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Stoops, staff put plan into practice with Signing Day haul

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Mark Stoops first UK signing class set a school record with a No. 28 national ranking according to Rivals.com. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Mark Stoops first UK signing class set a school record with a No. 28 national ranking according to Rivals.com. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
The day he was officially introduced as head coach, the assembled media asked Mark Stoops about how his recruiting strategy. Given that Stoops presented an exhaustive plan for what he would during when he got the Kentucky job during the interview process, fielding that question was no issue.

Without hesitation, he explained that he and his staff would seek to "take care of our home" by attracting the top in-state talent to UK. Barely a week later, Stoops hired his first assistant - defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot - and it was immediately clear that wasn't just idle talk.

The first recruiting visits of a new era of UK football were to Ryan Timmons and Jason Hatcher, two of the state's top players - a clear signal that the Commonwealth's largest university would be a factor for its top talent going forward.

In an even clearer signal, Timmons - the nation's 28th-ranked athlete according to ESPN - and Hatcher - Rivals.com's No. 8 defensive end - officially became Wildcats by signing National Letters of Intent on Wednesday. They joined defensive tackle Jacob Hyde as the three members of UK's 22-player signing class from Kentucky, giving UK three of the state's top eight prospects according to Rivals.com - more than any other school.

"Tremendous. You know the importance of recruiting the best players in the state," Stoops said on Signing Day, reiterating a familiar message.

The task of convincing Timmons and Hatcher to join a recruiting class that set a school record with a No. 28 ranking according to Rivals.com was no easy one.

UK would have to compete with the likes of Southern Cal and Florida to land the two in-state stars. Neither was heavily considering becoming a Wildcat before December, but Eliot - the first face they saw from the new staff - was undeterred.

"I felt like it was going to be a challenge, but I felt like we had something to offer him that he was going to be interested in, so I kept going after him," Eliot said of Hatcher.

It wasn't long before Neal Brown joined the process. Brown signed on as offensive coordinator and brought a unique perspective to recruiting in-state talent since he was in the same position 15 years ago.

"It's a sell that I feel comfortable with," Brown said. "Being from here and having a personal investment, it's a sell that I'm easy with. Really what we sold Jason Hatcher or Ryan Timmons is, 'Hey, let's build this thing.' "

On Tuesday, Timmons elated the coaching staff by announcing he was buying into that vision at a ceremony at Franklin County High School in Frankfort. On Wednesday afternoon, Hatcher did the same at Louisville Trinity High School.

"Ryan and Jason, they both are Kentucky proud," Eliot said. "I think that when we were able to show them our plan to be successful, they felt good about staying and going to Kentucky."

Stoops lauded Timmons' "home-run" ability both as a receiver and out of the backfield and Hatcher's edge pass rushing. Both figure to push for playing time early with how well they fit UK's new offense and defense, but by no means will either be asked to carry too heavy a burden.

"We're going to sign a lot of good players. We signed a lot of good players today," Brown said. "In 2014 we're going to sign a lot of good players. In 2015 we're going to sign a lot of good players. So this wasn't a deal where you come in and you're going to be the savior."

That's where the other part of the recruiting plan Stoops laid out at his introduction comes in. Under the new head coach, UK will attack neighboring Ohio and spread into the South.

With just eight players from Ohio on the current roster, UK didn't have much in the way of Ohio roots prior to Stoops' arrival. Nonetheless, the Youngstown, Ohio native manage to ink players of Rivals.com's top 36 players from the state: cornerback Jaleel Hytchye, safety Marcus McWilson and offensive lineman Kyle Meadows.

To complete the class, UK signed 11 players from Florida, highlighted by defensive end Alvonte Bell, wide receiver Javess Blue and running back JoJo Kemp, all rated as four-star prospects by at least one major outlet. With Stoops and Eliot both coming from Florida State, it's no accident that there will be an influx of Cats from the Sunshine State.

"There are a lot of great players that come out of Florida," Stoops said. "It's probably the way it fell because of our relationships with some of them."

Whether UK continues to fill half its classes with players from Florida remains to be seen, but the staff is confident this strong overall class is no flash in the pan.

"To compete in this league, you've got to win some of those battles," Brown said. "And we were able to do it. I think in the future you'll see more of those battles being won by Kentucky."

UK beat out some of the most tradition-rich programs in the nation for some its 2013 signees, but lost a few too. The common thread in that is that Stoops and his staff aren't going to be afraid whether it's in Kentucky, Ohio, Florida or anywhere.

"We're not going to take a backseat to anybody; we're going to recruit hard," Stoops said. "We will win our fair share. We don't win 'em all, but we're going to work hard."

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