LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB) -- It's not about the rankings. And it's not about the hype. Frankly, we've seen both heralded by the University of Kentucky football program and its attendant supporters before.
The Class of 2009 was ranked higher by Scout.com than anyone ranked Mark Stoops' first UK class on Wednesday. Four-star guys like Morgan Newton and Ryan Mossakowski, DeQuin Evans and Donte Rumph were going to change the trajectory of the program. The Wildcats rolled into Louisville and left with Mister Cobble and Ridge Wilson.
The marketing machine has played this song before. But here's why this time has a chance to be different.
Forget the rankings and take a look at who Stoops landed in his first class, and where he went to get them.
Exhibit A for a new beginning: Nine of the Wildcats 22 signees are from Florida. Three are from Ohio, and Stoops and staff also went into Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina and Alabama to sign players.
All are what you could call battleground states. And they signal a staff and a coach that 1). Is determined to slug it out in SEC territory and 2). Has an Ohio strategy that it intends to stick to.
"I said that in the first press conference when we introduced the guys at mid year, that we would go toe to toe with the best schools in the country and with the best schools in the SEC," Stoops said Wednesday. "We're not going to take a back seat to anybody; we're going to recruit hard. We will win our fair share. We don't win 'em all, but we're going to work hard." Exhibit B for a new beginning: Five of the signees, including two of the highest-rated, are defensive linemen, the premier recruiting prizes in a conference that features some of the most dominant defensive fronts in college football. This signals a staff and coach that know where the cornerstone needs to be laid where talent is concerned.
That one of those D-linemen, Jason Hatcher, is a USC flip out of Trinity High School in Louisville, is icing. His signing, too, signaled something, though the biggest signal of all might've been the way he was recruited. Stoops and most of his staff made a splash at Trinity when they visited. Let's just say they didn't come in through the back door. They came looking like they'd emptied every team store in Lexington of its UK swag. They showed up loud, en masse and in blue. Within minutes, word spread through the school that UK was in the house. They did everything but roll up into the lobby in a UK blue Escalade honking a UK fight song horn.
UK has had no trouble generating support for new coaches in the past. But the enthusiasm this time around is as much from the top down as from the bluegrass roots up. The university bought local ad time during the Super Bowl to run a signing day commercial. It is making an organized push for permission to bond its own improvements at Commonwealth Stadium, and enlisting public support to lobby legislators. It is, in any way it can, trying to exhibit an increased commitment to the sport.
Wildcat fans are following the lead.
UK fans have gotten their hopes up before. All you can say for Stoops at this point is that he's done everything any reasonable observer could ask for in terms of pointing the program in the right direction. He hasn't coached a down yet, but he certainly talks like a guy with a good understanding of what needs to be done.
He even handled the recruiting rankings -- a class ranking as high as No. 28 by Rivals.com, but also No. 36 by 247sports.com and No. 40 by Scout.com -- with the proper amount of perspective.
"I think that's fair to say, I think (ranking) matters a little bit," Stoops said. "I think if anything it says to the 2014 class these guys are serious, they know what they're doing and they're going to make a great commitment to recruiting and gives you some credibility, I would say, with y'all (media) and with the people and with the buzz out there. It's an honest answer. Yeah, you let's not kid ourselves, you want to be higher than not be higher, right?"
Can't argue with that. Or with much of anything Stoops has been selling so far. The hard work now, however, is just beginning, with a trap of an opening game in Nashville, and a rival riding high awaiting in Week 3.
Copyright 2012 WDRB News. All Rights Reserved.
UK RECRUIT LIST
Jeff Badet WR 6-0 170 Orlando, Fla. (Freedom HS) Alvonte Bell DE 6-5 255 Miramar, Fla. (Everglades) Javess Blue WR 6-0 190 Babson Park, Fla. (Lake Wales/Butler CC) Steven Borden TE 6-3 250 Waxahachie, Texas (Waxahachie/Kilgore College) Justin Day OT 6-8 305 Aiken, S.C. (South Aiken) Jason Hatcher DE 6-3 250 Louisville, Ky. (Trinity) Nick Haynes OL 6-3 305 Niceville, Fla. (Niceville HS) Jacob Hyde DL 6-2 330 Manchester, Ky. (Clay County) Jaleel Hytchye CB 5-10 175 Cincinnati, Ohio (La Salle) Jojo Kemp RB 5-10 190 DeLand, Fla. (DeLand) Austin MacGinnis K 5-10 175 Prattville, Ala. (Prattville) Blake McClain DB 5-11 190 Winter Park, Fla. (Winter Park) Marcus McWilson S 6-0 210 Youngstown, Ohio (Cardinal Mooney) Kyle Meadows OL 6-5 270 West Chester, Ohio (Lakota West) Regie Meant DL 6-4 275 Cape Coral, Fla. (Baker) Ramsey Meyers OL 6-4 290 Orange Park, Fla. (Ridgeview) Alex Montgomery WR 6-2 210 Weston, Fla. (Cypress Bay) Reese Phillips QB 6-2 225 Signal Mountain, Tenn. (Signal Mountain) Za'Darius Smith DE 6-6 250 Greenville, Ala. (Greenville/East Mississippi CC) Khalid Thomas RB 5-10 170 Tallahassee, Fla. (Godby) Ryan Timmons ATH 5-10 185 Frankfort, Ky. (Franklin County) Nate Willis DB 6-0 180 Pahokee, Fla. (Pahokee/Arizona Western College)