20 recruiting class last season despite a terrible record (©GettyImages)
Kentucky football earned a top-20 recruiting class last season despite a terrible record (©GettyImages).

The University of Kentucky football team has one of the nation's best recruiting classes entering their freshman year.

No, that's not a misprint.

And no, I didn't mean to write the Kentucky men's basketball team.

It's true. The Wildcats of the less-heralded gridiron variety have suddenly made themselves into major players in the college football scene.

They amassed a 17th-ranked recruiting class in the Class of 2014, which is shocking considering the fact that they slogged through a 2-10 season without a single conference win last year.

However, they've taken a huge step toward reversing their fortunes, with the help of a few key pieces that turned in their favor.

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A fast start

In early 2013, the Wildcats were already gaining steam.

Mark Stoops had been hired in November, to replace head coach Joker Phillips whose name was always much more jovial than his 13-24 record in four years.

In that sense, Stoops had the winning pedigree that can refresh a flagging program. He came from Florida State, where he served as a defensive coordinator from 2010 to 2012. 

The program went 45-10 in that time and went on to win last year's national championship.

Meanwhile, though Stoops' team didn't find much success on the field, he was busy building a winning formula off of it.

He quickly garnered commitments from five recruits: three-star LB Dorian Hendrix, three-star WR Thaddeus Snodgrass, four-star RB Mikel Horton, three-star DE Tymere Dubose and three-star tight end Darryl Long.

But it was the addition of a surprise player who would make the difference in Kentucky's recruiting endeavors.

A top quarterback

Few would have guessed that a 6-foot-3, 216-pound prospect like Drew Barker would sign on with Kentucky.

But Barker is from Hebron, Ky. And the chance to play a mere hour away from home can be a strange siren song.

The four-star player announced his commitment to Kentucky on May 10th, 2013.

After that, he became a recruiter as well, helping to bring in seven more recruits, to bolster the squad to a full group of 28.

An optimistic future

While that talented freshman crop will step onto the field and provide immediate help this season, Kentucky football fans would do wise to temper their expectations.

After all, they are still freshmen. 

However, that doesn't mean fans can't start to expect similar recruiting success in the future.

As of now, Kentucky has the No. 22 ranking in 247Sports Class of 2015 list. That's only two spots below Oregon and five spots behind Texas.

That start actually outpaces legacy teams like Wisconsin, Arizona and even Michigan.

Key commitments in that group include four-star athletes Eli Brown (OLB), C.J. Conrad (TE) and Alex Stump (WR).

But that group could really swell to a top-20 ranking if the Wildcats can ride their forward momentum to sign Rivals' No. 1 running back Damien Harris.

Harris, for his part, has not ruled out Kentucky as a possibility.

He cut his list down to eight schools in July: Ohio State, Michigan, Notre Dame, Alabama, Florida, Oregon, Florida State...and Kentucky.

Harris will trim that list down to five on August 1.

And if Kentucky makes it, they could possibly see Harris turn into the type of recruit who can spur others to come on board, in the same way Barker did.

 

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