Stoops’ recruits playing large part for UK football this season

By Matt Overing
sports@kykernel.com

UK football head coach Mark Stoops is 1-2 in his first career head coaching gig.

He has, however, seen success on the recruiting trail.

After his his arrival on Nov. 27, 2013, Stoops and his coaching staff didn’t take long to add their first big-name recruit, landing junior college defensive end Za’Darius Smith. Smith, a second-team All-American at the junior college level last season, already has 4.5 sacks this season.

On the offensive side of the ball, Stoops’ staff recruited UK’s current leading rusher (Jojo Kemp) and UK’s top three receivers (Javess Blue, Ryan Timmons and Jeff Badet).

Newcomers made their mark in UK’s loss to the No. 7 University of Louisville on Saturday.

Kemp lead the team with 80 rushing yards. Timmons led the team with 72 receiving yards. Timmons, Blue and Badet were the only receivers with more than one catch on Saturday.

Cornerback Nate Willis, another junior college recruit, blocked a Louisville field goal attempt.

After the game, UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown said that he was impressed with the newcomers.

“Bright spots (were the) young guys,” Brown said. “I thought those freshmen played well. We’ll start leaning on those guys more.”

Stoops and his staff have continued to recruit well in the 2014 class.

Quarterback Drew Barker (Hebron, Ky.) committed to UK on May 10.

Barker hit 21-of-29 throws for 235 yards on Friday as his Conner High School Cougars defeated the Ryle High School Raiders, 21-7. He also recorded two rushing touchdowns and threw two interceptions.

Barker is the top-ranked prospect in the state of Kentucky and the No. 6 quarterback in the Class of 2014, according to ESPN.

UK’s highest-ranked commitment is defensive end Denzel Ware, according to ESPN. Ware (Crestview, Fla.) is the No. 89 prospect in the 2014 ESPN 300. He holds scholarship offers from Alabama, Florida and Georgia, among other schools.

The No. 2 prospect in Kentucky is four-star defensive tackle Matt Elam (Elizabethtown, Ky.), according to ESPN. Both Elam and Barker attended the Louisville game on Saturday.

Former UK quarterback Andre Woodson says he’s been impressed with what Stoops has done on the recruiting front.

“The way he’s presented himself and the university to all the recruits,” Woodson said. “I think (he has) done a really good job thus far, and I’m excited to see what he does in the future.”

UK currently has 24 commitments in the 2014 class. Of those 24 prospects, 11 are listed as offensive players and 13 are defensive players.

Stoops’ success on the field moving forward may be dependent on his success on the recruiting trail.