Jacob Noger | UK Athletics
The early signing period has come and gone for the third season in a row and once again Kentucky should feel good about where they stand. The Wildcats were able to land 17 signatures to begin the class off in 2021, but there is still plenty of work to be done.
This class will be known for and mainly considered a success for how the staff built a fence around the state of Kentucky. UK was able to sign six of the top eight prospects in the state and most importantly signed blue-chippers Jager Burton and Dekel Crowdus out of Lexington Frederick Douglass after missing out on top-100 tackle Walker Parks last season. These players from Douglass, North Hardin, Bowling Green and Somerset make up a large chunk of the class and how they perform in Lexington will tell the tale of just how successful this class is.
However, every college football program in America has misses for one way or another. It could be a decommitment or a big time prospect who just decided to go somewhere else to play his college ball. For those who follow the crootin’ game all year, most of these names will be familiar and reasons why they aren’t part of Kentucky’s program may just be able to tell us a thing or two both good and bad.
Now it’s time to take a look on who UK missed out on and why some of these players will be going somewhere else to continue their football careers next fall.
The Will linebacker prospect was one of the first commitments for Kentucky in the class of 2021 and the high three-star pledged to the Wildcats back in January immediately coming off an unofficial visit to West Virginia. The high school teammate of Michael Drennen II seemed to be an answer to UK’s inside linebacker depth issues, but that all changed when he flipped from Kentucky to Minnesota in April. He signed with the Gophers and is a member of P.J. Fleck’s best recruiting class to date. Meanwhile, the Wildcats appear to have lost out on Williams’ replacement which was junior college prospect Joko Willis. Martez Thrower projects to be a Mike, but it will be important for UK to find a Will backer before this cycle ends.
Wilson-Lamp was recruited by Kentucky to play cornerback, but the Wildcats could just never get enough traction up in Northeast Ohio. Wilson-Lamp committed to the Mountaineers back in January and stayed firm for nearly a year before signing on the dotted line today. This is where not having visits probably really hurt Kentucky because without them it just made a potential flip not possible. UK alum Gerad Parker pulled off a big recruiting win for the Mountaineers.
There is no hiding from the fact that quarterback recruiting has been a blatant wart for the Kentucky program in recent years and it is probably the main reason Eddie Gran and Darin Hinshaw are no longer employed. The Wildcats have consistently missed on their top quarterback targets and that was once again the case in the class of 2021. UK was one of the first school to offer Veilleux back in May 2019 and had him on campus in June that same year. It wasn’t quite enough as he committed to Penn State a short time afterwards. New offensive coordinator Liam Coen’s biggest job will be to land the top fish on UK’s board at the sport’s most influential position.
Necessity at Tight End
Tight end was a bonafide position of need for Kentucky in the class of 2021 and they casted a wide net through the process. Over the summer, they zoned in on both Michael Trigg and Trinity Bell as they looked to land a top-notch prospect. They missed out on both as Trigg committed to USC after it seemed like Auburn or South Carolina being the potential destination at one time while Bell went with Tennessee while the Vols were getting commitments left and right. These misses made getting Jordan Dingle a high priority and it was a big deal when Kentucky landed him during the season.
Nashville has been an area UK has tried to break into in the last few classes and they dipped into in again to land mid three-star Adrian Huey. They also tried to steal Noah Josey out of Tennessee to join the Big Blue Wall and at a time looked like one of the favorites. However, Josey surprised a bunch of people when he committed to UVa in October. Expect UK and assistant Steve Clinkscale to still get out and try to steal some prospects in the Nashville metro area.
Alabama Gets Everyone
There is not a Power Five program in college football that hasn’t been effected by Nick Saban. The Tide recruit all over the country and staffs who put in years of groundwork can be beat out by the premier program in college football. That was certainly the case for five-star Damon Payne after UK had spent years establishing a recruiting reputation in Detroit. Steve Clinkscale had a relationship with Payne back before he even started high school.
In the case of Goodwine, the DMV has been an area that Kentucky likes to occasionally dip into and now defensive coordinator Brad White is running point in the area. Out of seemingly nowhere, White had Kentucky on Goodwine’s final list and they had a puncher’s chance as the decision approached. However, Saban gets his guys.
The great thing about the new early signing period is that there is still wiggle room available for every football program. Now you add the transfer portal where everyone will have instant eligibility and the recruiting game of chess still has plenty of moves left on the table. However, there is always some what ifs in any recruiting haul and Kentucky had some guys that they were close with, but just couldn’t finish the deal.