Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Marrow key in UK's No. 11 2014 class
By Jared Shanker
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Vince Marrow kicks his Nikes up on his desk. He leans back in his chair, sitting comfortably in a black Kentucky long-sleeve shirt and UK shorts. He speaks with an unmistakable confidence. He is remarkably relaxed for someone who is saddled with much of the responsibility of turning around a perennial loser in the country’s toughest conference.
“I’m going to go after the No. 1 guy in Ohio. I’m going after the top 30 guys in Ohio, and let’s roll up our sleeves and see what happens,” Marrow said. “We might shock the world. I made it very clear that we’re not taking a backseat to nobody.”
The Wildcats are already flooring much of the college football world with their fast start to the 2014 recruiting class. Kentucky is ranked No. 11 in the country, and this class of 18 commitments is already considered the best in school history. Eight of those commitments -- including four of the top eight -- are from Ohio, a top-five state in producing Division I talent. It’s also Marrow’s home state and a Marrow strongehold.
Can Vince Marrow help make Kentucky a contender? Locking down Ohio is a start.
Few, if any, coaches in the country recruit the Buckeye State as well as Marrow. And Ohio has been key to the turnaround going on at Kentucky, where the belief that the Wildcats can compete for an SEC title -- an SEC football title -- has never been higher. Expectations in Lexington have reached new heights, and new coach Mark Stoops and Marrow are using Ohio to help them reach it. Both look at Ohio, a little more than an hour drive from Kentucky’s campus, the same way Ohio State does: a recruit committing to Kentucky is committing to an in-state program.
“It made sense to have the whole state be viewed as an in-state area to us,” said Stoops, who played with Marrow at Youngstown Cardinal Mooney. “We work extremely hard in Ohio.”
No one is working harder in Ohio than Marrow, who exclusively recruits the state.
Three-star safety Mike Edwards, the eighth-best player in Kentucky’s class, does not think he would be at Kentucky if not for Marrow. The same goes for other top Ohio prospects like ESPN 300 and four-star commitments Thaddeus Snodgrass and Darius West, both of whom had offers from Notre Dame among several others.
“I really don’t think I would be [committed to Kentucky],” if not for Marrow, Edwards said. “He’s a great recruiter. He always talks about how he’s from Ohio. He doesn’t want nobody from Ohio to not come here. He wants what is good for Ohio.”
George Brown Jr. (Cincinnati/Winton Woods) is one of the top 2015 prospects in the country, and no rising junior in Ohio has more offers than Brown Jr. His father, George Brown Sr., speaks with Marrow as many as three times a week. Brown said he feels that Michigan and Ohio State wait too long on Ohio prospects sometimes (Brown Jr. does not hold an offer from either), but Marrow is making it a point to offer early.
Kentucky was one of the first to offer Brown Jr., a two-way lineman with more than 25 offers, and his father said few coaches continue to show his son as much attention as Marrow.
“It’s about the relationship. That’s how you end up signing these kids,” Brown said. “If this is the girl you want to date, then say you want to go out with her today and not wait until next month. You want to see how dedicated he is to you. You want to send your kids to someone that is trustworthy and loyal.”
Marrow grew up in Youngstown and played at Toledo. Following a career in the NFL, Marrow returned to Ohio as a high school coach. He moved on to his alma mater, and then Nebraska hired him as a graduate assistant to help recruit Ohio. Marrow landed several Ohioans while he was at Nebraska, and 2013 safety Marcus McWilson flipped from Nebraska to Kentucky after Marrow made the switch.
Ohio “runs through my blood,” Marrow says, and he knows a lot of the coaches and people in the area. His grandfather and mother were ministers and leaders in the community. His brother is a high school coach in Youngstown. He considers Ohio the definition of a blue-collar state where it takes years, sometimes decades, to build a reputation in the state. Recruiting pitches from coaches sometimes carry false promises, but Marrow is unwilling to tarnish his name in his state for the sake of a recruit. He doesn’t need to.
When Stoops arrived at Kentucky, the first-time head coach said it was a “no-brainer” to give Marrow a call. It didn’t take long for Marrow to accept the job as the Wildcats’ tight end coach and Ohio liaison.
“I was like this is a no-brainer, but it had to be the right guy [as head coach],” Marrow said. “When it was Mark, I was like we can do some real damage in Ohio, some real serious damage. It was a perfect situation.”
In December and January, Stoops traveled with Marrow throughout Ohio visiting high schools and making in-home visits with 2013 recruits. Stoops said all he could do was smile as he watched Marrow work his magic with moms, dads, uncles, grandparents and recruits.
“He has a way about him,” Stoops said. “The way he handled the families, he’s so comfortable with them it made me chuckle sometimes. It got me laughing because this guy is doing his thing and this is comfort zone. He’s very good.”
Positive vibes and a top 15 class in 2014 won’t help Kentucky this upcoming season, though. The Wildcats’ first three SEC games are against Florida, South Carolina and Alabama. West Chester (Ohio) Lakota West coach Larry Cox, who is sending two players to Kentucky over a two-year period, applauds the Kentucky staff for what they have accomplished but wonders what happens when the Wildcats, who finished 2-10 last season, take the field against the country’s toughest competition.
Marrow is confident the Wildcats will hold their own and surprise people in 2013, long enough for the reinforcements to come in 2014. The problem is that, while Kentucky is putting together its best class in school history, No. 11 in the country is still only good enough for No. 7 in the SEC. And while most SEC teams are compiling a roster predominantly of players from the Southeast, Kentucky is relying heavily on Ohio.
So it begs the question: Can Kentucky win in the SEC with Midwest talent? Marrow will stop that question dead in its tracks. He knows where that is heading.
“You print this in bold: Some of your best athletes in the world are from Ohio,” Marrow said, voice raising, eyes piercing. “Don’t sell me that crap. But time will tell. I like our chances. This state takes a backseat to no one.”
And Marrow takes a backseat to no one when recruiting Ohio.
“I don’t want to brag,” he said. “It’s just not hard. Ohio is my baby."