Nobody knew on Feb. 4, 2009, that the recruiting class announced that day by the University of Kentucky would be the last to sign to play football for Rich Brooks. Exactly 11 months later, he announced his retirement as UK’s head coach.
But if this was to be his final legacy, what a class it was. A whopping five four-star recruits (well, whopping for UK) and another 16 that drew as many as three stars announced they would play for the Wildcats. On paper, it was a glorious group.
On the stat sheet, not so much.
We documented last fall the problems that befell the class that signed in 2008. The four-year players who finished their eligibility at Kentucky would be the group that graduated in ’11, finishing the season with an upset win over Tennessee.
But that would be just the fifth victory of the season against seven losses – UK’s first losing campaign in six years. And Wildcat fans aren’t expecting much more from the coming season.
It wasn’t supposed to happen like this, but in the mercurial world of college football recruiting, that is more the rule than the exception. Sometimes recruits just don’t work out. Injuries, academics and attrition take their toll. And sometimes, when it comes to talent evaluation, recruiters are simply wrong.
Kentucky’s four-star athletes from that year included a pair of quarterbacks, Morgan Newton and Ryan Mossakowski. It was almost a given that whichever QB didn’t win the job would transfer. Exit, Mr. Mossakowski, who landed at Lamar, following a stop at a junior college. He never got to throw a pass in a game as a Wildcat.
Newton is spending the off-season prior to his senior year rehabbing from surgery and hoping he can wrestle the starting job away from sophomore Maxwell Smith.
The rest of the four-stars included junior college transfers DeQuin Evans and Chris Matthews, both of whom made major contributions in their two seasons in Lexington. But they’re long gone and UK still hasn’t found a consistent pass rushing defensive end to replace Evans, or a big-play wideout who could produce as Matthews did.
The other remaining four-star is defensive lineman Donte Rumph, who finally showed last season that he is, indeed, a Southeastern Conference player.
Of the 16 three-star players announced in ’09, only five remain: Mister Cobble, Anthony Kendrick, LaRod King, Larry Warford and Dakota Tyler, who just recently returned to the squad after missing last season because of academic woes.
The other four have been solid contributors, but only Warford, an offensive lineman, has garnered any sort of all-conference acclaim. Cobble led UK’s defensive linemen in tackles last year; King struggled to make catches at times but had a team-high seven touchdown grabs; and Kendrick came on late at tight end, appearing in just five games, making only three catches (all against Georgia in the 11th game of the year).
So the recruiting class that Rivals.com called perhaps the best in the Rich Brooks Era melted away.
Brian Adams ultimately chose baseball over football, never developing into the consistent deep threat wide receiver this team so desperately needs.
Offensive lineman Samuel Simpson, a Henry Clay High School product considered a must-get recruit for the Wildcats, suffered a debilitating back injury and never got a chance to contribute.
Linebacker Ridge Wilson, who appeared to be on the verge of becoming a big-time playmaker in Rick Minter’s 3-4 defensive scheme, was dismissed after a drug-related arrest.
Explosive tailback Donald Russell transferred just when it appeared he was about to take over the starting job.
Linebacker Qua Huzzie was mentioned as a potential heir-apparent to Danny Travathan, but the LaGrange, Georgia, product left early.
The Walker brothers, Jarvis (safety) and Myron (defensive lineman) were three-star prospects from Louisiana who eventually transferred out.
There were others, but the fact that they, too, are no longer on the roster helps explain why Kentucky has been picked to finish at the bottom of the SEC East again – for the first time, seventh in the division, thanks to the addition of Missouri.
Transfers, walk-ons and redshirts have swelled the ranks of seniors on the 2012 UK squad to a total of 17. Two of the two-star athletes who signed in ’09, tight end Jordan Aumiller and Martavius Neloms, have contributed as Aumiller was named to the All-SEC Freshman team two years ago, and Neloms has become a hard-hitting, two-year starter at safety.
But the fact that a class so highly-heralded has all but withered away only serves to remind us that no matter how good a team looks on paper, it has to prove itself on the field – IF it can get there.
(Dick Gabriel is in his 23rd season with the UK TV and Radio Network and can be heard on the Big Blue Insider Monday through Friday on 630 WLAP-AM, wlap.com and I Heart Radio.)