Stoops is Changing UK’s Recruiting Culture
By Matthew Osborne
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Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops has proven that he is not afraid to compete with the rest of the SEC for star recruits.
Newly hired Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops hasn’t even been in Lexington for three months, but he is already making his presence felt in the SEC.
As is the case with any coach hoping to successfully resurrect a fledgling program, Stoops has predictably made recruiting high-level high school talent priority number one for him and his coaching staff.
Along with the increased emphasis on improving the Wildcats’ talent pool, Stoops is also working to change the culture and the mindset of those involved with the Kentucky program. Rather than “focusing on the recruits you can realistically land”, Stoops is going head-to-head with the biggest and best programs in the SEC and in the country.
And to many people’s surprise, Stoops has been remarkably successful thus far.
“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 commented at his recent Signing Day press conference. “We're not going to take a backseat 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.”
That tireless and fearless work ethic on the recruiting trail paid immediate dividends, as the Wildcats were able to secure letters of intent from high-profile recruits Marcus McWilson and Jason Hatcher late in the 2013 recruiting cycle.
While it is still way too early to make any lasting judgments on Kentucky’s 2014 recruiting haul, Stoops certainly has the Wildcats started off on the right foot.
Although the Wildcats currently only have one verbal commitment for next year’s recruiting class, that recruit is indicative of the changing culture in Lexington.
Denzel Ware, a four-star linebacker from Alabama, became Kentucky’s first 2014 verbal commitment when he gave his pledge to the Wildcats on February 12.
A former Florida State verbal commitment, Ware is widely considered to be one of the top defensive prospects nationally for his class. At the time he gave his verbal commitment to Kentucky, Ware also held scholarship offers from Alabama, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Georgia Tech and Ohio State, amongst others.
Kentucky’s lack of success on the gridiron in recent seasons is sure to prove to be a frequent hindrance in the recruiting process, but Stoops is determined to not use his program’s lack of recent success as an excuse for not attracting top recruits.
At the end of the day, Stoops still faces an uphill battle to lead the Wildcats to potential SEC East contention, but one thing has become very clear: Kentucky is no longer content with playing second fiddle to the remainder of the conference.