The Kentucky football program has been waiting a long time to sign defensive tackle Cory Johnson. It didn't close the deal on cornerback A.J. Stamps until Wednesday morning.
But head coach Mark Stoops is hoping both can make an immediate impact on the Wildcats.
"I'm confident these guys will come in and help us," Stoops said at a news conference Wednesday. That's why we recruited them. The fact that they're here for the whole next semester and going through our offseason conditioning and going through spring ball is very important."
Both play need positions and are significant signees. But Stamps was the more surprising of the two on Wednesday. The 6-foot, 190-pound corner from East Mississippi Community College went down to the wire before picking Kentucky over Ohio State, among others.
"We've felt good about it for a while, but you know its never over until it's over," Stoops said. "Then the last 48 hours some things turned, and it's always a hard-fought battle when you're going after players of this caliber."
Johnson is 6-foot-4, 300-pounder who played at ASA College in New York City. In two years he totaled 72 tackles, including 49 this past season. After his second year he was named first-team All-Northeast Football Conference. He had 4.5 sacks.
"Very productive player," Stoops said. "Big, physical guy. Very mature and again very active on the d-line. So very excited for Cory."
Johnson helped ASA College to a 18-2 record over two seasons, finishing No. 7 in the country after his sophomore year and was a part of ASA's first postseason win.
With UK losing seniors Mister Cobble, Donte Rumph and Tristian Johnson, Johnson has a chance to play right away.
Johnson picked UK over Miami (Fla.) and Texas Tech.
Also needing help is the Wildcats' secondary. Kentucky finished with three interceptions all of last season with only one coming from the secondary.
Stamps had four last season, along with nine pass breakups for East Mississippi Community College.
The 6-foot, 190-pound back will instantly impact UK's secondary.
"Guy that really blew up this year," Stoops said. "He started as a wide receiver his first year at East Mississippi. He played corner this year and just did a fantastic job. A big, strong corner, again a guy that coming in here midyear can really help us."
Stamps helped lead EMCC to a 2013 national championship and led the secondary with 51 tackles. Current defensive end Za'Darius Smith and defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh have ties to EMCC and were cited for helping land Stamps.
Two words Stoops used when discussing his newest signees was big and physical. Stoops said he realizes what he needs to compete in the Southeastern Conference.
"It's a physical league, there's no getting around that," Stoops said. "You have to be physical, you have to recruit good size. We have to develop the players we have here to continue to get bigger and stronger. So yeah, it's a point of emphasis."
Another point of emphasis was winning. After a 2-10 season Stoops wants to have as much winning as possible on the 2014 roster. Successful JUCO players will help. In a release, Stoops cited Stamps' "winning attitude" and noted that Johnson "won a lot of games" in junior college.
UK also has verbal commitments from fellow JUCO's Ryan Flannigan and Michael Mathis, but they did not sign with Kentucky Wednesday and Stoops was not able to discuss those players.
Stamps and Johnson will join high schoolers Drew Barker, Thaddeus Snodgrass, Dorian Hendrix, Mikel Horton and T.V. Williams as early enrollees.
"Two new additions to go along with the five high school guys that we already talked about, so that'll be very helpful for us to have seven guys coming in here (to) participate through our offseason workouts, through spring ball and all those good things," Stoops said. "So very excited to add those two guys."