LEXINGTON, Ky. – A pair of junior-college standouts, tight end Steven Borden and defensive end Za’Darius Smith, have become the first signees for new Kentucky coach Mark Stoops, the coach announced Wednesday.
Borden is a 6-3, 250-pounder from Kilgore (Texas) College who earned second-team all-conference honors. Among junior college players, the 6-6, 255-pound Smith is ranked as the nation’s No. 1 strongside defensive end by JCGridiron.com.
“This is a great start to our recruiting class,” Stoops said. “Being able to sign such impact players with a short amount of time to recruit gives me great optimism for the future.
“Steven brings us a player who is very versatile and brings the physical presence we need at the tight end position. We can move him around in the offense and play different positions. We’re excited to have him join us.
“Za’Darius has great size and is an ‘every down’ player – a physical player who can stop the run and also can rush the passer,” Stoops continued. “We’re very happy to sign him.”
Both players are graduating in December and plan to enroll at Kentucky in January. They will participate in spring practice and each has two years of eligibility remaining.
Here are their biographies:
Steven Borden, Tight End, 6-3, 250, Jr-JC, Waxahachie, Texas (Waxahachie/Kilgore) – Second-team all-conference tight end at Kilgore (Texas) College … Caught 11 passes this season for 181 yards, a 16.5-yard average, and four touchdowns … Also was recruited by Texas Tech before turning his attention to the Wildcats … Versatile athlete who has the size to play tight end and the athleticism to play as a slot receiver … Coached at Kilgore by J.J. Eckert … Played defensive end during the 2010 season at Southwestern Assemblies of God, an NAIA school in Waxahachie, Texas … Made 35 tackles, featuring 7.5 tackles for loss, including 3.5 quarterback sacks … Played his senior season as a defensive end at Waxahachie High School, helping team to a 12-1 record and the quarterfinals of the state Class AAAA playoffs … Earned first-team all-district honors … Coached at Waxahachie by David Ream … Played three seasons at Santa Clarita Christian High School in California as a quarterback, receiver and linebacker … Coached at Santa Clarita by Garrick Moss … Also played basketball in high school.
“Who I was going to play for and what kind of offense they run was how I based my decision and both fit well with me,” Borden said. “It started with the coaching. Coach Stoops, Coach Brown – and his offensive system – and Coach Marrow (tight ends coach Vince Marrow) all were pivotal, all have successful coaching histories. It is a young, ambitious coaching staff – all hungry to make things happen at Kentucky.”
“The greatest thing about Steven is his work ethic,” said Josh Pruitt, Kilgore offensive coordinator. “He is relentless, always trying to get better. He has great speed for a player his size. He power blocks well and the best thing he does is catch the ball, with how fast he is and how good his hands are. We have highlights this year with some unbelievable catches he made.”
Za’Darius Smith, Defensive End, 6-6, 260, Jr-JC, Greenville, Ala. (Greenville/East Mississippi Community College – The nation’s No. 1 junior college strongside defensive end prospect as ranked by JCGridiron.com … The nation’s No. 10 overall juco prospect, and No. 2 defensive end, by ESPN … Listed No. 15 overall, and the No. 2 weakside defensive end, by 24/7 Sports … Totaled 47 tackles, including 6.5 quarterback sacks and 11 total tackles for loss, as a sophomore at East Mississippi Community College in Scooba, Miss. … Named second-team All-America by the National Junior College Athletic Association … Also named to the juco all-region and all-state teams … Helped EMCC to an 8-2 record … Made 19 tackles, featuring 4.5 sacks and seven total TFL, as a freshman … EMCC won the 2011 NJCAA national championship with a 12-0 mark … Head coach was Buddy Stephens and his defensive line coach was current UK assistant Jimmy Brumbaugh … Was offered by numerous schools, such as Florida State, Miami, Texas A&M, Texas, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Auburn among others … A relative latecomer to the game as he grew up playing basketball at Greenville (Ala.) High School and didn’t begin playing football until his senior year …Coached at Greenville by Ben Blackmon …An older brother, Bob Meeks, played center at Auburn from 1988-91 and for the NFL’s Denver Broncos … A cousin, Davern Williams, played at Troy and for the NFL’s New York Giants … A niece, Kristi Mokube, currently plays basketball at Florida State.
“What helped me make my decision was my relationship with Coach Brumbaugh, Coach Eliot (UK defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot) and Coach Stoops and my trust in them,” Smith said.
“Za’Darius is a humble person in that he is a fantastic athlete who knows he still has a lot of work to do,” East Mississippi Coach Buddy Stephens said. “He has a tremendous skill set to be an excellent pass rusher. He has a body frame that can carry more weight and he’s only played three years of football. He also knows he is in this thing for a college education. He’s a very loyal, articulate young man who will be a fantastic spokesman for Kentucky football.”