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Early, late commits bookend 'strong' 2012 class

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Joker Phillips talks on the phone in UK's Signing Day Joker Phillips talks on the phone in UK's Signing Day "war room." (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Since Patrick Towles committed to play football for Kentucky back in April of 2011, he's never wavered.

Anytime Wildcat fans wondered about the quarterback's intention to make his verbal official needed only to click on his Twitter feed to see yet another tweet tagged with "#BBN."

Even so, there was one fleeting moment the coach who secured his commitment was a little worried. At 10:30 p.m. on the eve of National Signing Day, Joker Phillips picked up his phone to see Towles' name on his Caller ID.

"All he wanted to know was, 'Coach, does the SEC letter need to have a time on it?' " Phillips said.

The four-star prospect was able to sort out the logistics with his new coach easily enough so that the Fort Thomas, Ky., native was the first of UK's 2012 class to send in his National Letter of Intent. A fax bearing Towles' name and an appropriate time stamps came to the football offices at the Nutter Training Facility just minutes after 7 a.m., when prospects are first allowed to formalize their pledges.

Phillips' heart may have skipped a beat when that phone call initially came in, but in reality, he never questioned whether he would hold firm to his word.  Towles family has deep roots in the Bluegrass and his grandfather, Jim Bunning, is one of the all-time best athletes in the history of the state as well as a Hall of Fame pitcher. Towles will wear No. 14 in honor of the former United States senator.

In spite of all of his ties to the state, Phillips was confident Towles would come on board because of the character he and his staff observed in the youngster.

"He was a guy we identified early, established a relationship, got him to commit and did not worry about people coming in and trying to sway him because he was a high character type kid," Phillips said.

Towles may be "the face of this class" according to Phillips, but he's far from the only member of UK's 25-member class (26 including early enrollee Kory Brown) to have the kind of profile Phillips referenced in talking about Towles.

By evaluating players early and developing relationships, UK's staff was able to identify players who fit the kind of high-character mold they demand. Once prospects were able to develop a comfort level with the program, and vice versa, many committed before other schools were even aware of them. By the time those schools did begin to pursue them, UK's recruits stayed true to their commitments.

"The commitment meant something to them and late in this process there was a lot of kids that were getting hammered by other teams," Phillips said. "Jordan Watson was one of the those guys getting killed by other teams, trying to get him to turn his back on the University of Kentucky, and Jordan stood strong."

Watson, a 6-foot-4 offensive lineman out of Fayetteville, Ga., as well as players like DyShawn Mobley, a record-setting running back from Powell, Tenn., may have had new options emerge late in the recruiting process, but they held firm to their pledges.

Watson and Mobley are both among a group of 15 signees who all attended UK's summer camp, which has become a cornerstone of the recruiting process. The 2012 class certainly has players highly touted by recruiting outlets, but Phillips has come to trust what he and his staff learn with their own eyes in a setting like summer camp much more than any star system.

"Being able to work with guys in two sessions of camp means more than to me than anything, and some of them might not be ranked as high as some of our folks might want, but I don't remember Dermontti Dawson having a huge star on him," Phillips said. "He might have been a zero star when he came in."

In particular, Phillips is excited about what he has learned firsthand about the five players projected as offensive linemen. Watson is joined by T.J. Jones (Myrtle Beach, S.C.), Zach Myers (Miamisburg, Ohio), Jordan Swindle (St. Johns, Fla.) and Jon Toth (Indianapolis, Ind.) to form a group that fits what offensive line coach Mike Summers is looking for in trying to replace three departing seniors from a veteran line.

"He wants guys over 6 4 and the one thing he and Coach (Greg) Nord say, 'If you want NFL offensive linemen, they have to look like them,'" Phillips said.

Myers is the shortest of the group at 6-foot-3 and each weighs at least 285 pounds.

The five offensive linemen were all widely expected to sign with UK, but it was a pair of surprises that sent the "war room" where coaches and staff were keeping up with Signing Day into a frenzy.

Running back Justin Taylor (Atlanta, Ga.) was a long-time Alabama commit, but was asked to grayshirt after he suffered a knee injury that forced him to miss most of his senior year. When Taylor decided to open his recruitment, UK was able to get involved.

As somewhat of a surprise, he was on UK's campus recently for an academic team event and spent time around the UK facilities. He learned enough to become very interested, and the UK medical staff evaluated his knee and projected he would be able to return to football activity by August.

Early Wednesday morning, Phillips said the UK coaches "lit up" when Taylor's Letter of Intent was processed.

The other of UK's 11th-hour additions was Khalid Henderson (Mableton, Ga.). A four-star prospect and top-20 outside linebacker according to ESPN, Henderson was identified by defensive coordinator Rick Minter as a player who reminded him of Danny Trevathan. Phillips concurred when he had the chance to see him, calling Henderson the kind of player capable of being "the face of our defense" at linebacker.

What put Henderson over the top in Phillips' mind was the way Henderson responded to sitting in on meetings with Minter when he visited UK.

"Coach doesn't mind long meetings when he has a recruit on campus, and Khalid didn't mind those long meetings," Phillips said. "We are looking for football junkies, and that's what Khalid is. He saw the potential to be put into the position that Danny Trevathan was in making plays for us."

With Taylor and Henderson in the fold, UK's 2012 haul was complete. By the time the last computer was shut off and the last handshake was exchanged in the war room, there were new Wildcats from Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee and South Carolina.

"This is a strong recruiting class, and the class got stronger in the last 48 hours when a couple of kids decided to join us," Phillips said.

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I HOPE YOU ALL HAVE A GREAT YEAR IN 2012. GO CATS GO BIG BLUE

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