Coconut Creek, FL – In the past several years, holding an offer from the University of Kentucky was something that local kids liked because of the popularity of the Southeastern Conference.
Being able to say you held a verbal scholarship offer from a school in the SEC was a big deal to a lot of recruits in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
And it still is.
But something has changed?
Now, kids actually want to go to Kentucky and play football there. More often than in the past, high school teams taking their athletes on college tours are stopping to camp in Lexington, and more South Florida athletes want to commit to their Kentucky offers and “Big Blue Nation” – for the first time – is being mentioned among the top schools for kids with offers from traditional Power-5 stalwart programs.
Just this week, four-star defensive back Keontra Smith became the first commit in the Wildcats 2019 class over offers from Miami, Oklahoma, Oregon and Wisconsin.
— Keontra 🔑 (@IronMan794) June 17, 2017
Even the casual fan in the SEC can sense a shifting of power.
No, not at the top. Alabama is still Alabama and so is Florida, Tennessee and LSU.
But give attention to the potential shift that’s currently taking place in the conference with schools that have enjoyed seasons of success and have risen from past lulls are now seemingly headed back down the mountain.
Take the issues at Ole Miss, for instance, with the NCAA and its effect on recruiting. Coming off a 5-7 year didn’t help but now things have seemingly gotten much worse. And what about Mississippi State, trying to regain its footing in the post ‘Dak’ era. Going 6-7 the first year without the Dallas Cowboys starting quarterback didn’t inspire much confidence in the Bulldog faithful last season.
Not to mention the free fall of Texas A&M in 2016 and their SEC entrant partner Mizzou seems a shell of their past SEC championship appearance-selves.
And the random resignation of Steve Spurrier last season sent South Carolina back into a tailspin that a coach who lost his job at Florida is now trying to fix. Vanderbilt is still trying to figure it out but went bowling and seems confident in their new direction but you have to wonder is it sustainable.
The point is, there’s a real opportunity for a team in the second tier of the SEC to climb up to the first tier along with teams like Georgia, Florida and Tennessee in the East. Kentucky is looking to replace one of those teams by the looks of their on the field performance under Mark Stoops, has improved each year he’s been in town.
WHAT’S WORKING AND WHY?
Stoops is smart. As an assistant coach (defensive backs) for the University of Miami during one of its most dominant stretches in the storied program’s history, he had to have been taking great notice of who was getting it done on the field. The majority of the team was comprised of kids inside South Florida’s hub of Miami-Dade and Broward Counties.
The Kentucky program is getting kids on campus at a higher rate than ever before. More kids are getting a look at the beautiful landscape, the $125 Million dollars of upgrades to the football facilities, getting a taste of the dedicated fan base of BBN.
They’re not just seeing it, they’re really liking it, too.
Enter Eddie Gran. A coach with knowledge of how to recruit South Florida from his years at Miami rival, Florida State and at upstart Cincinnati – where he used recruits from the South Florida area to propel that program into a group of five powerhouse at the time.
Gran is an ace recruiter with lots of local coaches with whom he’s built solid relationships with. He has played a big part in the shift, but he’s had some help.
First-year assistant wide receiver’s coach Lamar Thomas is a man that created an open door for South Florida recruits at Louisville and is now doing the same for Big Blue. Thomas played not only for the Miami Hurricanes but also for the Miami Dolphins and is quite familiar with the area and easily relatable to recruits and what makes them tick. Being a Florida native himself, the inherent swag Thomas has – backed by a notable career – helps Kentucky immensely.
It didn’t hurt that he coached at Boynton Beach (FL) High, the same high school Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson graduated from when recruiting him to Louisville.
These are the ties that are turning the tides. Stoop’s staff has made a conscious effort to recruit talent from this area – and it’s working.
Kentucky Incoming freshman Josh Ali and others like him are “great gets” from this talent-rich area and guys who typically would have gone to other SEC schools but chose the Wildcats.
Ali and teammate Chris Whittaker started what might become a pipeline from his alma mater, Chaminade-Madonna in Hollywood, FL (a city just northeast of Miami). Chaminade is quickly becoming a powerhouse South Florida High School program again. Led by Dameon Jones, who reached the state title game in Class 3A in only his first year leading the Lions. Quite the impressive feat considering he got the job a day before fall practice was to begin. Most analysts, myself included, think they are a strong contender to win the state championship this year. Especially since Jacksonville Trinity Christian – the team that defeated Chaminade in the state title game – is now in Class 5A.
The commitments from big talents at Chaminade have been coming in.
Davoan Hawkins, a three-star DE recruit committed in February.
Officially Committed To BBN 🔵⚪⚫ pic.twitter.com/qAk1xvd5ft
— Davoan Hawkins 5⃣5⃣ (@D1_Youngin) February 21, 2017
Marvin Alexander, Jr., a three-star WR committed on the same day as Hawkins…
Tunnel Vision. pic.twitter.com/jUNdM3Hld0
— Marvin Alexander Jr (@Bj__4) May 29, 2017
Overall, four-star RB Auburn commit and team leader Shaun Shivers said it best…
— Shaun Shivers (@V8Blazing) June 17, 2017
And this just seems like the beginning for Kentucky who signed seven recruits from South Florida in 2017. In the Bible, seven is the number of completion. And for BBN fans, they hope Stoops has completed the rebuilding job needed to turn the program permanently right side up.