NCF On The Trail: Thaddeus Snodgrass

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.

Midyear signings: Kentucky

December, 18, 2013
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According to UKAthletics.com, 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

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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Critical positions in SEC recruiting 

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Each year college coaches prioritize their recruiting needs. Whether it's offensive or defensive linemen or skilled positions, there always seems to be an area that needs more attention than others. Here's a closer look at the most important position for each SEC team in recruiting this year.


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The Opening, presented by Nike, will feature 162 of the best high school football players in the country. The event, which will include linemen, 7-on-7 and SPARQ testing competitions, is set to run from June 30 to July 3 at the Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Ore.

The following events from The Opening will be televised on ESPNU:

July 1: SPARQ Rating National Championship, 7 p.m.-8:30 p.m. ET

July 2: 7-on-7 Pool Play, 9 p.m.-11:30 p.m. ET

July 3: Linemen Challenge Finals and 7-on-7 semifinal and championship games, 9 p.m.-midnight ET

The players will be divided in to six teams -- Alpha Pro, Apocalypse, Field Generals, Land Sharks, Super Bad and Vapor Carbon. Here is a closer look at how the teams match up.

Team: Alpha Pro
Coaches: Offensive coordinator Jordan Palmer, defensive coordinator Hardy Nickerson

The Alpha Pro team will have plenty of targets to spread the ball around. Ermon Lane and Tyler Luatua, the No. 1-ranked receiver and tight end in the country respectively, bring size and playmaking ability to the passing game. ESPN 300 athletes Corey Holmes, Jalen Hurd, John "JuJu" Smith, Ja'Von Harrison, and Derrell Scott are all explosive offensive weapons.

Defensively Alpha Pro is led by Andrew Brown, the No. 1-ranked defensive tackle in the country, ESPN 150 cornerback Damon Webb, defensive end Andrew Williams, Ohio State linebacker commit Dante Booker and LSU cornerback commit Chris Hardeman.

Complete Alpha Pro roster.

Team: Apocalypse
Coaches: Offensive coordinator Adam Tafralis, defensive coordinator Donovin Darius

The first thing that jumps out about team Apocalypse is the talent in the defensive front seven. Team Apocalypse will be led by five-star defensive end Da'Shawn Hand and inside linebacker Raekwon McMillan. Hand, from Woodbridge, Va., is the No. 4-ranked player in the country, while McMillan was recently bumped up to a five-star linebacker. Joining Hand and McMillan along the front seven are ESPN 300 defensive linemen Anthony Moten and Ainuu Taua, and linebackers D.J. Calhoun and Rashaan Evans.

Offensively, team Apocalypse has no shortage of playmakers. ESPN 300 wide receivers Artavis Scott, K.D. Cannon and Michiah Quick will provide explosiveness in the passing game, while athletic running backs Joe Mixon and Royce Freeman will provide athletic and reliable targets out of the backfield.

Complete Apocalypse roster.

Team: Field Generals
Coaches: Offensive coordinator Charlie Frye, defensive coordinator Michael Fletcher

Seven-on-seven events are always geared towards the offense, but with five-star defensive back Adoree' Jackson, No. 3-ranked safety Jamal Adams, and ESPN 300 cornerback Adarius Pickett in the secondary, the Field Generals should more than hold their own. New Ohio State defensive end commit Jalyn Holmes and the No. 6-ranked defensive end in the country, Solomon Thomas, will be two to watch along the defensive line.

Offensively, the Field Generals are led by ESPN 300 offensive guard Damien Mama, ESPN 300 wide receivers Austin Roberts and Thaddeus Snodgrass and explosive Notre Dame running back commit Elijah Hood.

Complete Field Generals roster.

Team: Landsharks
Coaches: Offensive coordinator Craig Nall, defensive coordinator Keith Bulluck

The Landsharks have some big-time talent along each line of scrimmage. Led by five-star offensive tackle Cameron Robinson, the Landsharks also feature ESPN 300 offensive guard Corey Martinez. ESPN 300 defensive linemen Gerald Willis III and Thomas Holley, as well as ESPN 300 defensive end Chad Thomas, will form a very physical and athletic defensive line.

In the secondary, the Landsharks will have three defensive backs -- Arrion Springs, Chris Lammons and Tony Brown -- that are ranked among the top 85 players in the country. The defense also features ESPN 150 linebacker Nyles Morgan.

Offensively, explosive running backs Dalvin Cook, a Florida commit, and Racean Thomas form a dangerous tandem out of the backfield, and wide receivers Travis Rudolph and Jalen Harvey are solid receiving threats.

Complete Landsharks roster.

Team: Superbad
Coaches: Offensive coordinator Dennis Gile, defensive coordinator Harold Nash Jr.

The Superbad defense line is led by five-star defensive end Lorenzo Carter and ESPN 150 defensive tackle Bijhon Jackson. The linebacking corp is stacked with three ESPN 300 members, including Clifton Garrett, Christian Miller and Edwin Freeman. Cornerback Jalen Tabor is the No. 19-ranked player in the country.

Offensively, Superbad has a huge advantage with the No. 1-ranked prospect in the country, running back Leonard Fournette. This team is loaded on offense, with wide receivers Drake Harris, Josh Malone and Speedy Noil all in the mix.

Complete Superbad roster.

Team: Vapor Carbon
Coaches: Offensive coordinator George Whitfield, defensive coordinator Chris Gizzi.

Vapor Carbon will be tough to throw against with defensive backs Quin Blanding, Naijiel Hale and Ed Paris roaming the field. The linebacker group is just as impressive, with Ohio State commit Kyle Berger, Kain Daub and Dillon Bates all leading the way.

The offense for Vapor Carbon could be lethal with running back Joseph Yearby and Nick Chubb in the backfield. Spreading out wide receivers T.V. Williams, Justin Brent and tight end Ian Bunting on the outside could prove to be an awesome combination for this squad.

Team Vapor Carbon has a lot of pieces to make a long run in the 7-on-7 tournament, but then again, every team is stacked in this competition.

Complete Vapor Carbon roster.
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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Drew Barker's commitment to Kentucky is further proof that first-year head coach Mark Stoops will be a recruiting force to be reckoned with.

The first signal that Stoops would be a recruiting presence in the SEC came when he landed defensive end Jason Hatcher from Louisville (Tenn.) Trinity in February.

Drew Barker
Tom Hauck for ESPNESPN 150 quarterback Drew Barker is rated No. 7 at his position nationally and is the No. 1 prospect in the state of Kentucky.
Hatcher's signing was startling. He was a longtime Southern California commitment who had shown strong interest in Tennessee and Louisville, his hometown school. Beating that trio was no small feat.

Compiling the Wildcats' 2013 class was impressive even without Hatcher. Of Kentucky's 22 commits, six were four-star prospects and 14 were rated as three-star prospects. This was not a bottom-feeder class that Kentucky fans had grown accustomed to.

Yet Barker is even a bigger pick-up than any of the 2013 signees.

He's a highly rated, highly sought-after quarterback to build a class around. The last time Kentucky secured this type of in-state talent was in 1996 when the Cats signed Tim Couch. That worked out pretty well.

No one knows if Barker can be Couch. That's a tall order. What is known is that under Stoops, Kentucky is far ahead of where they were a year ago in recruiting.

Kentucky already has six commitments, including Barker. The class is also headlined by receiver Thaddeus Snodgrass from Springfield (Ohio) High. Note the home state; it's a recurring theme. Other than Barker, all of Kentucky's commitments are from Ohio.

Kentucky can afford Midwest prospects a unique opportunity -- a chance to play in the SEC close to home. Tennessee plans to recruit in Ohio. So do other schools. Yet they aren't quite as close as Lexington.

Kentucky has also proven to several prospects that it is intent on being successful in football. Currently, the school is undergoing a massive upgrade to its football facilities, which were largely considered toward the bottom of the SEC.

Kentucky has also proven it can win at a championship level. Its basketball program is proof of that. Therein lies the contradiction, however. Is Kentucky doomed to be a basketball school?

There's reason to think that SEC teams can do both thanks to generous boosters and robust television contracts. Think Florida first, then LSU and Tennessee. All are considered football schools that have had at least sporadic success on the hardwood.

Kentucky can also use basketball to its advantage. Prospects will surely be impressed by 20-plus thousand fans in attendance for a mid-week Cats' basketball game. Ashley Judd in the stands won't hurt either.


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A Watch List receiver has a new top five, and only one program from his original five finalists still finds itself among the favorite.


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Penn State: 2014 prospects to watch 

February, 7, 2013
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- With signing day 2013 wrapped up, it's time to turn our attention to 2014 recruits. Here are five players the Nittany Lions will be targeting for next year's class:


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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- ESPN Watch List wide receiver Thaddeus Snodgrass (Springfield, Ohio/Springfield) was set to make his final decision between Michigan State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin in November, but that didn't happen.

The 6-foot-1, 175-pound athlete decided to postpone his announcement. He felt it wasn't the right time.


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Nebraska continues to put an emphasis on recruiting as the Huskers sent out another offer in the Buckeye State.

Springfield, Ohio, receiver Thaddeus Snodgrass reported to ESPN.com he added an offer from the Huskers on Monday.

He is the fourth Ohio prospect in the Class of 2014 to earn an offer from the Huskers.

Snodgrass now has 11 offers, with Michigan State, Notre Dame and Ohio State among his favorites. He planned a November commitment but backed off of it.

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LB Miclisse puts PSU in upcoming top 10 

December, 3, 2012
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2014 linebacker Greg Miclisse (Palm Bay, Fla./Bayside) is quickly becoming stressed.

He came home Friday to 18 recruiting letters and, on some days, he receives nearly a dozen Facebook messages from coaches. As a result, Miclisse plans to release a top-10 list this week in hopes to narrow his list and calm his recruitment down a little bit.

"All these schools are coming to me, but there's a lot of stress and there's some that you really don't see yourself going to," Miclisse said. "I just want to take some stuff off my chest, and I think doing the top 10 will take a lot of the stress away."

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ESPN Watch List receiver Thaddeus Snodgrass (Springfield, Ohio/Springfield) made a college decision close to three weeks ago. He just can't seem to find the right time to make it public.

The 6-foot-0, 174-pound receiver planned to have a ceremony at his high school Thursday but said the school asked him to delay the announcement because of another event that day.

"They keep saying they have things going on in the library," Snodgrass wrote in a text message.

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Springfield, Ohio, junior receiver Thaddeus Snodgrass, a member of the ESPN Watch List, has a set a date to publicly announce his college decision.

The 6-foot, 174-pound receiver will announce his choice Thursday at his high school. No time has been finalized.

Snodgrass, who has nine offers, has a top five, in no order, of Michigan State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin. Although he has never named leaders, the belief is the Buckeyes and Fighting Irish are in the best position, with Michigan State also in the mix.

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