NCF On The Trail: Drew Barker

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 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."

UK keeps four-star DT Elam at home

January, 30, 2014
Four-star defensive tackle Matt Elam (Elizabethtown, Ky./John Hardin) committed to in-state Kentucky on Thursday over an all-out Alabama Crimson Tide effort.

Elam's pledge is a huge recruiting win for Mark Stoops and staff as the Wildcats inch closer to a first-ever top-25 finish in the RecruitingNation class rankings.

The 6-foot-5, 350-pound Elam initially gave serious consideration to Kentucky, Alabama and Notre Dame, making official visits to Lexington Dec. 13, Tuscaloosa Jan. 17 and South Bend Oct. 19.

Over the weekend, however, his last visit to a campus went to Kentucky, with Elam attending the Wildcats basketball game.

With Elam in the fold, Kentucky now has 28 commitments for 2014. The class includes six ESPN 300 prospects: No. 113 Denzel Ware (Crestview, Fla./Crestview), No. 173 Drew Barker (Hebron, Ky./Conner Senior), No. 205 Thaddeus Snodgrass (Springfield, Ohio/Springfield), No. 208 Stanley Williams (Monroe, Ga./George Walton Academy), No. 248 Darius West (Lima, Ohio/Lima Central Catholic) and No. 284 Kendall Randolph (Tallahassee, Fla./Lincoln).

Along with the half-dozen ESPN 300 prospects, the Kentucky class includes two more four-star prospects in Elam and inside linebacker Nico Firios (Longwood, Fla./Lyman).

Kentucky has also now locked down three of the state's top four prospects in 2014 with Barker, Elam and three-star defensive tackle Adrian Middleton (Bowling Green, Ky./South Warren).

As important as keeping the best in-state talent is signing a potential multi-year starting signal-caller in Barker and adding both impact players and depth on the defensive side of the ball.

Fifteen of the Wildcats' 28 recruits in the class are on the defensive side, with an emphasis on the defensive line and secondary. Seven members of the class have already signed or enrolled, including Barker and junior college cornerback A.J. Stamps (Vicksburg, Miss./East Mississippi Community College).

SEC recruiting storylines: Dec. 19 

December, 19, 2013
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.

Midyear signings: Kentucky

December, 18, 2013
According to, the following players have signed with Kentucky:

Drew Barker QB-PP Hebron, Ky./Conner
HT: 6-4 WT: 217
Positional Rank: No. 7 QB-PP
Stars: 4
ESPN 300 (No. 161)

Thaddeus Snodgrass WR Springfield, Ohio/Springfield
HT: 6-0 WT: 182
Positional Rank: No. 29 WR
Stars: 4
ESPN 300 (No. 211)

Cory Johnson DT Chambersburg, Pa./ASA College
HT: 6-3 WT: 282
Positional Rank: No. 8 DT Juco
Stars: 3
ESPN JC 50 (No. 31)

Mike Horton RB West Chester, Ohio/Lakota West
HT: 6-2 WT: 228
Positional Rank: No. 50 RB
Stars: 3

T.V. Williams WR McKinney, Texas/McKinney
HT: 5-8 WT: 148
Positional Rank: No. 84 WR
Stars: 3

Dorian Hendrix ILB Huber Heights, Ohio/Wayne
HT: 6-0 WT: 219
Positional Rank: No. 57 ILB
Stars: 3

A.J. Stamps CB Vicksburg, Miss./East Mississippi CC
HT: 6-0 WT: 195
Positional Rank: N/A Juco
Stars: Evaluation Pending

Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

November, 11, 2013

Lots of news around the Southeastern Conference over the weekend. There were a few commitments, and Alabama hosted several visitors for its big win over LSU. Here’s a closer look at some of the top storylines in the SEC this weekend.

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Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

October, 28, 2013
As always, there was a lot of news around the Southeastern Conference this weekend. Tennessee and Texas A&M picked up ESPN 300 commits, and Alabama had a five-star visitor. Here's a closer look at the latest recruiting news in the SEC.

Biggest commitment: Despite losing to rival Alabama 45-10 on Saturday, Tennessee picked up a big commitment from ESPN 300 defensive end Dewayne Hendrix (O'Fallon, Ill./O'Fallon Township) on Sunday.

Hendrix, the No. 189 player in the country, chose the Vols over Florida, USC and Missouri.

"My mom and I had a long talk last night and we both thought it was the right time," Hendrix said. "We both felt like we knew it was Tennessee, but we just wanted to make sure and be 100 percent and check out a few other schools. We went out to Ole Miss, Illinois, Mizzou and USC."

The four-star athlete said Tennessee coach Butch Jones played a major factor in his decision to commit to the Vols.

"Coach Jones, how he was recruiting me -- was like no other feeling I've ever had," Hendrix said. "No other coach recruited me how he was. He calls me, inboxes me and every week we're talking."

With the commitment of Hendrix, Tennessee now has 28 commitments including 12 who are ranked in the ESPN 300.

Texas A&M also picked up an ESPN 300 commit, defensive end Qualen Cunningham (Chandler, Ariz./Hamilton), on Thursday night.

Cunningham, the No. 234 prospect in the ESPN 300, joins five-star defensive end Myles Garrett, the No. 7 player in the country, as Texas A&M commits over the last week and a half.

The Aggies have the ninth-ranked class in the country. It is composed of 16 commitments, 11 of who are ranked in the ESPN 300.

Best weekend performances: Several SEC committed quarterbacks put up huge numbers this weekend. Here's a look at some of the top weekend performances.

QB Sean White (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./University School) -- Auburn commit: White was 19-of-33 for 389 yards and two touchdowns in a 28-24 loss.

QB Drew Barker (Hebron, Ky./Conner) -- Kentucky commit: Barker was 22-of-30 for 296 yards and three touchdowns and added a rushing score in a 32-20 win.

QB Kyle Allen (Scottsdale, Ariz./Desert Mountain) -- Texas A&M commit: Allen passed for 296 yards and three touchdowns in a 55-41 loss on Friday night.

RB Nick Chubb (Cedartown, Ga./Cedartown) -- Georgia commit: Rushed for 262 yards and four touchdowns in a 54-28 win on Friday.

Most important visit: ESPN 300 defensive end Da'Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Va./Woodbridge) took his second of three planned official visits over the weekend, this one to Alabama. The No. 4 player in the country watched the Tide handle Tennessee 45-10 on Saturday. Hand also plans to visit Florida sometime in the next few weeks before making his decision on Nov. 14. Michigan has been the team to beat for sometime, but was the Alabama visit enough to change his mind? Only time will tell, but judging by Hand's tweets on Saturday and Sunday, it appears he was impressed with Alabama.

Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

October, 21, 2013
On the field there was some huge upsets over the weekend in the Southeastern Conference and off the field there was a ton of recruiting news. Here's a closer look at the latest recruiting news in the SEC:

Biggest commitment: After watching Texas A&M's defensive performance on Saturday, there is no question five-star defensive end Myles Garrett's (Arlington, Texas/James Martin) commitment to the Aggies on Friday was the biggest recruiting news of the weekend. Garrett had been a long-time Aggie lean and finally decided to pull the trigger.

For the Aggies, Garrett becomes their 15th commitment including 10 that are ranked in the ESPN 300. Garrett is the No. 7-ranked player in the nation.

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Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

October, 14, 2013
There was plenty of recruiting news in the Southeastern Conference over the weekend. There were a few key commits and several top high school performances. Here is a look at the latest news around the SEC.

Biggest commitment: ESPN 300 offensive tackle Donell Stanley (Latta, S.C./Latta) committed to South Carolina on Friday. The 197th-ranked player in the nation chose the Gamecocks over rival Clemson, Alabama, USC and UNC. South Carolina now has 13 commitments including 5 if the ESPN 300.

Auburn picked up a commitment from three-star athlete Myron Burton Jr. (Suwanee, Ga./Peachtree Ridge). Though listed as an athlete, Auburn is recruiting Burton as a wide receiver. He announced his decision on Twitter on Saturday after visiting the Tigers for their win over Western Carolina:
Best weekend performances: Many SEC commits were in action this weekend. Here's a look at some of the top performances:

  • RB Bo Scarbrough (Bradenton, Fla./IMG Academy), Alabama commit: Ran for 158 yards and two touchdowns on 13 rushes in a 49-3 win.
  • RB Nick Chubb (Cedartown, Ga./Cedartown), Georgia commit: Chubb accounted for 355 rushing yards and five touchdowns in a 42-34 win on Friday.

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SEC class rankings analysis 

October, 9, 2013

Each Wednesday, ESPN RecruitingNation updates its national class rankings. For an in-depth look at the SEC, check out our conference rankings:

1. Alabama, 21 commits: The Crimson Tide sit atop the RecruitingNation class rankings with a class that features 15 ESPN 300 prospects, including most recent commitment Ronnie Clark (Calera, Ala./Calera), the No. 96 overall prospect. Alabama remains in the hunt for several five-star prospects, including No. 1 overall Leonard Fournette (New Orleans/Saint Augustine) and No. 9 Marlon Humphrey (Hoover, Ala./Hoover).

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SEC's 2014 impact freshmen 

September, 25, 2013
The Southeastern Conference continues to dominate the recruiting class rankings. Here's a closer look at some freshman that could make an early impact in the SEC.

Current 2014 QB prospect who could start immediately:
Drew Barker (Hebron, Ky./Conner Senior) -- Kentucky commit: Though Jason Whitlow and Maxwell Smith will be juniors heading in to next season, Barker is just too talented to keep off the field. The No. 6-ranked pocket passer in the country has all the physical tools head coach Mark Stoops is looking for from his signal-caller. Barker, an Elite 11 member, should see the field early and often for the Wildcats as a true freshman.

Program-changing 2014 recruiting class:
Tennessee: The Volunteers are off to a 2-2 start and face a brutal schedule coming up. There are a lot of holes to fill on both sides of the ball but with a current recruiting class that is ranked No. 3 in the country, several freshman will be able to make an impact early on in their careers. It might take a few years to notice, but this is the type of class that can help turn Tennessee back into a SEC contender.

Current 2014 prospect with Heisman potential:
QB Will Grier (Davidson, N.C./Davidson Day) -- Florida commit: The No. 2-ranked dual threat quarterback in the country has a lot of the same traits as Johnny Manziel. He's an athletic-gunslinger that likes to take chances and his skill set could mean the Gators will have to adjust their offensive philosophies. Through the first five games of his senior year, Grier has thrown for 31 touchdowns. He's also rushed for over 500 yards and another five touchdowns. Florida has had three quarterbacks win the Heisman Trophy and Grier has all the tools to be the next.

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The Early Offer is a RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today's offerings: Dylan Moses' commitment to LSU sent shockwaves throughout the college football recruiting world; you have to tip your hat to Mark Stoops and Kentucky once again for another creative recruiting mailer; and Oregon, Miami, South Carolina and Tennessee are battling down the stretch for a four-star WR.

The story of Moses
Dylan Moses (Baton Rouge, La./University Lab) deciding to end his recruitment before he even was halfway through his freshman year of high school football sent a tidal wave of response throughout the college football world late Sunday and throughout the day on Monday. As expected the news was well received by LSU fans, but fans in general and even several college coaches were highly critical the Tigers’ decision to accept the commitment. “I can’t be critical of the kid himself, because he’s jumping on an opportunity placed in front of him,” one ACC recruiting coordinator said. “But schools offering a scholarship to a 14-year-old and then actually accepting it is everything that’s wrong with recruiting today. It’s hard enough to project the future of seniors accurately, but it’s impossible to do it with freshmen.” My colleague Tom Luginbill was right on the money when he said it’s a high risk, high reward scheme for coaches. The more it happens the more we’re going to see calls for even more regulation from the NCAA, because there’s just too much gray area for coaches to maneuver in.

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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Tales From the Road: Ohio State 

May, 29, 2013
BuckeyeNation continues to hit the road in search of budding Division I talent that should catch the eyes of Ohio State fans. Here’s what we came up with this week:

This week’s targets: BuckeyeNation swung out to the Youngstown, Ohio, area and took a good look at Hubbard and Warren Harding high schools. While there, we talked to offensive guard Matt Jones and running back Larry “LJ” Scott of Hubbard. Both are Buckeyes targets as sophomores. Harding is the home of Denmark sensation Hjalte Froholdt and Ohio State legacy James Daniels, whose father LeShun Daniels Sr. played offensive guard for the Buckeyes in the 1990s. One other interesting note about Daniels is that his brother LeShun Daniels Jr. signed a letter of intent to play for Iowa this February.

Vividly Virginia: The Buckeyes made it abundantly clear last week that Virginia was fertile recruiting ground. Ohio State long has had offers out to Da’Shawn Hand (Woodbridge/Woodbridge), Andrew Brown (Chesapeake/Oscar Frommel Smith) and Quin Blanding (Virginia Beach/Bayside), but last Wednesday the Buckeyes offered five Virginians in rapid fashion. The offers went out to outside linebacker Ricky DeBerry (Richmond, St. Christophers), cornerback Garrett Taylor (Richmond, St. Christophers), wide receiver Scott Bracey (Richmond/Benedictine School), wide receiver Jaason Lewis (Virginia Beach/Ocean Lakes) and inside linebacker Jahvoni Simmons (Virginia Beach/Ocean Lakes).

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Weekly commitment roundup

May, 17, 2013
Zach Harmon OG Toledo, Ohio/Central Catholic
HT: 6-foot-4 WT: 275 pounds
Position Rank: N/A
Stars: Evaluation Pending

Kerrion Moore RB Gastonia, N.C./Hunter Huss
HT: 5-8 WT: 180
Position Rank: N/A
Stars: Evaluation Pending

Chris Taylor WR Coconut Creek, Fla./North Broward Prep
HT: 6-0 WT: 168
Position Rank: N/A
Stars: Evaluation Pending

Brad Kaaya QB-PP West Hill, Calif./Chaminade College Prep
HT: 6-4 WT: 213
Position Rank: #12 QB-PP
Stars: 4

NC State
Coult Culler OLB Wilmington, N.C./E.A. Laney
HT: 6-4 WT: 225
Position Rank: N/A
Stars: Evaluation Pending

Jalan McClendon QB-PP Charlotte, N.C./West Mecklenburg
HT: 6-4 WT: 195
Position Rank: N/A
Stars: Evaluation Pending

Big 12
Jordan Feuerbacher TE-Y Kingwood, Texas/Kingwood Park
HT: 6-4 WT: 240
Position Rank: N/A
Stars: Evaluation Pending

Xavier Jones DE Magnolia, Texas/Magnolia West
HT: 6-3 WT: 200
Position Rank: #32 DE
Stars: 3

Iowa State
Sam Seonbuchner OLB Hartland, Wis./Arrowhead
HT: 6-2 WT: 223
Position Rank: N/A
Stars: Evaluation Pending

Kyron Watson OLB East Saint Louis, Ill./East Saint Louis
HT: 6-1 WT: 210
Position Rank: #4 OLB
Stars: 4
ESPN 150 (#100)

Marcus Green CB Cedar Hill, Texas/Cedar Hill
HT: 6-1 WT: 176
Position Rank: N/A
Stars: Evaluation Pending

Big East
Isaiah Ford WR Jacksonville, Fla./Trinity Christian Academy
HT: 6-1 WT: 161
Position Rank: #34 WR
Stars: 4

George Rushing WR Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Cardinal Gibbons
HT: 6-0 WT: 182
Position Rank: N/A
Stars: Evaluation Pending

Justin Herron OG Potomac, Md./Bullis School
HT: 6-4 WT: 275
Position Rank: N/A
Stars: Evaluation Pending

Big Ten
Michigan State
Chris Frey Jr. OLB Columbus, Ohio/Upper Arlington
HT: 6-2 WT: 214
Position Rank: N/A
Stars: Evaluation Pending

Matt Sokol ATH Rochester Hills, Mich./Adams
HT: 6-5 WT: 225
Position Rank: N/A
Stars: Evaluation Pending

Blake Hance TE-Y Jacksonville, Ill./Jacksonville
HT: 6-6 WT: 260
Position Rank: N/A
Stars: Evaluation Pending

Justin Jackson RB Carol Stream, Ill./Glenbard North
HT: 5-11 WT: 175
Position Rank: #32 RB
Stars: 4

Ohio State
Lonnie Johnson WR Gary, Ind./West Side
HT: 6-2 WT: 180
Position Rank: #41 WR
Stars: 4

Penn State
Marcus Allen S Upper Marlboro, Md./Dr. Henry A. Wise Jr.
HT: 6-2 WT: 190
Position Rank: N/A
Stars: Evaluation Pending

Jared Wangler OLB Warren, Mich./De La Salle Collegiate
HT: 6-2 WT: 218
Position Rank: N/A
Stars: Evaluation Pending

Billy Hirschfeld DE Hartland, Wis./Arrowhead
HT: 6-6 WT: 267
Position Rank: N/A
Stars: Evaluation Pending

Ula Tolutau ATH Salt Lake City, Utah/East
HT: 6-1 WT: 225
Position Rank: N/A
Stars: Evaluation Pending

Dionte Sykes WR Chandler, Ariz./Chandler
HT: 6-2 WT: 205
Position Rank: #49 WR
Stars: 3

Raelon Singleton WR Crosby, Texas/Crosby
HT: 6-4 WT: 185
Position Rank: N/A
Stars: Evaluation Pending

Chase Blakely DE Coeur D'Alene, Idaho/Coeur D'Alene
HT: 6-4 WT: 221
Position Rank: N/A
Stars: Evaluation Pending

Washington State
Greg Hoyd OLB Murrieta, Calif./Vista Murrieta
HT: 6-1 WT: 191
Position Rank: N/A
Stars: Evaluation Pending

Derrick Moncrief S Prattville, Ala./Mississippi Gulf Coast CC
HT: 6-3 WT: 226
Position Rank: N/A
Stars: Evaluation Pending

Justin Thornton DE Prichard, Ala./Vigor
HT: 6-5 WT: 225
Position Rank: #13 DE
Stars: 4
ESPN 150 (#111)

Drew Barker QB-PP Hebron, Ky./Conner Senior
HT: 6-4 WT: 205
Position Rank: #7 QB-PP
Stars: 4
ESPN 150 (#141)

Kobie Walker S Olney, Md./Our Lady of Good Counsel
HT: 6-3 WT: 188
Position Rank: N/A
Stars: Evaluation Pending

D'haquille Williams WR Laplace, La./Mississippi Gulf Coast CC
HT: 6-3 WT: 210
Position Rank: N/A
Stars: Evaluation Pending

Michael Fairchild OT Overland Park, Kan./Blue Valley West
HT: 6-6 WT: 270
Position Rank: N/A
Stars: Evaluation Pending

Finis Stribling IV CB Thompson's Station, Tenn./Independence
HT: 5-11 WT: 167
Position Rank: N/A
Stars: Evaluation Pending

Mississippi State
Dontavian Lee RB Brooklyn, Miss./Forest County Agriculture
HT: 6-0 WT: 205
Position Rank: N/A
Stars: Evaluation Pending

Montez Sweat TE-Y Stone Mountain, Ga./Stephenson
HT: 6-6 WT: 225
Position Rank: N/A
Stars: Evaluation Pending

Kentucky dips into Baltimore for Walker

May, 14, 2013
Our Lady of Good Counsel (Olney, Md.) safety Kobie Walker is set to play in the Southeastern Conference for Kentucky, the Louisville (Ky.) Courier-Journal reports.

"I don't think anybody has ever come out of Baltimore to commit to Kentucky," he said. "I feel good. It started a trend to hopefully get some more guys out of the area and my schools to go there."

Walker selected the Wildcats over scholarship offers from Boston College, Hawaii, Miami (Fla.), North Carolina State, Oklahoma State, Old Dominion, Rutgers, Syracuse and Wisconsin.

Other programs, including East Carolina, Maryland, Virginia Tech and West Virginia, recruited the 6-foot-3, 188-pound prospect.

"As soon as I stepped on campus, I fell in love," Walker said of his visit to Lexington, Ky., for the Blue-White spring game. "The fans, the coaching, the players that are already there showed a lot of love to me. My dad and I liked it."

Walker registered a 4.75-second 40-yard dash, 4.45-second 20-yard shuttle and 30-inch vertical at this year's National Under Armour Combine in Orlando.

Kentucky has seven players on board for 2014, including five from Ohio and in-state ESPN 150 quarterback Drew Barker (Hebron, Ky./Conner).