NCF On The Trail: Darius West

Quietly, Kentucky coach Mark Stoops made an emphatic statement with his 2014 recruiting class: The Wildcats aren't going to sit idly by and watch the big boy have all the fun.

Just months removed from a 2-10 debut that resulted in Kentucky's fourth straight losing season, Stoops secured the No. 20 recruiting class in the ESPN rankings. It was the highest-ever finish for Kentucky in ESPN's recruiting rankings.

Stoops rubbed shoulders with the SEC's best, signing 28 players, including six ESPN 300 members and eight four-stars. Stoops flipped a Florida State commit and beat out Alabama for a highly coveted defensive tackle. He snagged a top-10 quarterback and filled critical holes on both sides of the ball.

Stoops has zero SEC wins on his Kentucky resume, but he got a major win on signing day.

"We hit on a lot of areas," Stoops told ESPN.com Thursday.

[+] EnlargeMatt Elam
Damon Sayles/ESPNFour-star DT Matt Elam is one of the key pieces in Kentucky's 20th-ranked recruiting class.
"Last year, we did a nice job of piecing together a good a class as we could in five or six weeks. From that point on -- from signing day last year to signing day this year -- I thought it was absolutely the most critical time for us to have a great year in recruiting. We needed good players, we needed guys at every position."

But the Wildcats couldn't afford to just fill space. That would have been counterproductive for a team looking to rebuild. Kentucky needed both quality and quantity, which can be a tough task for a new coach at a struggling program.

Stoops said he and his coaches set out with a simple message of building relationships and getting in front of as many quality prospects as possible. They got players on campus for junior days when Stoops' crew first arrived last year, they got them to last year's record-setting spring game, they got them to basketball games to see that other historic program on campus, and they stayed confident in their message of the future.

There was no magic selling point, just very detailed process of showing prospects exactly what they were doing in the program, not just in games.

"They understood that we were in for a little bit of a struggle -- that this is a rebuild -- and we need good players to rebuild this program," Stoops said. "They understood very clearly the success that we've had before and what we do offensively and defensively. These coaches have been very successful and showed them exactly what our plan was for the future."

Stoops held a top-20 class for most of 2013, proving that players didn't waver, despite the Wildcats' on-field struggles. He was able to keep ESPN 300 defensive end Denzel Ware, who flip-flopped between Kentucky and Florida State for months before staying with the Wildcats. He kept ESPN 300 early enrollee quarterback Drew Barker, who went through winter workouts and has a chance to push for the starting spot this year.

Stoops also kept ESPN 300 standouts Thaddeus Snodgrass (wide receiver) and Stanley Williams (running back), and he sold Kentucky to four-star defensive tackle Matt Elam, who picked the Cats over Alabama last month.

"It's very important to win your fair share of battles, and we're going to win our fair share," Stoops said. "We're going to recruit very hard, we're going to recruit the best players, and we're not afraid to go in and compete. You're going to win some and lose some, but I thought we did a nice job of hitting a very high percentage of guys we targeted."

Where Kentucky really succeeded was in the secondary, signing ESPN 300 cornerbacks Darius West and Kendall Randolph. Stoops desperately needed offensive playmakers, but gaining talents like this in the secondary was crucial.

"It's a real issue," Stoops said of the depth in his secondary.

"For us, it's hard for me to pinpoint an area, but we were clearly not very good in the secondary so I thought that was very important to hit that [hard] as well."

Stoops left fingerprint in 10 states and came away with a handful of players who could make an immediate impact in Lexington. But Stoops understands that this class can't do it alone. He needs development to continue with his current players already on campus. He needs competition to blossom and he needs his upperclassmen to mesh with the youngsters in order to get Kentucky up and running.

"We're at a point where we're still trying to put together a top-notch first team," Stoops said. "Not only do we need depth, we need some playmakers with our starters as well.

"In our business, no one has patience, everybody wants to win now. But it is a process, and we're working to improve every day and we're getting better."

SEC recruiting storylines: Dec. 19 

December, 19, 2013
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Here are five things to watch over the holidays in the SEC:

Fournette set to announce

The nation’s top ranked prospect, running back Leonard Fournette (New Orleans/Saint Augustine), is scheduled to announce his decision during the Under Armour All-America Game Jan. 2, which will be on ESPN at 4 p.m. ET. Fournette has made official visits to Texas, LSU and Alabama.

Best SEC recruiters 

October, 15, 2013
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Editor's note: For a look at the national recruiter power rankings based only on Class of 2014 success, click here.

It's no secret that Southeastern Conference has been the top conference in the country as far as recruiting over the last several years. The league currently has six teams ranked in the top 11 of the team recruiting rankings. Here's a look at the top 10 recruiters around the ultra-competitive conference.

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Big Ten recruiting mailbag

September, 6, 2013
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@bwessfootball: How do you see Penn State’s class rounding out? Would you say PSU is now the favorite for Montae Nicholson and Qadree Ollison?

Brad Bournival: The first part of that question is tricky as the Nittany Lions are still in on Dravon Henry (Aliquippa, Pa./Aliquippa), Ricky Walker (Hampton, Va./Bethel), Alex Bookser (Pittsburgh/Mount Lebanon), Thomas Holley (Brooklyn, N.Y./Lincoln) and Mike Gesicki (Manahawkin, N.J./Southern Regional) but may not be the favorite for any of them. As far as Ollison goes, I fully expect him to be part of the 2014 Penn State class by Monday afternoon. The fact he’s visiting the Nittany Lions just before his announcement bodes well for Penn State. As far as Nicholson goes, the jury is still out on that one. He’s visiting Michigan State this weekend, but Pittsburgh is in his backyard and don’t count out Oregon or Florida State. The safety wants to set official visit dates soon so that could be telling.




[+] EnlargeDarius West
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comCould Michigan State land standout cornerback Darius West?
@Collin_Stauder: Any chance Michigan State grabs Nicholson or Darius West down the stretch?

Tom VanHaaren: That’s a pretty relevant question right now as Nicholson (Monroeville, Pa./Gateway) is visiting Michigan State this weekend and West (Lima, Ohio/Central) just recently took a visit to East Lansing.

I think you could probably even throw defensive back Parrker Westphal (Bolingbrook, Ill./Bolingbrook) in this question because he recently told me that he would like to get out to Michigan State for a game.

It was believed that Northwestern and Vanderbilt had the best shot with Westphal, but if he makes it out to East Lansing that might be an interesting situation. He was originally going to make a decision before his season, but it looks like he could take a few visits.

As for West, he is still committed to Kentucky and publicly is saying the visit to Michigan State wasn’t a big deal. I don’t think a prospect takes a visit this late in the game if it’s not a big deal. If Kentucky continues to struggle that could be something to watch.

Nicholson has had an interesting recruitment recently with Michigan telling him they aren’t recruiting him anymore. I believe he is open at this point, so this visit could help Michigan State. It’s too early to tell with him, though.




@DukeLukeofJuke: Do you see any dark horse recruits that few are connecting to Ohio State at the moment that could end up in Columbus by national signing day?

Bournival: The names are pretty standard at this point in recruits like Noah Brown (Sparta, N.J./Pope John XXIII), Chad Mavety (Garden City, N.Y./Nassau Community College), Damian Prince (Forestville, Md./Bishop McNamara), Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County), Erick Smith (Cleveland/Glenville) and Marshon Lattimore (Cleveland/Glenville). If you’re asking me to go out on a limb, maybe someone like Gesicki or Alex Bookser (Pittsburgh/Mount Lebanon) winds up with the Buckeyes. While it’s not much of a stretch, those two aren’t getting a lot of play lately in recent Ohio State news.




@ssullie71: Has Malik McDowell given a timeline when he will make his decision on colleges?

VanHaaren: He is saying going into this weekend that he plans on waiting to make a decision. This has been a hot topic, because I do believe there is a chance he makes a decision sooner than later.

McDowell (Southfield, Mich./Southfield) has been somewhat quiet about all this and doesn’t share much, so he could do anything. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him wait things out, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him make a decision soon.

He initially had been saying he was going to wait until the Army All-American game, but I don’t think that will happen anymore.




jbacevice@gmail.com: Damon Webb is the face of the 2014 class for Ohio State. Eric Glover-Williams has that honor in 2015. Put your prognosticator glasses on, who takes that role in 2016?

Bournival: Early signs point to someone with a familiar last name. While there aren’t a ton of offers out there just yet to 2016 stars, I don’t think it will much matter as defensive end Nick Bosa (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./St. Thomas Aquinas) has all the tools to carry the flag if he picks the Buckeyes down the line.

We all know is brother Joey is already making a name for himself as a freshman at Ohio State, but Nick could be even bigger. St. Thomas Aquinas coach Rocco Casullo has already said he thinks everyone will know all there is about the sophomore by the time he finishes with the Raiders. Buckeyes assistant Mike Vrabel is high on Nick already, but not just because of his play. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound defensive end’s character and maturation at such a young age is what many are talking about.

The opening weekend of college football and the beginning of a fall evaluation period means there is plenty to talk about in recruiting. Here is a look at what happened this weekend in Big Ten recruiting:


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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.

[+] EnlargeVince Marrow
AP Photo/NFL PhotosCan 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.


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Nico Firios joins Kentucky's commit parade

June, 11, 2013
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The Kentucky Wildcats have made their case to move up ESPN RecruitingNation's class rankings following a big weekend on the trail.

According to multiple sources, four-star inside linebacker Nico Firios (Longwood, Fla./Lyman) has also jumped on board.

Cincinnati, Connecticut, Indiana, Iowa State, Louisville, Memphis, Minnesota, Purdue, Rutgers, South Florida, Southern Miss and Wisconsin also extended scholarship offers to the 6-foot-1, 220-pound prospect. Georgia Tech, Miami (Fla.), Penn State and Vanderbilt showed interest.

Firios' decision comes on the heels of the re-commitment of ESPN 150 defensive end Denzel Ware (Crestview, Fla./Crestview) and the pledges of four-star cornerback Darius West (Lima, Ohio/Lima Central) and safety Mike Edwards (Cincinnati/Winton Woods).

Kentucky has 15 total commitments for 2014.
A Friday offer validated a Thursday decision for Darius West.

[+] EnlargeDarius West
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comDarius West's decision to postpone his college announcement was validated when an offer from Notre Dame came in.
The four-star cornerback out of Lima (Ohio) Central Catholic planned to commit to a school in his top four Thursday afternoon, but he delayed his decision after talking with his dad. The move paid dividends rather quickly as Notre Dame offered the No. 9 player in Ohio on Friday.


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Here are five storylines to watch on Sunday:

Looking out for No. 1

The Columbus Nike Football Training Camp will bring out the top defensive lineman in the country in Da'Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Va./Woodbridge).


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A top-10 prospect in the state of Ohio has postponed his commitment news conference.

Four-star Lima (Ohio) Central Catholic cornerback Darius West will not commit on Thursday, an announcement date he set two weeks ago. His finalists were Kentucky, Louisville, Michigan State and Wisconsin.


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ESPN Watch List cornerback Darius West (Lima, Ohio/Central Catholic) had a chance to see exactly how Ohio State rolls.

And he liked it.

On hand Saturday for the Buckeyes’ practice -- it was the 5-foot-10, 183-pound West’s fourth visit to Columbus -- he saw everything and more.


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INDIANAPOLIS -- While closing in on a dozen offers, Darius West (Lima, Ohio/Lima Central Catholic) will not be satisfied until he lands an offer from three of the Midwest’s biggest programs.


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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- In the small town of Lima, Ohio, in which some grades have as few as 85 students and the football team has just 54 members, the players and coaches and, by extension, the community all become extremely tight knit.

So it’s no surprise that ESPN Watch List cornerback Darius West (Lima, Ohio/Lima Central Catholic) is looking for that kind of atmosphere at the next level.


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Sleep? Who needs sleep?

Certainly not Ohio State after pulling in a visitors list of well over 50 recruits for the Michigan game.

The Buckeyes staff wasted no time at all last week in hitting the trail to check in on many recruits either at their schools or with in-house visits. So while it was nice to wow the likes of Martrell Spaight, James Quick, Trey Johnson, Jamarco Jones, Raekwon McMillan, DeShone Kizer, Sam Mustipher, Da’Shawn Hand, Gareon Conley, Clifton Garrett, Donovan Munger, Shelton Gibson, Chris Worley, Darius West, Jimmy Byrne and Kyle Berger, they weren’t resting on the win.

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Weekend Rewind: Ohio State 

November, 26, 2012
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From ESPN 150 players such as Eli Woodard, Cam Burrows, Ezekiel Elliott and Trey Johnson to ESPN 300 Ohio State commits such as J.T. Barrett, Jayme Thompson and Michael Hill, it was a memorable weekend at The Horseshoe on Saturday.

ESPN 300 athletes Shelton Gibson and Donovan Munger joined ESPN Watch List juniors like Raekwon McMillan, Jimmy Byrne, Drew Barker, Kyle Trout, Jamarco Jones and Darius West to sing the praises of their most recent visit to Columbus.

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