Stoops discusses staff, two JUCO signees


The University of Kentucky held a press conference to welcome new football coach Mark Stoops on Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012 at Nutter FIeld House. Photo by Latara Appleby

By Alex Forkner | @AlexFork3

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When new head football coach Mark Stoops addressed the media for the first time since his welcoming party on Dec. 2, he had a lot to discuss, most notably a new staff and two signees.

“It’s been a tremendous two and a half weeks, putting the staff together. A great group of staff members. I’m very happy with the way they’ve all come together,” Stoops said. “They’ve done a tremendous job recruiting, as you can see with the announcement of the two junior college signees that we picked up today. Tremendous addition to the Wildcat family today.”

In assembling his staff, Stoops said having some youth on the sideline was a factor in who he hired. New offensive coordinator Neal Brown is 32 years old, and defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot, who worked with Stoops at Florida State, is 36.

“The mold that I wanted was guys who had a little bit of a chip on their shoulder, who wanted to prove something,” Stoops said. “To get two great, young up-and-coming coordinators who have done it, who have been in big time situations and called games … We had to fend off some people. Both of those guys were getting a lot of attention.”

UK’s newest signees, Za’Darius Smith from East Mississippi Community College and Steven Borden from Kilgore (Texas) College, come from the junior college ranks. Stoops said both players had relationships with UK’s new coordinators, as Brown had recruited Borden while at Texas Tech, as Eliot had with Smith while at FSU. Additionally, new UK defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh coached Smith while at East Mississippi.

“I think the relationship, system, all that is very important to junior college players,” Stoops said. “With Za’Darius it was easy because he knows coach Brumbaugh, he knows how he’s going to be coached. Coach Eliot was the D-line coach at Florida State, he saw what coach Eliot did for the last three years. And then I’m the defensive coordinator and he saw what we did at Florida State for the last three years so if you’re sitting there … if you’re Za’Darius it looks like a pretty good situation for him here. You’ve got the D-line coach, the defensive coordinator and head coach all speaking the exact same language so that was good.”

Stoops said he like Borden’s athleticism and looks forward to him playing all over the field on offense.

“Once Neal brought him to the table, we were able to watch film on him. I loved him and felt like there was a need, felt like he was a very versatile player.”

Borden is the son of former professional wrestler Sting, who spent a day with Stoops recently.

“He came and had dinner with us and hung out for the day. It was fun to get to know him. Tremendous person and we had a good day and he liked what he saw here,” Stoops said. “I asked him in the indoor (facility) if he wanted to throw around a little bit but he didn’t want any piece of me.”

Smith, rated the No. 1 strongside JUCO defensive end by, committed to UK without visiting campus, as he had already been on his five allotted official visits. Stoops flew to Alabama to visit with Smith and his mother.

“It’s very rare, but I could not be more excited because it was a great lead for us,” Stoops said. “Here’s a player that has tremendous physical gifts. He’s 6-5, maybe 6-6, 250 and a tremendous player, like I said, an every-down guy. He’ll be great against the run, great pass rusher, just an impact type of guy. For him to come in and address the situation at defensive end was very critical.”

Both Smith and Borden will enroll at UK in the spring.

In Stoops’ mind, netting a player like Smith, who held offers from Florida State, Texas, Texas A&M and Miami, could set the tone for recruiting players to Kentucky in the future.

“There were some high fives in the office this morning, oh yeah. We were excited, very much so. It makes you feel very good about the future. Myself and the staff, we’ve been through those and we expect to win our fair share of recruiting battles, but that first one with a player like him in such a short amount of time definitely energized us, yes.”

Similarly energized is the UK fanbase, a fact not lost on Stoops, who said he is aware of the current buzz surrounding the program.

“It seems like everybody I talk to is very excited about (the program),” he said. “I had a chance to sit and visit with Tim Couch last night. Tim Couch said the same thing about how many people were excited. It’s great to hear. We’re going to need that. We’re going to need great support. We’re all in this together, and I need that. I mean it.”

As for the current roster and previous commitments from Joker Phillips’ recruits, Stoops said he and his staff would continue to evaluate and fill needs. He has already spoken with some verbal commits about looking into playing at other schools.

“It would probably be in their best interest to look at some other schools, just system-wise,” he said. “Everybody completely understood that. I don’t think, either side, you want a player that you’re going to sign and then come in here and be unhappy if he doesn’t fit the system and then have to sit out for four or five years. That wouldn’t be the right thing to do to those players.”

Stoops has created several new administrative positions that he said will focus on having a positive impact on the players, and said he will discuss those positions further at a later date. Stoops also said he would let Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart address facility improvements.

Stoops was one of the first coaches to fill a vacancy when the coaching carousel started spinning. Rather than wait for other jobs to open up, he decided UK was the right fit, seeing potential to build a respectable program.

“I felt like, and everybody in this room can agree, that Kentucky is chomping at the bit to get back and be competitive in the SEC,” he said. “I felt that and I felt there was a commitment by the administration. I know there’s a commitment by the fan base and I could tell from being here two-and-a-half weeks that there’s going to be a great commitment from our players to get this program back on track.”