UK was ‘dead set’ on get­ting into Ga. this re­cruit­ing cy­cle

Lexington Herald-Leader (Sunday) - - Sports - BY JEN­NIFER SMITH

Ken­tucky’s re­cruit­ing mes­sage has evolved over the last few years from com­ing be the start of some­thing great, to help­ing us be­come a reg­u­lar con­tender in the South­east­ern Con­fer­ence to now a sim­pler, “Let’s go beat Geor­gia.”

“We’ve climbed up the hill, beaten some of these other teams, but we got to get Geor­gia, we got to win the SEC East soon,” re­cruit­ing co­or­di­na­tor Vince Mar­row said on Wed­nes­day. “So that’s our mes­sage now.”

And to six brand new Cats — Mar­quez Bem­bry, Taj Dod­son, K.D. McDaniel, Quan­dre Mosely, Travis Tis­dale and Tra Wilkins — that mes­sage likely res­onates a lit­tle bit more be­cause that’s their home state.

Af­ter sign­ing just two play­ers from Geor­gia in each of the past five classes, the Cats pulled in six from there for the class of 2019. It’s more than from any other state, in­clud­ing Ken­tucky (five), Florida (four) and Ohio (three).

It was by de­sign.

“It’s the heart of the SEC in there, and ev­ery­body goes into Geor­gia,” Coach Mark Stoops said. “There’s a lot of good foot­ball play­ers in there. But we were def­i­nitely dead set on go­ing in there and mak­ing sure we get the right play­ers and get­ting good foot­ball play­ers out of that state.”

There was a man­date from Stoops to make a splash in Geor­gia, Mar­row said, not­ing that the area pro­duces a huge num­ber of col­lege and pro­fes­sional play­ers an­nu­ally.

“It’s a state that we wanted to get into,” Mar­row said.

And Ken­tucky hav­ing some suc­cess on the field against teams like South Carolina, Mis­souri, Florida and Mis­sis­sippi State has made the Cats a more vi­able op­tion to play­ers from that area.

“When I was re­cruit­ing a quar­ter­back years ago and I went in there and started tak­ing over his re­cruit­ment, Ken­tucky was looked as, ‘Why do you want to go there?’ ” Mar­row said. “If you’re from the South, why do you want to go there and skip over all these schools and go to Ken­tucky?”

Most parts of Geor­gia fit in Stoops’ over­all plan of re­cruit­ing play­ers who are six hours or fewer away from Lex­ing­ton.

“There’s good foot­ball there,” said de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Matt House, one of the pri­mary re­cruiters in that area, “and Coach has made a big point of em­pha­sis and re­cruit­ing our foot­print and get­ting out a lit­tle bit.”

Five of the six signees are on the de­fen­sive side of the ball in lineback­ers Bem­bry, McDaniel and Wilkins and de­fen­sive backs Dod­son and Mosely. Four of them are en­rolling in Jan­uary, too.

And for the sec­ond straight sea­son, UK grabbed a highly rated run­ning back from that area in Tis­dale. The Cats signed Chris Ro­driguez out of McDonough in the 2018 class.

“I re­ally think this kid is go­ing to be a home-run hit­ter,” Mar­row said of Tis­dale, a four-star

GET­TING WARMER?

Be­hind Ed­die Gran, Ken­tucky has made a big re­cruit­ing push in Florida in re­cent years, get­ting sev­eral key play­ers from a place where the of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor has been re­cruit­ing for more than 25 years.

Play­ing in a bowl on Jan. 1 in Or­lando, where UK co-of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Darin Hin­shaw also re­cruits, can only help the Cats in a state with loads of speed and tal­ent ev­ery year.

“I don’t think it ever hurts to get down there and play,” Stoops said. “And most im­por­tantly to play on New Year’s Day in such a big bowl against a qual­ity op­po­nent, and that ex­po­sure is re­ally go­ing to help you. But play­ing down there def­i­nitely helps as well.”

And see­ing a huge Ken­tucky crowd will be great, too. The Cats’ coach said he wasn’t sur­prised to hear that the school had sold out its Citrus Bowl al­lot­ment of 9,000 tick­ets be­fore the hol­i­days.

“We greatly ap­pre­ci­ate it and look for­ward to see­ing a bunch of blue down there,” Stoops said, and then clar­i­fied since the Cats are play­ing a

‘I FELT LIKE HE’D RE­GRET IT’

It wouldn’t be sur­pris­ing to see an ex­tra gift un­der Stoops’ Christ­mas tree from UK base­ball coach Nick Min­gione af­ter the foot­ball coach brought in quar­ter­back Amani Gil­more, who plans to try his hand play­ing for two Ken­tucky teams.

Ken­tucky’s foot­ball coach en­cour­aged the 6-foot-2, 200-pound dual-threat quar­ter­back to not give up one sport for an­other.

“I felt like he was too tal­ented,” Stoops said of Gil­more, a left-handed pitcher and out­fielder for Amite High School in Louisiana. “I felt like he’d re­gret it. I was a dual-sport player com­ing out of high school and wanted to do that in col­lege. I never got the op­por­tu­nity.”

In the spring when base­ball will pull Gil­more away, UK is al­lowed only a spe­cific num­ber of prac­tices and the Cats do that ev­ery other day, which al­lows for some base­ball time.

“There’s no rea­son where a guy with that kind of tal­ent shouldn’t go ex­plore it and go throw a lit­tle bit,” Stoops said. “He could throw the base­ball. And I’m sure Nick can use an arm.”

MATT GOINS

Ken­tucky’s de­fense and co­or­di­na­tor Matt House could ben­e­fit greatly from the ad­di­tion of five new play­ers from Geor­gia.

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