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Johnson, Stamps give another mid-year boost to 2014 class

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It wasn't as chaotic as National Signing Day will be in February, but Mark Stoops was a busy man on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.

With mid-year junior-college transfers able to sign, Stoops and his staff were hoping to add two players to Kentucky's 2014 class and they wouldn't rest until those faxes came through.

"Believe me, we were working all night last night," Stoops said at a noon ET press conference. "This deal, one of these deals didn't get closed until about an hour ago. We were working all the way through."

The work ultimately paid off, as defensive tackle Cory "C.J." Johnson and cornerback A.J. Stamps put pen to paper and signed with Kentucky.

"Cory and A.J. were outstanding players on the junior-college level and will help us address needs at their positions," Stoops said.  "They will be able to enroll in January, go through our winter high-performance program and participate in spring practice."

In discussing the pair -- as well as a number of other offseason topics -- Stoops confirmed that it was Stamps who kept the coaches up the night before. He also joked that the 6-foot, 190-pounder will be in for some additional running when he and Johnson enroll in January after the last-minute stress he caused.

"We've felt good about it for a while, but you know it's never over until it's over," Stoops said. "Then the last 48 hours some things turned, and it's always a hard-fought battle when you're going after players of this caliber."

Stamps -- a teammate of UK defensive end Za'Darius Smith in 2012 -- arrived at East Mississippi Community College as a wide receiver after he caught 77 passes for 1,289 yards and 19 touchdowns as a senior at Vicksburg (Miss.) High School. But before the 2013 season, he converted to corner and thrived.

Stamps registered 51 tackles, seven tackles for loss, four interceptions and nine pass breakups in leading the Lions to the 2013 national championship. Because of his late emergence, Stamps isn't listed in many recruiting databases, but the other finalist for his services says everything about the kind of player he is. Stamps chose Kentucky over Ohio State, citing relationships with coaches and players, the city of Lexington and UK's fan support.

Stoops admits it's a thrill to win that kind of battle.

"We want the best players," Stoops said. "We know that's the lifeline of our program, is recruiting. Very encouraged because I feel like we really try to do things right and cross every T and dot every I and don't leave any stone unturned. We try to go about our business the right way, and after that you let the chips fall where they may."

Johnson has an impressive offer sheet of his own. Rated a four-star prospect by and the No. 31 junior-college player by, he picked Kentucky over Miami (Fla.) and Texas Tech. Johnson attended ASA College in Brooklyn, N.Y., and led the Junior College Athletic Association's top scoring defense with 49 tackles to go with 15 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks.

"Cory comes from a very successful junior college, won a lot of games," Stoops said. "He is a very active, productive player. The fact that he led his team in tackles as a defensive lineman is very impressive. I look forward to adding a big, strong lineman to help at tackle."

Both Johnson and Stamps project to compete for immediate playing time, particularly after going through offseason workouts and practice next semester.

"I'm confident these guys will come in and help us," Stoops said. "That's why we recruited them."

With UK losing starters Donte Rumph and Mister Cobble, Johnson would appear to have a good opportunity to do just that at defensive tackle. Stoops praised his size, suggesting he is even bigger than the 6-3, 275 pounds at which he's currently listed. Stamps, meanwhile, adds a veteran presence to a corner position lacking that a season ago.

Johnson and Stamps become the sixth and seventh official members of UK's highly rated 2014 class. They join the following high-school mid-year enrollees: quarterback Drew Barker (Burlington, Ky.), linebacker Dorian Hendrix (Huber Heights, Ohio), running back Mikel Horton (West Chester, Ohio), wide receiver Thaddeus Snodgrass (Springfield, Ohio) and wide receiver T.V. Williams (McKinney, Texas).

Much of that class was together in Lexington last weekend, including the two most recent signees.

"The weekend was fantastic, really, this past weekend, and really a good portion of how this 2014 class is coming together is one of the most unique recruiting experiences I've been a part of," Stoops said.

Stoops is unable to get into specifics since the majority of the players remain unsigned, but he sees a personality developing in his first full recruiting class.

"I think if you look at some of the characteristics of this class that we're bringing in, obviously they're great and very talented football players, but they're great leaders," Stoops said. "I think they're very humble kids."

Growing out of that is a collective pride that makes the class feel like a team even before its members have arrived on campus.

"When they're on campus amongst themselves, they interact with each other in a way that they've known each other for years," Stoops said. "They feel like they're almost brothers, and that's coming from them and their quotes and different things. But I think that's why it's unique: because they just feel a very strong bond with one another and they feel a very strong bond with Kentucky and with our fans and with our people here and all the staff and all that."

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