Mike Dyer reports:
Lakota West football coach Larry Cox hasn’t seen such a significant recruiting push from the University of Kentucky in Southwest Ohio in his 26 years of coaching as he has this year.
UK has three Cincinnati-area verbal commits from the 2014 class including Lakota West running back Mikel Horton, Lakota East offensive lineman Jarrett LaRubbio and Winton Woods safety Mike Edwards.
A fourth area commitment, quarterback Drew Barker, plays at Conner High School in Hebron, Ky. Barker is committed to playing in the 2014 U.S. Army All-American Bowl in January.
- Cincinnati Enquirer’s recruiting blog
- UK coach talks about Kyle Meadows
- Horton commits to UK
- LaRubbio commits to UK
UK has offered multiple other area players including Mariemont 2014 defensive lineman/tight end Jon Bezney, Winton Woods 2014 defensive lineman Daniel Cage, Winton Woods 2015 lineman/tight end George Brown, St. Xavier 2015 linebacker Justin Hilliard and Lakota West 2015 linebacker C.J. Stalker, according to Rivals.com and Enquirer research.
Cage is ranked the state’s No. 20 player overall in Ohio in the 2014 class by Rivals.com this week. Hilliard has been invited to the 2015 U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
UK received its first verbal commitment this spring from Horton on April 20. Horton, who rushed for 1,003 yards and 13 touchdowns last season, also had offers from UC, Boston College, Florida State, Indiana, Louisville and others.
Barker verbally committed May 10 after he also considered finalists South Carolina and Tennessee among his 22 total offers. The UK staff once sent him 115 letters in one day to exhibit their interest in securing his commitment, according to the Courier-Journal.
“Drew was a key pickup for Kentucky, but what that commitment did was basically keep the momentum going that they had already established,” said Josh Helmholdt, who is Rivals.com Midwest Analyst. “…The Barker commitment was big because it was at a key position and he has the ability to attract more prospects to Lexington, but this class was developing well even before he officially committed.”
UK is ranked No. 2 in the Rivals.com 2014 College Team Rankings. The recruiting efforts in the 2014 class have attracted national media attention months ahead of the Wildcats’ first game under Stoops (Aug. 31 vs. Western Kentucky in Nashville).
Conner coach David Trosper said Barker saw the commitment the UK staff had with him including the attention from Stoops and offensive coordinator Neal Brown. Barker’s commitment has been influential to other top prospects, Helmholdt said.
“He is their No. 1 recruiter if you ask me,” Trosper said.
Stoops, a Youngstown native, made a concerted effort to recruit Ohio starting last December. He brought in former NFL tight end Vince Marrow to serve as tight ends coach. Marrow is also a Youngstown native and played football with Stoops at Cardinal Mooney High School.
Marrow, who previously was a Nebraska assistant, said he was pleased to complete the UK 2013 class in just six weeks. He knew the staff would have more time and ground to cover for the 2014 class and he’s been pleased with the results.
Marrow acknowledges being a bit surprised by the high national recruiting rankings but said the UK staff has plenty to market as a program especially to Ohio players.
UK has eight of its 18 verbal commitments in the 2014 class from Ohio, according to Rivals.com.
“If you get eight to 10 good football players you are doing pretty good,” Marrow told The Enquirer in a phone interview this week.
NCAA rules don’t permit college coaches to speak publicly about a specific recruit. But, Marrow said the key is to have a good relationship with high school players and coaches. Next to Kentucky, Marrow said Ohio is “pretty much our home base.”
National Signing Day is scheduled for Feb. 5, 2014 and while the attention is significant for the program, Cox said UK must still produce on the field starting this season.
“I think number one, recruiting is no different than any sales job,” Cox said. “You got to be able to sell the product. What kids are doing is they are believing in the message (head) coach (Mark) Stoops is putting out there.”
LaRubbio, who had 22 scholarship offers before his pledge, verbally committed to UK in late May on his unofficial visit. He told The Enquirer he felt comfortable with the coaching staff and he was aware of UK’s efforts in Greater Cincinnati.
“It played a pretty big factor,” he said. “We want to start a new tradition.”
The Wildcats have also reportedly secured commitments from Youngstown Christian defensive end Tymere Dubose, Huber Heights Wayne linebacker Dorian Hendrix, Westerville South tight end Darryl Long, Lima Central Catholic defensive back Darius West and Springfield wide receiver Thaddeus Snodgrass.
“Kentucky has made a ‘statement’ this year recruiting Ohio, said Mark Porter of ScoutingOhio.com. “There is no doubt they are making inroads with Ohio coaches setting the table for the future.”
UK has eight Ohio players on the roster this summer and will have three incoming freshmen including cornerback Jaleel Hytchye (La Salle) and offensive lineman Kyle Meadows (Lakota West).
“He’s hustling; Vince should get a lot of credit,” Cox said. “He is working his tail off. …You feel like your opinion is valued. A good recruiter makes you feel your opinion matters. I think it makes a big impact with the coaches.”
Cox said UK’s recruiting stems from wanting to compete with two-time national champion Alabama on and off the field in the Southeastern Conference. That message hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“Early on when I talked to Mark (Stoops) when they recruited Kyle (Meadows) he said Lexington is vital,” Cox said. “Kentucky is vital to us getting the top recruits, but he said Ohio is a huge target.”