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June 14, 2013
With almost eight months to go until National Signing Day the road to the finish line is quite long. But for Kentucky football it is finally worth looking forward to.
Dallas Jackson is the National Columnist for Rivals.com. Email him your comments or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.
While it is only mid-June, Mark Stoops has the Kentucky football program on pace to finish ahead of the Texas Longhorns and is currently inside the top five of the Rivals.com team recruiting rankings.
National recruiting analyst Mike Farrell dismisses those who want to squash the excitement surrounding the program.
"We have never seen anything like this from Kentucky, ever," Farrell said. "I understand that it is only June, but I cannot remember that program having this kind of momentum in all my years covering recruiting. The class has added some tremendous playmakers, and they are getting guys from all over."
As a point of fact, Kentucky has never had double-digit commitments prior to the ides of June, let alone a 16-man class ranked ahead of Notre Dame, Michigan and Florida State -- Stoops' former school.
The norm for the program has been the polar opposite. Eight times in the last 10 classes Kentucky has had three players or fewer pledge a commitment who eventually signed with the program at this point in the year.
The class was bolstered again Thursday when Rivals100 all-purpose running back Stanley Williams made his decision known.
Williams, from Bethlehem (Ga.) George Walton Academy, is the No. 96 overall player and the top-ranked player within his position group.
He joins three other Rivals250 members who are early verbals to Kentucky: Quarterback Drew Barker is ranked No. 117 from Burlington (Ky.) Conner; West Chester (Ohio) Lakota West running back Mikel Horton is ranked No. 131 and made his choice known at the Rivals Camp Series stop in Cincinnati, and receiver Thaddeus Snodgrass is ranked No. 205 and hails from Springfield (Ohio) High.
It is Barker who has taken on a very active role in recruiting others to join him.
"I have been in touch with a lot of skill players," he said. "We do need some skill players. Especially in the SEC, you need big-time playmakers. Just getting these guys on board really helps, and I am still working some guys."
He has specifically targeted a pair of four-star pass-catchers in slot receiver Braxton Berrios from Raleigh (N.C.) Leesville Road and Artavis Scott from Tarpon Springs (Fla.) East Lake. Scott is ranked No. 81 in the class of 2014 and was assigned to room with Barker at the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge presented by Under Armour last weekend in Chicago.
Barker said that the best way to get Kentucky into the discussion for the elite athletes at the skill positions is to just start piling on the stats.
"(I am) talking to these receivers about having Coach (Neal) Brown's offense," Barker said. "It's been the No. 1 passing offense the last three years, and comparing it to the other schools, it definitely opens recruits eyes.
"If you just say Kentucky it doesn't hold a lot of weight with them, but if you can give the numbers and statistics it sticks with them."
Often a coaching change is given more credit than it deserves in recruiting. But in the case of Barker the change to Stoops and his staff is the only reason he is on board.
"(The former staff) didn't recruit me at all," Barker said. "I am not sure why, but I even visited there. I was actually kind of done with them, and I was finished with Kentucky, and then the new staff comes in and two days after they're hired they are at my school. It was a complete 180."
The change in recruiting approach came from the top down with Stoops targeting players from Ohio and his ties to the south.
Farrell said that other programs are taking notice of what is happening in Lexington.
"Once people start throwing accusations around at your program, it means you are getting guys they want and you are doing something worth taking notice of," he said. "Maybe in basketball people worry about who Kentucky is recruitin,g but now it is becoming an upstart in football.
"There is no doubt that it is getting under the skin of a lot of programs that wanted these kids, because it wasn't long ago that none of them would have given Kentucky the time of day."
Barker had a final three schools of Kentucky, Tennessee and South Carolina.
Farrell said a player like Barker is one who can be successful in the Air-Raid at Kentucky.
"He is a great kid and has real leadership ability," Farrell said. "I think that people are getting carried away by comparing him to (former Kentucky quarterback) Tim Couch because Couch had a rifle for an arm in high school, but where I think Barker will succeed is with his accuracy. He is going to gain strength but with the system that is in place and his intelligence, I think he will succeed.
"I don't want that to sound like something that will hold him back, because there are a lot of guys that become extremely successful NFL quarterbacks without the type of arm Tim Couch had. Drew is the right fit for that program and someone who I think Mark Stoops and his staff truly believes in."
The trickle-down is that Barker has become an extension of the recruiting effort. With no limitations on his contact with players, Barker started a webpage to connect recruits to one another. He is also burning up the phones touching base with Kentucky targets.
Armed with facts of the Air-Raid -- and counter points to programs that are in prospects' final five -- Barker has a message for all skill players that are considering Kentucky.
"Do you want to be a playmaker or do you want to be a blocker?" he said. "If you want to be a playmaker, this is the place you need to be."
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