It's no secret that Kentucky's defensive line is still a work in progress and four-star junior college defensive lineman Emmit Gooden is a player who could make an immediate impact in 2018 if he chooses the Cats.
Gooden was recruited by Kentucky when he was a four-star high school recruit from Tennessee in the Class of 2016, and now as a four-star JUCO prospect who recently decommitted from Arkansas he's seriously considering Kentucky again.
Last week Gooden first told Cats Illustrated that Kentucky and Arizona State are his favorites. He plans to officially visit Arizona State in late November and is open to an official visit to Kentucky the weekend of December 15th.
Here's our full conversation with Gooden from the weekend.
Cats Illustrated: When you talk to coaches from Kentucky's staff, who are you mostly communicating with these days?
Emmit Gooden: I hear from Coach (Dillon) Sanders, the D-Line coach (Derrick LeBlanc) and Coach Luke (Walerius), a recruiting assistant. Those are the ones I'm hearing from for the most part.
Cats Illustrated: When Kentucky was recruiting you back when you were in high school who were your main contacts from the staff?
Gooden: Back then it was Coach (Jimmy) Brumbaugh and Coach (Derrick) Ansley.
Cats Illustrated: So is it fair to say that Kentucky is not new to you, but you're still building some important new relationships at the school?
Gooden: Yes, that's right. I find the coaching staff up there as stable. Maybe they've had a few changes but not many.
Cats Illustrated: How big of a factor is that coaching stability as you're looking to make a decision in the weeks ahead?
Gooden: I mean that's huge. When I was first getting recruited by Kentucky the coaches recruiting me had been there at least a couple of years. They weren't bouncing from school to school. It goes to show the staff is kind of stable and they like the (coaches) they bring in.
Cats Illustrated: What's your relationship like with Derrick LeBlanc right now?
Gooden: He's coached at the JC level so he knows what to expect out of a JC guy and he thinks I've got what it takes to be one of those guys that come in and help them on the D-Line.
Cats Illustrated: Have they talked about the success they've had with guys like Za'Darius Smith and some of the other JUCO's they've had under Mark Stoops?
Gooden: Not really but I know the success. I know when I was getting recruited by them before they had a guy, Cory (Johnson). He was a JC guy and he was pretty dominant at Kentucky. I know they've also had Bud (Dupree) and people like that so they've had some good players come through.
Cats Illustrated: So staff stability is a big focus for you. Most JUCO's are looking for that situation where they can step in and play right away. How closely are you looking at rosters and depth charts to make sure you've got that at the places you're hearing from?
Gooden: Not really a whole lot. You know, being a JC guy you know if a school is recruiting you they're recruiting you to play early. For a high school guy you might know you're not going to play at all or that much, but being a JC guy you've got a lot more freedom to come in because of that experience rather than a high school guy. I know that any school that's recruiting me, they like me and they need depth.
Cats Illustrated: Would you say that because of your long experience with the recruiting process, dating back to high school, you're looking at different things now as opposed to when you did this the first time around? Has your mindset changed in terms of what you're looking for?
Gooden: Yes, I would say I've matured a lot, rather than my high school recruiting days. I would say those were kinda about hype. It was more about hype. Now I'm more mature. I know a lot. I've seen it all. I know what's what.
Cats Illustrated: Is it safe to say Kentucky has made playing time and immediate help a big part of their pitch?
Gooden: That's kinda what their selling point is. They need me coming up on the D-Line and they just need a JC guy. For a recruit like me, that's all I need to hear. I've seen it all, now it's all about finding the right fit.
Cats Illustrated: Did you ever visit Kentucky when you were a high school recruit?
Gooden: I came when they played Missouri. They beat Missouri (in 2015). I was there for an unofficial.
Cats Illustrated: So you've said that you're visiting Arizona State later this month and you're open to visiting Kentucky. Is that where things stand? Is the Kentucky trip set or is it up in the air?
Gooden: That's kind of up in the air, yes.
Cats Illustrated: Has Kentucky told you what position they want you to play if you go up there?
Gooden: Not really. I can play all three. It's a three down front so I could play all three and it doesn't matter.
Cats Illustrated: Talk about your interest in Arizona State, since that's the other main school involved with you right now.
Gooden: Arizona State is a school that I've been talking to for a while also. The D-Line coach who recruited me a while back in high school, he actually left. I don't think he's coaching nowhere now. I've been knowing about Arizona State, though. They've been in my recruiting for a while. I had never had any contact with the head coach (Todd Graham) and all of a sudden he's playing a role in the recruiting process for me. He's got (defensive line) Coach Michael Slater and (offensive coordinator/QB) Coach Billy Napier. He recruited me at Alabama. I know the guys from there right now but it will be my first time going out there and visiting.
Cats Illustrated: For a guy from the South, you've made one big transition to the JC level in Kansas. What about for a guy from SEC country going to the Pac-12? Do you think that would be a big adjustment in terms of it not being as familiar or far from home? Is that something you know you're comfortable with or will the visit determine that for you?
Gooden: I mean, I've been everywhere in the country. I kinda thought I was gonna get homesick coming out here in Kansas. I would have to say it's just about the people around you. I think it's the people around you that make you feel at home.
Cats Illustrated: A lot of people might think, "OK, he's definitely visiting Arizona State but he's not sure if he's visiting Kentucky. Does that mean Arizona State has an edge?" What would you say about that and is there truth to it or is that assuming too much?
Gooden: It's hard to say, man. It's just hard to say right now.