Kentucky football recruiting takes a hit, but the game’s not over

John Clay
·4 min read

Rutgers? Really?

Yes, really.

Kentucky’s No. 1 football prep prospect for the class of 2022, Owensboro quarterback Gavin Wimsatt, pledged his allegiance to the Scarlet Knights on Friday, publicly committing to Greg Schiano’s up-and-coming Big Ten rebuild on the streets of Jersey.

A surprise? Yes, that is if you weren’t paying attention to the smoke signals sent up by the various recruiting gurus. A blow to UK’s recruiting efforts? Yes, of course, considering the 6-foot-3, 200-pound quarterback is a four-star recruit who ranks No. 89 nationally by 247Sports.

A death blow to Mark Stoops’ recruiting? Nope.

Actually, there are solid reasons behind Wimsatt’s choice. Schiano is a proven coach who in the first season of his second stint at Rutgers went 3-6 against an all-Big Ten schedule. (Remember, Tennessee could have hired Schiano, but let UT fans pick Jeremy Pruitt instead.) The Knights had won a total of three games the previous two seasons. And Rutgers is in the midst of recruiting a top-10 class for 2022.

The Scarlet Knights also have a rising star in offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson, who directed the attacks at Princeton and Oklahoma State before signing on with Schiano last season. It was reportedly Gleeson who developed the relationship with Wimsatt that brought the dual-threat Red Devil to New Brunswick.

That put Rutgers ahead of Kentucky, where first-year offensive coordinator Liam Coen did not leave his NFL assistant coach’s role with the Los Angeles Rams until January and who, because of COVID-19 restrictions, has not yet been able to get out and meet face-to-face with recruits.

“Once we’re cleared to get on the road and (I will) do some of those things, and get people on the campus,” Coen said last week, “but right now those rules have not been lifted.”

Gleeson has shown what he can do. With his play-calling, Oklahoma State ranked 21st in total offense in 2019. In his first year at Rutgers, the Knights improved from 273.1 total yards per game in 2019 to 335.3 yards in 2020 — against exclusively Big Ten opponents. Meanwhile, Coen is in the midst of installing his offense during UK’s spring drills. He won’t call his first Division I play until Sept. 4.

High-profile football recruits have left the state before. Madison Southern running back Damian Harris chose Alabama. Lafayette offensive tackle Jedrick Wills chose Alabama. Covington Catholic tight end Michael Mayer chose Notre Dame. Western Hills wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson picked Nebraska, only to transfer to UK over the winter.

The Cats survived. Five straight bowl games. Three straight bowl victories. A 10-win season in 2018. Stoops’ SEC record over his last 40 games is 18-22, nearly stellar by the program’s historical standards.

“I wish every player I recruited nothing but the best,” recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow tweeted Friday after Wimsatt’s announcement. “This will be one of the best classes @UKCoachStoops will sign since we been here. Go Big Blue.”

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Indeed, a pair of announcements could put Kentucky recruiting on the rebound as early as this week.

The brothers combination of Destin and Keaten Wade are to announce their college choice at 4 p.m. Friday at Summit High School in Spring Hill, Tenn. Destin is a four-star quarterback/athlete. Keaton is a four-star linebacker. Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and Louisville made their final four cut.

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On Saturday, four-star offensive lineman Kiyaunta Goodwin is expected to announce his college choice. A Louisville native, the 6-7, 300-pound Goodwin plays for Charlestown High School in Indiana. Ohio State, Alabama, Clemson and Michigan State joined Kentucky on Goodwin’s final list, but the recruiting analysts believe he is leaning UK’s way.

“When Coach (Eric Wolford) took over, the first thing he did as soon as he got the job is he called me,” Goodwin told Eleven Warriors about Kentucky’s new offensive line coach. “That shows that he was very invested in me and he took this relationship and my recruitment very serious.”

That’s the thing about recruiting. It’s never over.

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