What’s next for Kentucky football?


Kentucky Wildcats linebacker Josh Allen and running back Benny Snell Jr. celebrate after winning the VRBO Citrus Bowl against Penn State on Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019, at Camping World Stadium, in Orlando, Florida. Kentucky defeated Penn State 27-24. Photo by Arden Barnes | Staff

Mohammad Ahmad

Having the first 10-win season in 41 years, possessing three All-Americans and winning a bowl game for the first time in 10 years are some of the hallmarks of the UK football team’s historic 2018 season. But where does the team go from here?

Changes, both positive and negative for the Cats, will shape next season. UK’s three All-Americans in the Cats’ all-time leading rusher Benny Snell, National Defensive Player of the Year Josh Allen and standout offensive lineman Bunchy Stallings won’t be around for another ride.

In fact, 16 seniors, including Allen and Stallings, will be gone. Nine of those seniors played on defense– the defensive backfield will be hit hard as Lonnie Johnson Jr., Chris Westry, Mike Edwards, Darius West and Derrick Baity Jr. will no longer be Kentucky Wildcats. Wide receivers Dorian Baker and David Bouvier and tight end C.J. Conrad departing leaves holes on the receiving end.

Despite the Cats’ hard losses, December’s early signing day brings fresh promise to the roster.

Five defensive backs signed with the Cats as UK football head coach Mark Stoops and recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow looked to fill the voids of the players saying goodbye. Taj Dodson, Moses Douglass, Brandin Echols, Jalen Geiger and Quandre Mosely have chances to make an impact.

Douglass is a top-30 safety prospect, according to Rivals.com and 247sports.com. The four-star recruit from Springfield, Ohio, was named the seventh-best prospect in Ohio. Echols, an NJCAA second-team All-American from Southaven/Northwest Mississippi Community College, was ranked as the fifth-best cornerback among junior college recruits according to Rivals.com.

The Cats ranked 33rd in the nation in pass efficiency defense during the regular season and had one of the deepest secondaries in the SEC. Coaches Dean Hood and Steve Clinksdale have a chance to revamp a secondary that still has breakout stars Jordan Griffin and local product Davonte Robinson.

Stoops brought aboard four outside linebackers to fill what he called the “biggest area of need” on defense aside from the defensive backfield.

Louisville native and all-state honoree J.J. Weaver was named the fourth-best prospect in Kentucky. Rivals.com has him named as the 14th best player at his position. The Cats brought another four-star outside linebacker from Louisville: Jared Casey. He was named the 15th best player at his position, right behind Weaver.

Whoever steps up in place of Allen will have some mighty shoes to fill as he led the SEC in sacks and holds the record for most sacks by a UK player. Jamar “Boogie” Watson should see more playing time after finishing the season with five sacks.

Stoops supplemented the depth at the tight end position with three-star tight end Nik Ognenovic from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Wide receivers Tae Tae Crumes and DeMarcus Harris will join the extensive depth of 19 other receivers.

Stoops and co. have not recruited any running backs– that means the young trio of Kavosiey Smoke, A.J. Rose and Chris Rodriguez will step up in place of Snell.

Although big name players have left the Commonwealth, new and returning players have a chance to maintain the success and consistency that the Kentucky football program has become.