Kentucky coach Mark Stoops knows he doesn’t have any positive results on the field to sell to recruits.
That’s why he’s offered them an opportunity on the field to be part of what he promises to be a very bright future in Lexington.
Kentucky signed the nation’s No. 22 class in 2014, according to the 247Sports Team Composite Rankings. Stoops pulled that off despite finishing with a miserable 2-10 record in his first season with the Wildcats.
Stoops said at SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala., on Thursday that recruits weren’t caught off guard when Kentucky struggled last season.
"I think most of our prospects we were recruiting knew we were in for a rebuild, had a little bit of work to do,” Stoops said. “There was no mystery there.”
There was a strong class willing to stand by Stoops even after the season had finished. Key 2014 prospects like quarterback Drew Barker, defensive tackle Matt Elam and safety Darius West gave credibility to a program that rarely makes any kind of recruiting splash.
The recruiting effort shown by Stoops and his staff has paid off.
“We constantly talk about our program about recruiting and development,” Stoops said. “We're certainly recruiting at a very high level. I've been very pleased with the way things have gone in recruiting the past two recruiting classes.”
Kentucky’s 2015 class is ranked No. 26 in the nation by 247Sports. The Wildcats are poised to put together another Top 25 run with the crop of 12 commitments they’ve already added to the mix.
Kentucky could add to that group this weekend.
The Wildcats are expected to host several highly-touted unofficial visitors, including running back Damien Harris from Berea, Ky. Harris is ranked the nation’s No. 1 running back by 247Sports Composite.
Other top prospects expected to visit Kentucky this weekend include linebacker Amonte Caban from Smiths Station, Ala., safety Marcus Walker from Lake Wales, Fla., and offensive tackle Martinas Rankin from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.
Several committed players plan to visit Kentucky this weekend. One of them, tight end C.J. Conrad from Lagrange, Ohio, told 247Sports he plans to help sell the uncommitted prospects on a promising future in Lexington.
“I just think it is going to be different,” Conrad said. “Their goal is to win six or seven games and get to a bowl game. They had a great '14 class but it's not going to be like 'oh, national championship.'
“Offensively, I know coach (Neal) Brown has been awesome. I think he will make a big change because he is all about the spread offense, which I love.”
Kentucky has found several Ohio prospects like Conrad who love Kentucky.
Recruiting the state of Ohio has been an important part of Stoops’ plan. Eleven of Kentucky’s 29 signees in 2014 came from the state of Ohio. The state has already provided five commitments in the 2015 class.
“It only makes sense for us to go to Ohio with my ties to Ohio, my roots to Ohio, but also the proximity,” said Stoops, who grew up in Youngstown, Ohio. “Southern Ohio, we're so close to. It only makes sense to go there.
“There's quality football players there. The SEC is strong everywhere right now. So, yes, it does help us when we go recruit Ohio and represent the SEC and the University of Kentucky.”
Kentucky is eventually going to need to win games if it wants to continue to land top-level recruits. That won’t be easy this year as the media picked Kentucky to finish last in the SEC East as expected.
But low expectations on the field won’t slow Kentucky’s effort on the recruiting trail.
“That's where it starts,” Stoops said. “You've got to have great players. Our staff has worked extremely hard.
247Sports rankings updated
Defensive end Josh Sweat from Oscar Smith High School in Chesapeake, Va., is the new No. 1 prospect in the country, according to 247Sports.
The service updated its player rankings this week, elevating the elite defensive end to the top spot following an impressive performance at The Opening in Beaverton, Ore.
Sweat, who’s considering Georgia, Tennessee, Florida State, Ohio State and Virginia Tech, told 247Sports he believes the work he’s put in off the field has helped him earn the top spot.
“Just a lot of practice,” he said. “You gotta love this. You have to be real consistent. You really have to be consistent.
“It’s a big thing. It’s a big factor. You have to sacrifice a lot to actually get where you are. I still got work to do honestly. It’s a long journey since a year and a half ago.”
The highest-ranked commit in the new rankings is Concord, Calif., defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie, who last week chose Tennessee.
Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M are also represented with commitments in the top 25 of the new 247Sports Player Rankings.
Alabama starts up 2016 class
Alabama received commitments from three prospects in the 2016 class this week.
Cornerback Shyheim Carter from Kentwood, La., defensive tackle Benito Jones from Waynesboro, Miss., and athlete Demetris Robertson from Savannah, Ga., all decided to go ahead and pledge to the Crimson Tide.
All three Alabama commitments have received a four-star rating out of five from 247Sports. Robertson told the site he gave his commitment to Saban during his unofficial visit to Tuscaloosa.
“He wanted to see how my experience was and talked to me about how I would be used on either side of the ball,” Robertson said. “After our conversation, I gave him the word. He gave me a big hug afterwards. That's the widest I've seen him smile.”
Moses looking around
It was only a matter of time until LSU commit Dylan Moses would start looking at other schools.
After all, Moses isn’t eligible to sign with a school until 2017.
Moses, who attends University Lab School in Baton Rouge, La., traveled to Alabama and Florida State this week. The Seminoles made a strong impression during his time in Tallahassee, Fla.
Just did my tour at Florida State, this place is AMAZING... They're definitely in the mix