Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Stoops, Jones recruiting with nation's best
By Edward Aschoff
Kentucky's Mark Stoops and Tennessee's Butch Jones are bringing optimism to their respective programs.
It wasn't long ago when Kentucky and Tennessee were two programs considered to be in shambles.
On the field, nothing was really going right and the top players weren't exactly lining up to sign their names on letters of intent from either school.
But in the past few months, things have changed. Neither team has won a game or even stepped onto a field for a meaningful game, but both programs are currently feeling the sort of recruiting momentum reserved for top schools. And to find the source of all that momentum, look no further than the two new head coaches in charge.
The hirings of Mark Stoops at Kentucky and Butch Jones at Tennessee came with mixed reviews from the masses, but one thing everyone knew was that they'd have the ability to make some waves in recruiting. But I highly doubt anyone thought the swells would reach these heights.
If you look at ESPN's current recruiting class rankings you'll see both Tennessee and Kentucky in the top 11. Tennessee currently sits sixth, while Kentucky is at No. 11. The Vols are only behind Alabama (No. 2) and Texas A&M (No. 3) in the SEC, and both are ahead of Georgia (No. 13), Auburn (No. 14) and Ole Miss (No. 15).
Other recruiting services have the Vols and Cats ranked within the top five in their rankings, too. Everyone seems impressed with these two coaches, and it's easy to see why.
Jones already has verbal commitments from 16 players, including two ESPN 150 members in running back Jalen Hurd (Hendersonville, Tenn./Beech Senior) and safety Todd Kelly Jr. (Knoxville, Tenn./Webb School Of Knoxville). Six of Tennessee's commitments are ESPN 300 members and eight are four-star prospects.
Hurd was a huge get for Jones. He's an elite back who could come in and contribute right away for the Vols. He's also the type of player other prospects can rally around and want to play with.
As for Stoops and Kentucky, the Wildcats -- fresh off of offering a 13-year-old prospect -- have an SEC-high 18 commits with one ESPN 150 player -- defensive end Denzel Ware (Crestview, Fla.) -- and five ESPN 300 members, including No. 6 pocket passing quarterback Drew Barker. Ware actually spent two stints committed to Florida State before committing to Kentucky.
Both of these coaches have been very pleasant surprises on the recruiting trail since their arrivals. People wondered if a more defensive-minded coach like Stoops, who was Florida State's defensive coordinator before taking the Kentucky job, could reel in the kind of offensive players needed to get Kentucky going again. Well, he signed top junior college receiver Javess Blue and lured four-star receiver Ryan Timmons away from Florida and Ohio State in the Wildcats' 2013 class.
So far in his 2014 class he's managed to get commitments from three ESPN 300 offensive players. Stanley Williams (Monroe, Ga./George Walton Academy) is the No. 16 running back in the country, while Thaddeus Snodgrass (Springfield, Ohio) is the No. 25 receiver nationally.
And Jones has Tennessee's recruiting class loaded with stars like the old days. People wondered if he'd be able to recruit the Southeast, but he's put those reservations in the past with the way he's pounded the pavement around these parts. Oh, and let's not forget the fact that he signed ESPN 150 receiver Marquez North and ESPN 300 quarterbacks Joshua Dobbs and Riley Ferguson, who will compete for starting jobs this fall.
The past struggles at both universities haven't shaken either one of these coaches on the recruiting trail. They're recruiting with the big boys and they're holding their own. It's still a long way until national signing day, but these coaches are on a roll.
Imagine what they could do if they start winning on the field.