UNIVERSITY OF KENTUCKY FOOTBALL MEDIA CONFERENCE
February 7, 2018
MARK STOOPS: From Alabama, Nick Lewis, an offensive tackle from Jacksonville. Chris Oats, a linebacker from Cincinnati. And Kavosiey Smoke, another runningback from Alabama. You all smile with that. That will be fun to say (laughter). Let's hope he scores a lot of touchdowns. Great guy.
You've heard me talk about it before. I think the nucleus of our class was signed in December. I think that was very good for us. It was very good for the University of Kentucky. I also think it was very important. It was a great day today.
As I've mentioned, learned from Jimbo a long time ago, it's really important to recruit a solid class top to bottom. But the last two, three, four guys are absolutely critical.
I really feel like we hit a home run with the guys we signed today. Excited about this class. With these four guys here, it puts a really solid class together with 24 players in total. That's a perfect number for us. I felt like we hit the number right on the spot.
We signed 13 offensive players, which we needed, nine defensive players, two specialists. Really complete class. I feel very good about it. It worked out really well.
I appreciate the efforts of our assistant coaches. They worked tirelessly around the clock for years sometimes to recruit these guys. It paid dividends here with this recruiting class.
It's kind of nice, the early signing period, we had talked back in December, I think it was very good for us. Had a chance to kind of hit the reset button after the December signing period, see exactly what we needed for this February signing day, and hit the spots. That worked out very well for us.
I also think it helped us get a jump, gave me an opportunity to go out and look at juniors, get in front of people, hit a lot of different places because in the spring, head coaches are not allowed on the road. Just moved the calendar up a touch. Made for a very busy December, but it made for a better January for us. Overall I'm very excited about it.
Also this is the first time I got in front of you. I'll answer any questions about our new assistant coaches, Brad White and Michael Smith, as well.
Q. Ohio State has been able to come in and take some of those in-state guys. What was different about Chris' recruitment?
MARK STOOPS: I'm going to let Vince talk about all the recruiting (smiling).
Coach Marrow really did a good job, Coach House, all of our defensive guys, they all went up, made one last pitch a week ago Saturday. Watched his basketball game, got in front of him. The guys worked hard building relationships.
I think Chris felt comfortable with Coach Marrow, with our staff, what we're doing down here. I think that made the difference.
Q. How rare is it to hire a guy you didn't really know?
MARK STOOPS: It is rare. There are some guys in the Colts organization, that were in the Colts organization, that I have great respect for. Coach Pagano, what he says really matters. Rob Chudzinski, their offensive coordinator and I, go way back. As far as what type of person you're getting, I had no questions there.
Then when we bring him in, go through the interview process, he really impressed me quite a bit. I knew halfway through that interview that I wanted to wrap it up and get recruiting him to take the job because he was having some other opportunities. I wanted to lock him up.
Q. Coach Smith has had a lot of experience recruiting Louisiana. Is that somewhere you think you can exploit?
MARK STOOPS: Definitely going to let him explore that, yes. I was a little hesitant early in the process. You remember back when we had Coach (indiscernible) here, he had some connections there, as well. We were close on some things.
But I just felt like at that point we were a little bit too far stretched. I wanted to isolate, concentrate on the areas we have. We let Coach Clink expand a little bit to Detroit, it's paid some dividends. We'll let him expand a little bit into Louisiana, yes.
Q. Is it fair next year to assume anyone who doesn't sign in December is open game?
MARK STOOPS: Without a doubt, yes. That's the way we looked at it the whole time. That's why we didn't miss a beat.
Q. (No microphone.)
MARK STOOPS: I think it will help us overall. Number one, I think what was very intriguing to me is Brad being such a technician, I really feel like we have some NFL outside linebackers. Bringing him in to coach those guys, to take them to another level, we all know what kind of coach Dean Hood is, a great coach, but most of his experience is in the back end. It will give Dean time to concentrate on special teams and work in the back end with Coach Clink.
I wanted to improve some help in the secondary. Again, I really feel very excited because you've heard me talk for years about the nuances of coaching that position, coaching outside linebackers. There's a lot on their plate.
We need them to be elite pass-rushers, we need them to be run stoppers, but they also have to play in space, drop. A guy with that kind of experience makes a lot of sense to me.
Q. To come back here for another year, pass on the opportunity for the NFL, is that part of what you told them: I'm going to get you somebody who knows what you need to succeed?
MARK STOOPS: I didn't talk about that. As I've talked to you guys, I said I was going to sit back and take it all in and see what was going to be the best fit for us. Once I talked to Brad, I knew that's exactly what I wanted to do. At that point I started talking to him. Josh had already made up his mind.
As I started talking to those guys, they were excited about having the opportunity for someone like this to come in.
Brad coached a close friend of mine in Bjorn Werner also. Bjorn raved about Brad as well.
Q. No instate signees in this class for the first time ever. Was that something unique to this class?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, I was disappointed in that. I'm not going to lie. I want in-state guys. We're recruiting hard on the 19s right now, out there beating the pavement, making sure we're evaluating the right guys.
Like I said, there's not always going to be an abundance of guys, but there always is good quality here. We have to make sure we get the quality players to stay home.
Q. What do you think about the level of the class?
MARK STOOPS: It does seem strong. Definitely reminds me of the class a few years back when Kash and those guys came out, whatever year that was. '16. But, yeah, there's some impact players in this class.
Q. In general, how big was it to get Josh, all those guys, back next year?
MARK STOOPS: It was very important. It's most important. I don't want to say it's the most important recruiting pitch because I don't look at it like that.
I'm not going to make their decision for them. I just want to make sure I give them accurate information. I worked very hard to get in front of them several times, before the bowl game, after the bowl game, talked with a lot of people, got them accurate information, let them make the best decision.
I really thought some guys made some mature decisions. As I talked to them about who in the world wouldn't want to go and make money and play in the NFL or the NBA, any other sport, who wouldn't want to do that. But they have to make sure they get the accurate information on when to go. I think all the kids get excited. Sometimes just any opportunity is not the best opportunity.
A guy like Josh Allen, a true junior, would have had great opportunities. He would have made a team, in my opinion, and been a draft pick. But he has a chance to do things like Bud Dupree, come back and be a very high draft pick. I thought he was extremely mature in his decision making.
He and I had some long talks. Gotten to know Josh and become close to him through this process. He was very mature in his decision making. The same really goes with Mike.
Q. How do you help Josh reach his goals? What can he become next year?
MARK STOOPS: I think just what he's doing right now. Number one, just training in the off-season, making his body elite. Again, he was a true junior this year. He was in college five semesters. If he would have left, he would have been here five semesters. Doesn't give you a lot of time to develop your body.
Right now with his weight lifting, training, you can see it already, he's holding that weight very easy. He looks phenomenal. He's going to continue to work at all aspects of his game, his pass-rushing, being elite, beating the best players that he faces, getting sacks, pressuring people against the best tackles in the country. He's going to have an opportunity to do that.
I think those are the things that he needs to work on, just his complete game, his maturity level. He knows what it takes to go through our season in the SEC. Now go through, what do they play, 18, 19, whatever they play, it's a long time depending on playoffs and all that. It's a long season.
I think he looked at it like that as far as his maturity level, whether he could withstand that at this point.
Q. Denzil fully back?
MARK STOOPS: He's participating in everything at this point in time, yes.
Q. Are you surprised they all came back? Jones, back to normal at linebacker?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah. Jordan is back as well. As I told you guys post bowl game, same thing with Jordan, he's got to continue to do things right and continue to be consistent. We all love Jordan 95% of the time. We can't have that 5%. He can't have that 5%. He's got a very positive, infectious personality, but he also can tear down things at times, as well, and deter from the positive things that are going on. He knows that. He's working at that.
I was pleased with everybody's decision to come back. Yeah, definitely was pleased about that.
Q. You got some great leadership out of Stephen this year. How confident are you to get a similar type of leadership from whoever wins the quarterback job?
MARK STOOPS: I don't think there's any doubt that we will get that. I think Stephen set a great example for Gunnar. Obviously Terry wasn't here. You can also tell that Terry has his own way of going about doing things. He has a very positive charisma about him, as well. I really don't worry about it with either guy.
I think both players have taken the role of doing some leadership right now as far as getting the guys assembled, throwing, doing some things on their own. I feel very good about that.
Q. (No microphone.)
MARK STOOPS: They've been solid from what I've seen, things I hear in the weight room, things they're doing academically, yeah.
Q. (No microphone.)
MARK STOOPS: I think it was real important. Kavosiey was a big get for us. There was a lot of competition for him late as well. He's a very good player, both with him and Allen. I think you all know he's LiAllen, but he goes by Allen. He and Allen both played at a high level in Alabama, state championship game right there, very close to each other.
Very, very good players.
Q. (Question regarding Lewis.)
MARK STOOPS: I think so. I can't imagine anything bigger. You saw me in that tweet, I had to get on a bench to get even with him.
He's a big boy. He has a great personality. That's a fantastic school there, Jacksonville Bolles. Just to walk around with him, spend some time with him at the school, seeing the way his peers interacted with him, he's a very likable guy, a lot of people are attracted to him. He's just very positive. He's got a good smile. Very big guy. We love that size. We need to get bigger, more physical. He's certainly a good start.
Q. It seemed like Michael had ties to your brother.
MARK STOOPS: I knew him very well. I go all the way back to him playing at Kansas State. I knew Smitty all the way back from that time. We've crossed paths. We worked together at Arizona. He worked for a good friend of mine, Bret Bielema this past year. I've known him for a while. It's definitely helped.
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