UK shifts recruiting focus nationwide

Published 10:36 am Friday, July 7, 2023


Contributing columnist

Coach Mark Stoops has revitalized the University of Kentucky football program in large part by trying to keep the best high school player in the Bluegrass in the state and venturing into Ohio to bring in talent that wants a chance to play in the Southeastern Conference.

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Stoops and recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow along with the other UK coaches have gone into other states for key players but the base has been Kentucky and Ohio. Yet recently in a one-week period Kentucky got commitments from players in Connecticut, Montana, Georgia, Florida and Missouri.

“We have always tried to stay within a six-hour radius of Lexington,” said UK offensive coordinator Liam Coen. “That is our philosophy. They can fly, but six hours is a doable drive for families to come to games or a kid to get home when he needs to.

“The world we are living in now, it’s not that (six-hour radius). We have to be able to find players from all over the country. It’s not that we are actively searching for them, but sometimes situations pop up and you get a good relationship with somebody and they want to be at Kentucky and play for this school. So we get them from wherever they are from.”

That’s the way the best programs are able to stay good year after year. Kentucky’s 10-win seasons in 2018 and 2021 along with consistent NFL draft picks in recent years has been resonating with recruits from many different states.

Coen admits that NIL (name, image and likeness) is something he’s asked about often in recruiting and so are other UK coaches.

“You never know when a player goes on a recruiting visit to a school and he says that he is potentially being offered a certain amount of money to come play for that university. We have to gauge if that is something we want to work with and do,” Coen said.

“We don’t really know these numbers. We just have to trust our evaluation, trust ourselves in terms of knowing the process and understanding the kid. When a kid comes and makes money, then his name, image and likeness can be taken care of by going out and making plays.

“Wan’Dale Robinson and Will Levis did pretty well here. There was no collective. They were just making money because they were making plays. That’s how you want it to go.”

Coen says he’s all for players being compensated for work they do on the field and revenue they help generate for a school. However, he doesn’t know how much a specific player is making or doesn’t want to now.

“I understand and respect the work these guys do and the chance they have to make money. But I don’t have anything to do with that which is great,” he said. “Not one time when I was talking to (North Carolina State transfer) Devin Leary about coming to Kentucky did he ever once mention money. Ever. It was about ball. That’s what he wanted.

“It is a world we are in but it is not something us coaches want to or need to get involved in too much when we are recruiting.”