Don't look now, but first-year Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops is turning some heads.
After 50,831 fans packed Commonwealth Stadium in April to take in the spring game, the Wildcats find themselves in the top 25 of the current ESPN.com class of 2014 recruiting rankings. That's a good place to be, but it's still the ninth-best class in the SEC.
Still, for a program that's coming off a 2-10 campaign, a winless SEC season and is largely overlooked in the landscape of the SEC, it's certainly something for Stoops and the rest of Big Blue Nation to hang its hat on.
The centerpiece of Kentucky's 2013 class is 4-star quarterback and ESPN 150 member Drew Barker. The 6'4", 205-pound pro-style prospect chose the Wildcats over SEC East foes South Carolina and Tennessee.
Anytime Kentucky can beat out two traditional SEC powerhouses for a big-time player, it's huge. It was also testament to Stoops' ability to make an impression. According to Cincinnati.com, Barker received 115 letters in one day.
Cheesy? Sure. But that tactic is becoming commonplace these days, and it's only cheesy if it doesn't work.
Another key piece of Kentucky's 2013 recruiting class is 4-star wide receiver Thaddeus Snodgrass, a 6'0, 180-pounder from Springfield, Ohio who chose the Wildcats over West Virginia, South Carolina and Louisville, according to the Louisville (Ky.) Courier-Journal.
While securing the commitment of another 4-star commitment is news in and of itself, it's the state Snodgrass hails from that's the important issue here.
Five of Kentucky's seven commitments in Stoops' class of 2013 hail from the talent-rich Buckeye State, which is not an accident.
In Stoops' introductory press conference in Lexington, he made it a point to specify that Ohio was one of his primary recruiting focuses.
Kentucky, obviously we're going to recruit Kentucky hard and take care of our home We're going to recruit Ohio very hard. I have strong ties in Ohio. There's very good football players in Ohio. We'll work through the Carolinas, Florida, and Georgia a little bit.
The early success in the 2014 recruiting class comes on the heels of a solid close by Stoops and Co. as the new staff was getting settled in their new gigs.
Junior college defensive end Za'Darius Smith signed with Kentucky in the class of 2013 after developing a relationship with Stoops while Stoops was at Florida State. Stoops also was instrumental in the signing of defensive end Jason Hatcher and safety Marcus McWilson.
Is Kentucky going to contend for the SEC East title in 2013? No. That's way too premature. But Stoops quickly turned momentum around in Lexington. No longer is Kentucky just a basketball school. There's hope for football, and if this recruiting momentum keeps up, hope will turn into success on the gridiron sooner rather than later.
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