Varsity Preps

Yahtzee! Kentucky’s 2014 Recruiting Class Part I

Before the Kentucky Football Program was taken over by Head Coach Mark Stoops, UK fans did not have much to cheer for. Recruiting was abysmal, wins were hard to come by, and the overall talent level of the football team was laughable. UK quickly became the laughing stock of the SEC when Joker Phillips took over, mostly due to the 2-10 record in Phillips’ 2nd and final season as Head Coach. AD Mitch Barnhart had to make a change, and it had to be one that would save the Football Program overall. Barnhart made the move to bring the DC of the Florida State Seminoles, Mark Stoops, to the bluegrass. With only months to finalize a 2013 Recruiting Class, Stoops did the impossible, signing a class just outside the Top 25. With names such as 4 Star WR Ryan Timmons, 4 Star DE Jason Hatcher, and 4 Star HB Jojo Kemp headlining the class, Stoops and his staff changed the mindset of UK fans of what was to come, and gave them a bit of hope for the future. Little did they know, things were just getting started for Stoops and company.

The 2013 season is just about a month away from kickoff for the Kentucky Wildcats, as they will face the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers in Nashville, Tennessee on August 31st. Although there is a lot of hype surrounding UK Football this season, the hype is mostly surrounding the 2014-2015 season, and the future seasons past that. Stoops has already been hitting the ground running on the 2014 Recruiting Class, carrying the #4 Ranked Class already, when National Signing Day is still 7 months away. This class is remarkable, with headlining names such as 4 Star QB Drew Barker, 4 Star DE Denzel Ware, 4 Star RB Stanley “Boom” Williams, and 4 Star Safety Darius West. Those 4 names are just scratching the surface on how talented this class is already shaping out to be, and giving fans a better prediction of what is to come with UK Football. I have gone in depth about every recruit currently committed to Kentucky, and those that could also be committing in the future. Here is what I have come up with, one by one, for every recruit suiting up in the Blue and White in the future.

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1. Drew Barker
4 Star QB Drew Barker is one of the biggest recruits to ever commit to the University of Kentucky, as he is listed as the 7th best Pro-Style Quarterback in the country. Having offers from several top-tier schools including Ole Miss, South Carolina and Tennessee, Barker opted to stay in state and attend UK. Barker is listed as the #1 prospect in the state of Kentucky, and has the talent to show for it. Although he is a pro-style QB, he plays like a Duel Threat, as he can run out of the pocket for positive yards, rushing for over 1000 yards last season, on top of throwing for an astounding 2,500 yards. Barker was recently selected as a finalist for the Elite 11 Quarterback Competition, one of the most prestigious accomplishments a High School Quarterback can achieve. Not only was Barker named a finalist, he finished as the #7 QB, making him one of the highly touted Elite 11. Barker joins some of the big names in the NFL and NCAA such as Matt Cassel, Matt Leinart, Kyle Orton, Vince Young, Trent Edwards, Troy Smith, Chase Daniel, Mark Sanchez, Jake Locker, Matthew Stafford, Tim Tebow, Geno Smith, Andrew Luck, and even UK’s own Andre Woodson to be named one of the Elite 11. Although not all Elite 11 finalists turn out to be top NFL prospects, a majority of them sprout into top NCAA Quarterbacks.

Drew Barker’s commitment may be the most important of the 21 commitments for the 2014 Recruiting Class,  and that’s not even because of his talent. Barker has been known as one of the best recruiters in the country, and he isn’t even a coach. He set up the Twitter account “UK 2014 Football Class” which now has over 8,400 followers. This account is primarily used for recruiting other top recruits in the country to the University of Kentucky, using phrases like “Join the BBN Family” or “You know who has the best fans in the country! Join the BBN!” to attempt to sway their college decisions. Away from social media, Drew recruits players from various football camps he attends, through other recruits, over the phone, etc. to try to bring in top talent with him to Kentucky, and it has worked thus far, as UK currently has the #4 class in the country.

Barker is already being considered as the next Tim Couch, one of the best, if not the best, QB in the history of Kentucky Football. Couch went #1 in the 1999 NFL Draft, and if Barker can accomplish anything near this feat, UK may have their Quarterback of the future. With Barker’s toughness, speed, athleticism, passing ability, and drive, he is destined for greatness in a UK uniform.

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2. Denzel Ware

2014 DE Denzel Ware is the highest ranked recruit committed to Kentucky thus far, listed as a 97 overall 4 Star Defensive End according to 247 Sports Rankings. With offers from schools such as Alabama, Florida, and Florida State, Ware should be the most nationally recognized recruit to commit to UK. Ware has only been playing football for a short period of time, but he is already taking over the game. Listed at 6’4, 230 lbs, Ware definitely fills the stereotypical “SEC size”, something UK has been missing for quite some time.  Known for his great first step off the snap, Ware collapses offensive lines and is able to attack the Quarterback at an astounding rate. For Ware’s size, he is one of the quickest players in the country, and is a force against any offense.

Kentucky’s Defensive Line has been a problem area in recent past, and is in need of immediate help. JUCO DE Za’Darius Smith will make a huge impact this year for his Junior year, but the talent surrounding Smith is not strong enough to be  competitive in the SEC. With the new additions of Freshman 4 Star DE Jason Hatcher, Ware, and Tymere Dubose, UK is looking to be set at DE for a very bright future.

Hoping to be the face of the Defensive Line for years to come, look for Denzel Ware to fill the void UK has been missing at Defensive End for quite some time. Beware opposing Quarterbacks.

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3. Darius West

4 Star Safety Darius West out of Lima, Ohio committed to Kentucky over some of the most prestigious schools in the country such as Notre Dame,  Miami, Louisville, Michigan State, and Wisconsin. West is rated as the #185 prospect in the country, according to Rivals.com. He is listed as the 15th best Safety in the country.

Darius’ recruitment was quite the roller coaster before making his final decision to attend Kentucky. Originally set to announce his intentions to play for Mark Stoops and the Kentucky Wildcats on May 30th, Darius delayed his commitment to a later date after other schools like Notre Dame, Miami, and Ole Miss came into the picture. As the days passed, the likelihood of Darius West suiting up for the Blue and White decreased. It seemed as if Darius was setting himself up to make a commitment to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, after planning to visit on June 20th and constantly raving about them in interviews. Here is an example of his bright words toward the Irish in an interview with ESPN’s Jared Shanker:

“Academic wise, you’re guaranteed a great job after you graduate,” West said. “Then, you have a great chance to go to the NFL, play for a good head coach, and they played in the national championship, which means a lot too. They couldn’t get it done against Alabama, but they still made it.”

It seemed as if West was taking his talents to South Bend, all until he made a pit stop on a visit to Kentucky on June 10th. He got invited to hangout with the UK commits who were also in Lexington that weekend, along with best friend Mike Edwards. Before this time, Mike and Darius announced they would be committing to the same school as a “package deal“, so if one committed, the other would also. Mike gave in to the other UK commits who had been persuading him to attend Kentucky with them and finally pledged his commitment to the University of Kentucky. After Mike committed, Kentucky fans all speculated that a commitment from West was also coming soon, considering they announced they came as a package deal. As UK fans waited, word broke out that Darius West was in a meeting with the coaches in their office along with several other Kentucky commits. A speculation frenzy broke out on social media outlets like Twitter, with all fans dying of anticipation for 4 star Safety Darius West to finally commit to UK. In the moment UK fans waited for, Darius made it known to the public that he would be suiting up to play for the Kentucky Wildcats in the 2014 season. All day long, UK fans congratulated Darius and Mike for making the package deal a reality for Cats fans. Darius is STILL being congratulated and thanked on Twitter by UK fans for joining the Big Blue Nation, but what exactly are fans excited for?

Darius is known as a playmaker with great hands, zone coverage, ball skills, along with substantial hitting and tackling ability. West fits the mold of the typical “SEC Safety”, with his 6 ft, 195-pound frame, and uses it to his advantage. Last season, Darius made 47 tackles, 5 interceptions, 1 interception returned for a touchdown, 3 forced fumbles, and 1 fumble recovery. After watching game film, it is easy to see why gaining West’s commitment was so vital in the 2014 Recruiting Class. UK has been trying to fill holes in their defense in the Secondary, and by gaining commitments from Darius West, Mike Edwards, Jared Tucker, and Shyquawn Pullium, they are doing just that.

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4. Mike Edwards

4 Star Safety Mike Edwards out of Cincinnati, Ohio had the most bizarre recruitment before officially committing to Kentucky. Mike and I have talked almost daily, and have developed a great relationship since late February. Mike’s recruitment started out with UK not even in the picture. He has made it well known that before Head Coach Mark Stoops came around, UK was one of the last places he’d want to take his talents to. After Stoops was hired, Edwards came in on a visit, and the interest was there immediately. Although never admitting it, UK was one of his favorite schools, and saw Kentucky as an ideal destination for himself. As more and more schools came calling, Mike would listen, but he always had UK in the back of his mind. The more visits, phone calls, texts, etc. he had with the coaching staff, the more he was hooked. He was never ready to pull the trigger on a commitment, and wanted to give every school an equal opportunity, but UK just seemed like the ideal destination at the time. He visited other schools like UofL, Ohio State, etc., and even still, after interviewing him after every visit he would say “I don’t know, they were all good. But I liked the UK coaching staff the best.”

UK Freshman CB Jaleel Hytchye is someone really close to Mike, also. Back when Mike was still in the recruiting process, he said that Jaleel tried recruiting him on a daily basis to attend Kentucky with him. He said that meant a lot to him because of how close the two are with each other. Mike said he felt the idea of playing with one of his closest friends, and even went as far as to call him his “brother”, was a great idea and would be something to think about moving forward.

A few weeks passed, and Mike felt he was ready to make a decision. He and Mikel Horton had decided to pledge their commitments to a school together on April 20th, but that idea would fall through last second. Mike told me the Wednesday before that he would be committing to Kentucky with Horton, but the following day said he had to call it off. Although most speculated that it had to do with his Head Coach not wanting him at UK, and his parents not liking UK, but this was far from the truth. Both Mike’s Head Coach and his parents felt UK was a great destination for Mike, but thought it was best for him to take his time with his decision, and take a visit to UK first with his parents before anything was made official. A few weeks later, he and his parents visited UK together, and his parents gave him the official ticket of approval for UK and said he could commit when he was ready.

On June 10th, Mike took a visit along with several UK commits and recruits to Kentucky, and had the visit of the lifetime. Without hesitation, Mike committed on this visit with good friend Darius West, making their supposed “package deal” a reality. Mike and Darius were comfortable with the organization and decided to let it be known they were going to be Kentucky Wildcats. But what makes Mike’s commitment so special to UK?

Mike is known as one of the most versatile players in the state of Ohio. He can play on Offense, Defense, and even Special Teams, but specializes on Defense at Safety. Mike recorded 56 tackles and 5 interceptions last season, but said his Senior year he was going to break the school record for most interceptions in a season- 15. He said his goals for this upcoming season are to go 15-0, and lead his team to a State Championship, and while that is a tough feat to accomplish, he said he is up for the challenge and believes he and his team can achieve that goal.

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5. Jared Tucker

3 Star Cornerback Jared Tucker out of Stone Mountain, Georgia is considered one of the “gems” of the 2014 Recruiting Class for Kentucky, as he picked Kentucky over some of the major schools in the NCAA like Florida, Miami, South Carolina, and Tennessee, among others. Tucker attends Stephenson High School,  which has produced several UK players including Raymond Sanders and Ronnie Shields. Tucker, who stands 5’11, 160 lbs, was recruited to UK as a Cornerback, despite playing Safety at Stephenson. Tucker says he will look to add on size his Senior Year.

Tucker is listed as the 44th best Safety in the nation, and he has the skills to back that up. His speed is tremendous, as he is listed as running a 40-yard dash in less than 4.5 seconds. On top of his speed, his aggressiveness is something special, with the addition of his great tackling ability. He is known for his hands, also, intercepting 7 balls last season, on top of dozens of batted balls with his aggressive defense.

After committing, I caught up with Tucker about his decision. He told me that he “loved the coaching staff’s energy towards me and I was really impressed with my visit. It really wasn’t hard to make a decision after that. I have a great relationship with the staff and I was ready to jump on board. The staff really specified that they loved my length and speed. They felt that I really fit the defense they are putting in. They said that I would be coming in and competing right off the bat, which is what I was looking for.” After asking him who he was close to that was already committed to UK, he said that he was very close to several of them but said “I talk with Drew Barker a lot. He seems really excited and happy about me coming in. I’m just excited for other guys to jump on board and ready to make this all happen.

I asked Jared what separated he and the rest of the nation in terms of talent and why he is a great fit for Kentucky, and he had this to say, “I feel I’m very coachable. I’ll listen and learn quickly, something other guys don’t really have. I can play multiple positions and be a big factor in all of them.” I asked him to sound off with a message to the Big Blue Nation, and this is the response I got: “GO BIG BLUE!!! NO FLY ZONE!!!

Jared is ready to bring that “swagger” to the University of Kentucky, and he wants the Big Blue Nation to know he is ready for a challenge.

 

Stay tuned for Part II of IV of the Kentucky 2014 Recruiting Class feature coming in the near future. As always, find the greatest news on recruiting ONLY here at Varsity Preps!

 

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