LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) Kentucky's 2013 football recruiting class is currently ranked No. 28 by Rivals.com, breaking the previous school record of No. 36 set in 2006. Mark Stoops talked about his first recruiting class as UK coach Wednesday at the Nutter Center.
COACH STOOPS: Thank you. Appreciate y'all being here. It's been a tremendous effort by our staff. We went out and signed 22 players today, 12 on offense, 9 on defense and one kicker. So, tremendous effort. I want to thank my staff. They did a tremendous job, just a group effort all the way around.
Q. On the addition of Jason Hatcher …
COACH STOOPS: Tremendous, as you know the importance of recruiting the best players in the state. With the addition of Jason we signed three players from Kentucky and Jason was important in a lot of ways, important person, great family, Mama was Louisville, that was hard to get around for a while but a great person, gives us great credibility in moving forward.
Q. On putting together a quality recruiting class in such a short time frame …
COACH STOOPS: It was a group effort. The staff ‑‑ that's a big part of it is the staff coming into this. The first year it's important when you hire guys that they have some connections, so that's a big part of it, guys with relationships that they have had either with players or with coaches.
That was a big part of it, again, we feel we have an awful lot to sell. I would like to thank the BBN, tremendous support. I think our recruits felt their presence, they felt the support of the fan base, so there's a lot of things that go into it but great effort by our staff, great work ethic and did a fantastic job.
Q. On having confidence he could pull off a strong recruiting class in such a short time frame …
COACH STOOPS: I told you that, didn't I?
Q. You did!
COACH STOOPS: I did, and I said that in the first press conference when we introduced the guys at mid‑year, that we would go toe‑to‑toe with the best schools in the country and with the best schools in the SEC. We're not going to take a backseat to anybody; we're going to recruit hard. We will win our fair share. We don't win 'em all, but we're going to work hard.
Q. On the importance of recruiting in Ohio …
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, it means an awful lot as well. Three players from Kentucky, three from Ohio. The caliber of player that we're getting from Kentucky and from Ohio obviously means a great deal. With Marcus (McWilson), he's, again, a fantastic player but he's even a better person. He's just wonderful to be around. I told Marcus the whole time I said, "What's it feel like to be the second best player to play at Cardinal Mooney High School? (Laughter.) That was my high school (Laughter.) But just a fantastic person, a joy to be around.
Q. On Alex Montgomery, JoJo Kemp and Khalid Thomas …
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, with Alex, again, he comes from a tremendous program, big‑time wide receiver that I knew about while I was at Florida State and had my eye on him for a good bit. Anybody that goes into the state champship game and has ‑‑ what did he have 9 catches for 190 yards or something like that, you know he's a heck of a football player. I've known Alex (Montgomery) for a while. It was a great "get" for us, a guy that's a strong receiver who can make plays.
Jojo (Kemp), he's tremendous, a home‑run hitter. As we assembled our staff and got together, he was a guy that we targeted right away and felt he was a "high priority" for us. So Jojo is a home‑run guy, can make some big plays for us.
Jeff (Badet), tremendous speed, again, a guy we targeted right away. The nice thing is, I want to say we signed 70% of the guys we brought on campus, we signed. Some of them we didn't have a "push" on for commitment, but Jeff was a guy that right away we targeted and loved. He's got that home‑run speed so it was important to us.
Khalid (Thomas), a program I'm very familiar with, out of Tallahassee, and he is a solid player that's going to give us some depth and have a punch to our class, but I've been familiar with Khalid for some time as well.
Q. On Jason Hatcher …
COACH STOOPS: Well, with Jason, you know, what makes him so dynamic is how explosive he is. He's very good on his feet, he's very good off the edge, he can do a lot of things but it's his first step, he's dynamic with his quickness and speed and athletic ability. We're excited about that. What was the second part of the question?
Q. On convincing Jason Hatcher to stay in state …
COACH STOOPS: I talked about it before. It's about relationships, it's about presenting a plan, how we ‑‑ we're going to use him. Things we have done in the past, the way our defense works, how he's going to fit into it and, again, we had to make up a lot of time in relationships and we spent a lot of time with Jason and his family, his mother, Donna, so, you know, we spent a lot of time and effort into that.
Again, whether it be a group of us going to his home, on our last visit when I went into the home we brought four of us with us, and we spent a good deal ‑‑ they were gracious enough to spend a bunch of time with us, and they got a chance to see us and see what we're all about.
Q. On recruiting Kentucky players …
COACH STOOPS: Absolutely, very important to keep Jacob (Hyde), big, strong guy, I love his accent. Just a great person to be around. Big, strong guy and very excited to have him in our program.
Ryan (Timmons), again, Ryan is a home run. A big‑time important guy to us. Ryan was the first school we went into, this new staff, myself, or the assistants, first guy we went to see was Ryan Timmons, so that's the priority we had on him and, of course, that was on the way to go see Jason Hatcher. First guy – Coach (DJ) Eliot was in place, the first guy on staff, and sent him to see Ryan and Jason.
Q. On why signing Ryan Timmons was a priority …
COACH STOOPS: Dynamic player, and, again, high priority in state. The key point there is "dynamic player" and Ryan is fantastic. He's a home‑run threat every time he touches the ball. He's very versatile, and, again, tremendous family, great person, great student, joy to be around and, you know, was very high priority for us.
Q. Do you know much about Ryan or did you have to play catch‑up on him?
COACH STOOPS: I had to play catch‑up on him, being that I was on the defensive side of the ball and it wasn't my area. No, I wasn't familiar with him.
Q. Coach, you talk about the day‑to‑day processes, moving forward. What's your plan for the coaching staff?
COACH STOOPS: Great question. The big thing now is to get signing day behind us and, again, a tremendous amount of work for a lot of people. We are anxious to get back working with our staff and our players. The next phase is to develop our players. Now, they have been working in the weight room, working extremely hard in the weight room, and now it will be important in winter conditioning where our coaches get to go out and put our players through drills.
So we will do that in the a.m. as we put the schedule together, but we will go through a couple of weeks of training our players in the morning and we will get a chance to get out there and coach 'em, and see them and see them move. Obviously there will not be a football involved but you will get to see them move around and run around a little bit.
Q. You guys put this class together in a very relatively short amount of time. Is this something the Big Blue Nation can expect from you guys?
COACH STOOPS: Absolutely. We feel like we have great momentum, but, yeah, we have we've been on the phone this morning talking to the top prospects in the '14 class, and we have been evaluating the '14 class for a week or so, which puts us behind, but we had to put so much time and energy and concentration into this class. And we are going to work hard the next couple of weeks, but a big part of our plan is just put aside ‑‑ get caught up with the 2014 class right now and get caught up with our players as well.
Q. On if the 2013 class still may grow …
COACH STOOPS: Yes.
Q. On Alvonte Bell …
COACH STOOPS: Alvonte is a guy I was familiar with when I was at Florida State, and as a matter of fact we offered him at Florida State. Alvonte has great size range and great upside, and very excited to see him committed when I arrived here on campus. We worked hard at keeping that relationship with Alvonte with us because we think an awful lot of him.
Q. On Javess Blue’s coach saying he rarely saw him tackled unless forced out of bounds …
COACH STOOPS: I don't know if I could be quoted saying that because there is probably some film of him being tackled somewhere. Chad Scott has known Javess for, I want to say ‑‑ you can talk with the assistants out there after I'm done but Coach Scott has known him for three, four years, has watched him so he had a great relationship with him.
Again, another guy that was right away, as soon as we had our staff together, started watching film, that's a guy we must have.
Q. On early commits recruiting other players through social media …
COACH STOOPS: It was very important because players want to play with other great players. They see what we're doing, they see the plan that you lay out for them, they understand your commitment to winning, but they also want to know that there are other great players around them. As you know, in football, it takes an army. It takes a whole bunch of us to be successful. It takes a great commitment from a lot of people, so I think that's part of it.
The players want to feel that there are other great players around them. Our players did a great job of communicating with each and building this class and making it special. That along with the Big Blue Nation and the social media out there, our players felt that, they felt that on Twitter and they felt the support of our fan base and I want to thank 'em for that because that makes a difference.
Q. On the Super Bowl commercial and signing day video and how important it is the marketing of all this and get momentum to try to move things forward …
COACH STOOPS: I think that's a big part of it, it is, to get it out there what we're doing, what our plan is, what we have going here at Kentucky.
Our people do a great job. Since I've been here I've been extremely impressed with everybody I've worked with, the administration, marketing, compliance, everybody does a fantastic job. Again, it takes us working together and I want to thank them for everything that they do.
Q. On life as a head coach …
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, it's been different, for sure. Being that I have two brothers that have been head coaches and watched them grow through the years and be head coaches and all the ups and downs and time commitments and those things, I was very familiar with it, but until you get into it and start doing it, it is a little bit different.
It is still an adjustment, so I'm working extremely hard to stay disciplined with everything that we're doing. We have a plan for what we're going to do, staying with that, staying on track and don't vary from it.
Q. On if being a head coach is as fun as he thought it would be …
COACH STOOPS: My brothers told me, "Be careful what you wish for"! (laughter) They told me that a while ago. But, no, it's been great. It's different and it's definitely more demanding, it's a little bit more challenging on your family and things like that, but it's been a lot of fun, because I'm not trying to be anybody that I'm not. I'm going to be exactly who I am, try to be very consistent and try to do things right and we know we're not going to be perfect but I'm going to strive to do the best I can every day and that's fun. It's good to put together this staff.
To work with the staff every day ‑‑ and, again, I'm not going to change. I am who I am and I'm going to stay consistent with that.
Q. Have you kept track of how many living rooms you have been in?
COACH STOOPS: I have not. It's been quite a few. My family is here now though, so, my boy had his first day of school today, so that was fun.
Q. On Reese Phillips’ play …
COACH STOOPS: We're not allowed to work with them with a football right now, so I haven't seen him throw yet. But everybody that has been associated with Reese Phillips has been extremely impressed with what he does, and he's in the weight room doing a great job.
Q. On if he sold immediate playing time …
COACH STOOPS: We always present an opportunity. We're never going to guarantee anybody ‑‑ that wouldn't be fair or be right to the players that are in our program, but, you know, we always tell them they're going to have a great opportunity. They're only behind 15 practices, so when they arrive here in the fall, they're not going to be too far behind with learning the scheme and so on and so forth.
Q. On getting better up front defensively in the SEC …
COACH STOOPS: Very important. You know, you have to. We worked extremely hard to get some big guys, you need some size, you need girth but you always need size in this program because those guys take a bit of time to develop as well. Some guys come in ready to go and other guys need a couple of years to develop and get bigger and stronger.
Q. Speaking of "ready to go" are there any guys that you know of that will be red shirted for next year?
COACH STOOPS: No, we will see between now and then. That will be up to the players and how hard they work between now and then.
Q. On the evaluation of the previous staff’s commits …
COACH STOOPS: Just the same, just to make sure that those players would have a fair opportunity to play within our system, to fit our schemes and what we're looking for and to be up front and honest with them.
Q. On signing players from the state of Florida …
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, we signed 9 players from Florida of the 22, and I think it's percentage-wise about what you see, maybe, in this conference as well. There are a lot of great players that come out of Florida. It's probably the way it fell because of our relationships with some of them. So I don't know if it would be the exact percentage in the future but I'm not going to put any limitations on it. There is a lot of talent down there but we're going to work extremely hard to hit everybody we can within a four, five, six‑hour drive from Lexington.
Q. Talk about the process, the excitement, dealing with all of this on the phone and how exciting has this been for you and your coaching staff?
COACH STOOPS: It's been very exciting. Some people mistake exciting with intensity sometimes, but it gets intense and it gets exciting and, you know, recruiting is just ‑‑ it's another battle, it's just another challenge. Again, we're going to go to work every day to win our fair share of the battles.
Q. You talked about recruiting and relationships. Some of your staff members you didn't have relationships with, so how did you get to know your own people?
COACH STOOPS: I had a feeling about most of the guys before I hired them. That happened quickly. I feel very good and very comfortable with the staff. We do a lot of research before we hire anybody and get a good feel for who they are and what they're all about.
That's been relatively easy to be honest with you. You get a pretty good feel for your guys, we spend a lot of time together, we may spend the day from six in the morning until eleven at night driving in cars and planes and you get to spend a lot of time with them.
Q. The Rivals.com rankings say this is the highest class you have had since they started ranking, and it's getting you a lot of national attention. Does that matter? Rankings? Even just for momentum?
COACH STOOPS: I think that's fair to say, I think it matters a little bit. I think if anything it says to the 2014 class that these guys are serious, they know what they're doing and they're going to make a great commitment to recruiting and gives you some credibility, I would say, with y'all and with the people and with the buzz out there. It's an honest answer. Yeah, let's not kid ourselves, you want to be higher than not be higher, right?
Q. When you look at the rankings and you see that the SEC has over 12-13 teams ahead of you, is that a daunting task to look ahead?
COACH STOOPS: That is when you start looking at it that way a little bit, yeah. It's a real challenge but it's a great credit to this league.
It's a big reason why I'm here. I always felt like UK ‑‑ a lot of people asked me about why here, and why did you jump on this opportunity, and why did you seek this opportunity? I just felt there was great potential here. I felt there was a sleeping giant here that we can do great things and we will do great things.
It's a big part of it, the league. If you want to be the best, you want to play against the best.
Q. Your name carries a lot of weight in the state of Ohio. Coach Vince Marrow’s does too …
COACH STOOPS: It does, a lot. Coach Marrow ‑‑ I'm glad you pronounced it well, because Vince and I went to school together and I still call him "Morrow," and it's actually "Marrow," but, anyway, Vince does a fantastic job, and relationships is his specialty.
Just having a chance to spend time with Coach Marrow and traveling throughout the state and visiting prospects, to see him in his element, just spending time, building relationships with families is big. He does a tremendous job, he works extremely hard and it's been a great asset to have him in his program.
Q. What did you want to see out of the Big Blue Nation?
COACH STOOPS: Consistency. Keep on doing what you're doing. I appreciate it, it's been helpful and I think we can always improve and take things to another level, right? So keep on pushing. I think our players, our prospects, our commitments have felt the BBN.
Q. On if Neal Brown being on staff gave credibility in recruiting …
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, definitely. Yeah, yeah, very much so. He brings us tremendous credibility, again, a guy that's done it. Especially within this state and really nationally, they have done a tremendous job on offense as a coordinator, and it's helped. It's certainly helped with Ryan Timmons, with Ryan being very familiar with the offense.
Again, Neal has done a great job building a relationship with that family, with Ryan and his mother, Melinda.
Q. On not signing any linebackers …
COACH STOOPS: It's just how it played out. It is. A big part of our philosophy ‑‑ you know, you obviously need great linebackers, you need great everything. But putting a priority on the front, that we talked about earlier, was very important.
I felt like we needed more skill as well at the secondary position. I would like to have had maybe one but it didn't work out that way and we will make some things work and we felt we had guys in the secondary that needed to move up, just athletically.
Q. On selling his defensive success …
COACH STOOPS: I don't know if there was necessarily a specific point there other than to say that we're going to be very good in everything that we do. Statistically I'm not sure what it was but we had the most three and outs when I was at Florida State than anybody in the country by far, so I know we present the offense with a lot of opportunities. So I would imagine that would be appealing but that's just like ‑‑ you know, Tim mentioned that and Mitch mentioned that, everybody in this room realizes that you need to be good defensively to win consistently.
Q. On Bud Dupree staying at linebacker …
COACH STOOPS: Possibly. He's so versatile, he's such a good football player that I know wherever we settle in with that he's going to have a big role in this defense. From what I've seen he's impressive and he's a guy we need to feature in the defense.
Q. I haven't heard anybody mention the kicker. That can win or lose games, ‑‑
COACH STOOPS: Austin (MacGinnis). Yeah, you're right, strong leg, great person, fun to be around. He's a tough kid, a guy that wants to be in the mix. He doesn't want to be treated off by himself, he wants to be right in there with the rest of his team lifting and running and training so very excited about Austin.
Q. Can you talk about the offensive line now?
COACH STOOPS: Individually? Justin Day, again, just a great size, tremendous athlete, great size. We list him here at 6‑8, 305 and that was somebody we watched right away and watching the film we were encouraged with what we saw, that he was committed and excited about keeping Justin.
Nick Haynes is a guy we just started working a couple of weeks ago and just had a chance to watch him and get caught up with him on film, and again, we brought him in here just this past week, and extremely impressed with his athletic ability, again, great size, a guy that's very versatile. We feel that he could play some center as well as guard. Excited about him.
Kyle Meadows, tremendous all‑around player, extremely athletic. He's the guy you're looking for at tackle, very long, he will get stronger. He needs to put on weight and get stronger between now and the fall but tremendous upside with him.
Ramsey Meyers, again, another guy we're excited about, had chance to evaluate his film when we got here, and Coach Brown and Coach Schlarman were excited about keeping him and that commitment.