Early signing period helps coaches on National Signing Day


Kentucky running back Benny Snell Jr. runs out of the tunnel before the game against Eastern Michigan on Saturday, September 30, 2017 in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky won 24-20. Photo by Chase Phillips | Staff

This year was the first year in which the early signing period was instituted in college football, and it worked out well for Kentucky.

The Cats, who secured 20 players during the early signing period and added four more on National Signing Day, finished with the 37th best 2018 class nationally and 11th best in the SEC, according to 247Sports’ composite rankings. That meant that all six of Stoops’ recruiting classes have ranked in the top 40 after National Signing Day.

“We signed 13 offensive players, which we needed, nine defensive players and two specialists,” head coach Mark Stoops said of the class. “It really is a complete class. I feel very good about it. It worked out really well.”

The biggest difference in this year’s class was not all 24 players signed on one day, which can put Stoops and other coaches under some tremendous pressure during the final weeks leading up to National Signing Day.

He was able to sign 20 players back in December, which made the month of January a lot easier in terms of recruiting.

“Had a chance to kind of hit the reset button after the December signing period to see exactly what we needed for this February signing day, and hit the spots,” Stoops said. “That worked out very well for us.”

All that free time also gave Stoops the option to scout out the 2019 class, which Stoops compared to the 2016 class that featured Landon Young, Drake Jackson and Kash Daniel.

“I also think it helped us get a jump, gave me an opportunity to go out and look at juniors, get in front of people, hit a lot of different places because in the spring, head coaches are not allowed on the road,” Stoops said.

The early national signing period also allowed the Cats to chase one of the more heralded prospects of the 2018 class, linebacker Chris Oats. Oats committed to UK on National Signing Day after the Cats and Ohio State had battled for his services on the defense.

Oats’ addition to UK’s defense will likely cause some excitement, as the linebacker was ranked as the No. 22 outside linebacker in the 2018 class by 247Sports. Vince Marrow, who recruited Oats, believes that it would have been more difficult to secure Oats had the early signing period not existed.

“I think us signing and having 20 guys secured really played a factor in me going forward with Chris Oats,” Marrow said. “When you are trying to get that type of kid, it is a constant that you have to recruit that kid every single day.”

Stoops added on National Signing Day that those final four players, including Oats, were critical to UK’s 2018 class, but he didn’t takeaway from the power that the early signing period did for UK, which could lead to more big-time recruits in future classes.

“I think the nucleus of our class was signed in December,” Stoops said. “I think that was very good for us. It was very good for the University of Kentucky.”