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UK Football Recruiters Right in Looking North

When you want something – REALLY want something – you go where you’ll have the best opportunity of getting it.  Including football talent.

Willie Sutton illegally recruited money from banks

The axiom was attributed to Willie Sutton, but later in life, he admitted he never said it. When asked why he robbed banks, the infamous Sutton supposedly replied, “Because that’s where the money is.”

In other words, when you want something – REALLY want something – you go where you’ll have the best opportunity of getting it. Honestly, of course.

Sutton, as robbers go, was successful in that he stole more than $2 million during his career that began in the 1920s. Of course, a couple million was REAL dough, back then. On the other hand, he spent more than half of his adult life in jail.

So he’s not exactly the role model a coach should embrace, but the core value of the wisdom attributed to Sutton, even though it’s an urban legend, is solid, especially when it comes to recruiting. If you want to build a successful program, you go where the players are.

For Joker Phillips and his staff, that means (in addition to the Bluegrass state), Florida, Georgia, Tennessee – states that have yielded high-quality athletes in the past. UK’s leading tackler this year, Danny Travathan, is a Florida native. He’ll join Georgia product and fellow linebacker Wesley Woodyard on the Denver Broncos roster. Randall Cobb grew up in Alcoa, Tennessee.

Missing for far too long has been a vein of players from north of the Ohio River, but that appears to be changing. There are only six Ohio natives on the UK roster right now, but Kentucky coaches have made scholarship offers to 21 seniors playing high school football in the Buckeye State.

You can trace the interest in that talent-rich state – including football-crazy Cincinnati – to the presence of defensive coordinator Rick Minter, who signed on with Phillips last year. Minter spent 10 years as the head coach at the University of Cincinnati, and his staff at one point included a young assistant named Joker.

Following the departure last season of defensive backs coach Steve Brown, Minter brought in ex-Wildcat Mike Cassity, who understands the value of looking north, as well as south, for talent.

“Cincinnati and Southern Ohio is an in-state recruiting area for us — or it should be. That’s the way I’m approaching it,” Cassity told the Courier-Journal’s Kyle Tucker.

(For a look at how UK’s recruiting breaks down geographically, check out the CJ’s map adjacent to Kyle’s story at

Cassity played for the Wildcats under Fran Curci, from 1971-74. Curci’s best teams featured players from north AND south, including linebacker Jim Kovach (Cleveland area), defensive end Art Still (New Jersey), defensive back Mike Siganos (Connecticut), defensive tackle Jerry Blanton (Toledo), and offensive guard Thom Dornbrook (Berea, Ohio) to name a few. All were named either All-SEC or All-America and went on to play pro football.]

Of course, the south yielded a lot of future Wildcats as well, including All-SEC quarterback Derrick Ramsey (Hastings, Florida) and All-America offensive tackle Warren Bryant (Miami).

Curci also landed his share of homegrown talent before his program collapsed under the strain of NCAA penalties. Curci later admitted that with his program grounded by sanctions, he and his staff took chances on some players who ended up making far too many headlines off the field, rather than on it.

When Jerry Claiborne replaced Curci, the Hopkinsville native seemed more interested in populating the UK roster with Kentuckians – a noble gesture, but one that ultimately proved there isn’t enough talent in this state to fully stock a successful SEC team.

Other UK coaches since then kept returning to the south, and why not? It’s the mother lode when it comes to football talent. But you’re also competing with every other school in the SEC, as well as the ACC and, in some parts, the Big 12.

Rich Brooks indicated an interest in looking to Cincinnati, and Phillips now has taken it a step further. Players who grow up in the Cincinnati area with an interest in A.) Playing in the SEC, and B.) Staying close to home, can look at Kentucky as their best option.

Of course, UK recruiters will be dueling with Big 10 coaches, including the new guy at Ohio State, Urban Meyer. But the Buckeyes can’t get everybody.

Willie Sutton may not have said it, but he lived it. He robbed banks because that’s where the money was. What he actually said was, “Why did I rob banks? Because I enjoyed it. I loved it.” And, he said this: “Go where the money is...and go there often.”

UK recruiters need to take heed: Go where the players are… and go there often.

(Dick Gabriel is a 23-year veteran of the UK TV and Radio networks. He can be heard Monday through Friday, from 6-8 p.m. ET on The Big Blue Insider, on 630 WLAP-AM and


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