football Edit

Brooks hails his best recruiting class

Kentucky football fans suffering through withdrawal symptoms since the Wildcats capped their season with a win in the Liberty Bowl got their fix Wednesday as Rich Brooks introduced what he described as the best recruiting class he has signed since arriving in Lexington six years ago.
"As always, I'm excited about our signees," Brooks said during a signing day press conference at Wildcat Den. "There's probably more (ranking) stars behind their names than in some of the past classes, but I will again remind some that a couple of guys who played pretty well for us by the name of Wesley Woodyard and Trevard Lindley had two or less stars behind their names when they came in here. We have a few in that category on this list as well.
"But clearly, this class addresses some needs. It has an awful lot of what I think are playmakers, as well as some big SEC-type offensive and defensive linemen."
Kentucky announced 26 signees on Wednesday, the first day prospects can sign letters-of-intent with their respective schools. The Cats also had a December junior college signee, defensive tackle Mark Crawford, who is part of a class currently rated No. 41 nationally by Rivals.com.
Signing day always holds its share of drama, and this one was no different as the Wildcats awaited word from several highly-regarded prospects who had been considering UK. They missed on a few – most notably four-star Atlanta Carver safety Darren Myles (Tennessee) and four-star Louisville Male cornerback Justin Green (Illinois) – but also received big news just before Brooks' press conference when four-star Los Angeles Harbor College defensive end DeQuin Evans faxed his LOI to the football office, picking the Cats over the rival Louisville Cardinals.
Kentucky also managed to avoid any "de-commitments," signing all but one of the players who had given a public verbal to the program. That was California junior college running back Josh Morgan, who may still sign with the Cats at a later date as he completes his eligibility requirements.
The lone surprise on NSD was a previously unknown, unranked running back from Alabama, Jonathan George, an intriguing athlete who has won state championships in wrestling and the 400-meter track and field event.
Evans' addition gives UK three four-star recruits in this class, equaling the most the Cats have had in one year during the Rivals.com era. They also signed three in 2006: Micah Johnson, Demetrius Goode and Corey Peters. This year's headliners are Evans, his LAHC teammate Chris Matthews, who plays wide receiver, and Texas quarterback Ryan Mossakowski.
Sixteen three-star recruits, including Indiana "Mr. Football" Morgan Newton at quarterback, form the nucleus of the class and should give UK a chance to continue climbing in the SEC, despite the fact that this group may finish 11th in the league recruiting rankings for 2009.
As of Wednesday evening, the SEC featured the nation's top-rated class in Alabama and 10 of the Top 25. Only Vanderbilt (73) ranked lower in the league, but Brooks cautioned not to put too much stock into the significance of those numbers.
"(The traditional powers) have certainly signed classes with more stars by their names than we have," he said. "But let's not forget that we have ranked 11th or 12th the last few years – I don't know, maybe we got to ninth one time – and we've been able to beat a few of those teams, we've been able to win three straight bowl games and we continue to upgrade our overall talent base.
"We're not where we want to be in the SEC, but this class, in my opinion, will help this program get closer to where we want to be."
Brooks has always cited speed as a top priority on signing days past, and once again he credited signing more athletes with helping the Cats narrow the gap in the SEC.
"I think we got some real good speed in this class, and you have to have speed, obviously, to compete in this league," Brooks said. "Anybody who's watched the national championship game the last three years can see the SEC has a lot of team speed compared to some other leagues. And certainly, this class continues what we had started several years ago in bringing more speed to our football team. I think we have it at all positions – defensive line, linebacker, secondary, receivers, running back… There's some very, very talented and fast athletes in this class that maybe have a little bit more size as well."
Brooks also noted how winning three consecutive bowl games and knocking off teams like LSU, Georgia, Clemson and Florida State along the way has made it easier for his staff to sell the UK program on the recruiting trail.
"Obviously, winning helps open doors," Brooks said. "Before, we were selling a vision of trying to get some things done. Now we're able to sell the reality and continue to sell the dream, the vision, of being able to get even better and competing for an SEC championship and going to BCS bowl games. I think the level of competition that this program has shown as opened up some doors. We were in more homes."
But that didn't mean focusing exclusively on the highest-rated players.
"We didn't forget what got us here," Brooks said, "and that's evaluating talent regardless of how many stars they had by their names."
The class features some interesting numbers. There are six players from Georgia, equaling the number of Bluegrass State signees, three from Texas and two from Memphis.
Brooks said a speaking engagement he had last year in front of the Texas high school coaches convention helped the staff establish some new connections in that talent-rich state, as well as assistant coaches Larry Brinson and Chris Thurmond having coached in the Lone Star State and maintained relationships there. In addition to Mossakowski, the Cats landed three-star linebacker Ryan Mosby and three-star tight end Anthony Kendrick out of Texas.
"We got a lot of information from some of the high school coaches on some players, and we know there's a lot of good players in that state," Brooks said. "And we do have direct flights into Houston and Dallas, so it makes it a little more convenient in recruiting."
He noted that the Cats presence in the Liberty Bowl may have helped with their two signees out of the west Tennessee hotbed, cornerback Martavius Neloms and defensive end Patrick Ligon.
Brooks hopes it all adds up to help UK football keep rolling in the right direction.
"Kentucky has had blips of success in the past and then fallen back and fallen back. We don't want to fall back. This class should put this program in great shape moving forward," he said.
According to Rivals.com, the following position groups rated among the nation's best:
Quarterbacks - 6th
Wide Receivers - 23rd
Tight Ends - 11th
Defensive Ends - 15th