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Signing Day wrap-up links

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Signing Day 2014 is in the books and with it UK's highest-rated class ever according to Rivals.com.

Mark Stoops and his coaching staff filled needs, adding much-needed depth along the offensive and defensive lines and wide receiver. They protected their home turf, securing pledges from four of the top five prospects in the Bluegrass. They brought in top-level talent, with 16 of their 28 signees rated as four-star prospects according to at least one major outlet.

Clearly, there's a lot to be said about the newest crop of Wildcats. With that in mind, here are links to some of the best stories on a historic Signing Day for Kentucky football.

My story on Stoops delivering a record class in a "critical" year

At last check, the Kentucky class ranks 15th nationally according to Rivals.com, 20th according to both ESPN.com and Scout.com and 22nd according to 247sports.com.

"I knew we'd recruit good players," Stoops said. "Where it was rated and all that and the publicity, I like it, and it helps our program and all that, but, again, that's not what I'm out for. I'm out to get great players to help build this program day in and day out."

On extremely short notice, Stoops and his staff did that with their first class. With just two months to work, they brought in a group that contributed immediately, which was vital to UK's future in both the short and long term.

This class, however, was even more important.

Sports Illustrated on UK's improved recruiting efforts

Kentucky's recruiting surge has coincided with the school's effort to upgrade its football facilities. The university board of trustees voted last Friday to approve a plan to construct a privately funded $45 million training facility. In November, the school unveiled the design for a $110 million renovation to Commonwealth Stadium. "It helps when prospects come on campus and see our athletic director making the commitment to upgrade the stadium and then put in a brand new football facility," Stoops said.

A turnout of nearly 51,000 fans at the Wildcats' spring game last April helped put the newfound excitement surrounding the program into perspective. Experiencing the game first-hand moved Barker to make his commitment. "When I saw all those fans, and how bad they wanted to have a really good program again -- that really piqued my interest," he said. "It just showed me a lot as to people really wanting to turn the football program around, and that they're not playing around anymore."

CBSSports.com on UK becoming an SEC presence in recruiting

Even Nick Saban, the recruiting king for a fourth straight year, was the runner-up for Elam, a 6-foot-5, 372-pound behemoth.

"We're definitely not afraid to compete with anybody in the country," Stoops said Tuesday.

In a recruiting cycle that many coaches say featured rampant player poaching. Kentucky would have been a logical poaching victim. But the Wildcats locked up much of its class a year ago and didn't lose traction. About sixteen of its 28 players committed before the end of last summer, Stoops said.

John Clay of the Herald-Leader on how a group of "different thinkers" made the class happen


Mark Stoops could have returned to Florida State for another year as defensive coordinator, been a part of a BCS national championship, maybe had a chance at a so-called "better" job than UK.

Surely there were those who told the Ohio native that to win these days you have to be able to recruit, and at Kentucky you can't recruit the quality players you need in the Southeastern Conference.

Stoops obviously thought differently. And in the Class of 2014, he has obviously signed some players who think the same way.

Jen Smith of the Herald-Leader on the UK signees' unbreakable bond

The special recruiting stories were aplenty on Wednesday, from offensive coordinator Neal Brown and offensive line coach John Schlarman's treacherous, icy trek to land Jervontius Stallings to running backs coach Chad Scott sitting in a class all day with a recruit, to tight ends coach Vince Marrow playing Monopoly with a family on an official visit.

"We got to know their families," Stoops said. "With me going on the road -- and I don't even know exactly how many living rooms I was in, but we got a very high percentage of guys that we brought in here for an official visit."

Brett Dawson of CatsIllustrated.com on how UK kept the class together

What you see is what you get. That's what coaches and players will tell you about Stoops. And the straightforward approach helped Kentucky clear perhaps its biggest hurdle in keeping its class intact.

Stoops and his staff knew that the on-the-field product would be lacking in 2013. So the Kentucky coaches took a calculated risk to say so to the players they were recruiting.

"I don't think we tried to -- we didn't minimize where we were as a program," Brown said. "We knew we were in the foundation-building process, we knew it was going to take a little bit of work, or a lot of work really. So we didn't sell them on a bunch of things that we knew weren't going to be possible early."

Video: Signing Day press conference with Stoops, Brown, Eliot, Marrow


Mark Stoops signed the highest-rated class in school history on Signing Day. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Mark Stoops signed the highest-rated class in school history on Signing Day. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Mark Stoops has never been short on confidence.

From the moment he arrived in Lexington, Stoops has declared in no uncertain terms his belief in his vision, his belief in Kentucky football.

But to reel in the best class in school history barely a year into his tenure? To piece together a group that fits perfectly in terms of both personnel and character?

"If I'm honest, we maybe had a little bit better success than I thought this quick," Stoops said.

All 28 members of UK's 2014 signing class -- 16 of which are rated four-star prospects by at least one major outlet -- sent in valid National Letters of Intent before 11 a.m. ET, short-circuiting some of the drama typical of Signing Day. None of the coaches or support staff at the Nutter Training Facility for an unprecedented live webcast of the event seemed to mind.

At last check, the Kentucky class ranks 15th nationally according to Rivals.com, 20th according to both ESPN.com and Scout.com and 22nd according to 247sports.com.

"I knew we'd recruit good players," Stoops said. "Where it was rated and all that and the publicity, I like it, and it helps our program and all that, but, again, that's not what I'm out for. I'm out to get great players to help build this program day in and day out."

On extremely short notice, Stoops and his staff did that with their first class. With just two months to work, they brought in a group that contributed immediately, which was vital to UK's future in both the short and long term.

This class, however, was even more important.

"I thought this was going to lay the foundation to turn this program, and it was a very critical year, and I felt like we really had to hit the pavement and recruit extremely hard," Stoops said. "Could not be more proud of this staff and the way they went about their business."

The staff made waves with the 2014 class immediately, scoring verbal commitments from a variety of prospects early in the process. UK shot up recruiting rankings accordingly, drawing national attention. Pundits were impressed, but wondered whether the class would remain intact.

A year and just one de-commitment later, the answer is an emphatic yes.

"This is one of the most unique recruiting experiences I've ever been a part of," Stoops said. "This group was so solid for so long."

Of course, there were nervous moments and the occasional rumbling about a recruit falling off the wagon. In those cases, there was no substitute for the hard work that has come to define Stoops and his staff.

"We don't take anything for granted," Stoops said. "We recruited every bit as hard last night and today as we did last year or the day after Signing Day or the whole year. We recruited from start to finish extremely hard, don't take anything for granted, and go about our business the right way."

In the end, not only did UK hold on to its verbal commitments on Signing Day, but a new one also came on board.

Lloyd Tubman, a Louisville, Ky., native rated a four-star prospect by 247sports.com, announced his UK pledge late Wednesday morning and sent in his NLI not long after.

"We liked Lloyd a lot," Stoops said. "Recruited him for a full year. Again, I think he's one of the top players in the state, a great football player. And he's a great student and a fine young man."

Originally a Vanderbilt commitment and later a Penn State pledge, the 6-foot-5, 225-pound defensive end was finally swayed by defensive coordinator and lead recruiter D.J. Eliot.

"I think it just took time for him to see what we had to offer and what was the best future for him," Eliot said. "When he sat down and looked at everything, I think it was the right thing for him to do and he made that leap."

Tubman is the third-ranked player in Kentucky according to Rivals.com, meaning UK signed four of the top five prospects in the state. Quarterback Drew Barker and defensive tackles Adrian Middleton and Matt Elam will join Tubman in staying home to play their college ball.

"Really feel good about what we did in Kentucky," Stoops said. "I said that a year ago. I said that in my opening press conference about how important it was to recruit this state."

When a quarterback like Barker is in your backyard, that becomes even more important.

Asked to pick out a turning point when UK's momentum on the trail went from encouraging to unstoppable, Stoops mentioned Barker's commitment last May. Though his new coaches never encouraged him to do it, Barker took on a reputation as Kentucky's unofficial recruiting coordinator. Stoops doesn't discount Barker's role making a big Signing Day a reality.

"He just has that ability to be a leader, and he wanted other great players around him," Stoops said. "You know, I said that a year ago as well. Players want to be around other great players."

Barker is only the most prominent example of a group of players who have already built a bond even though just seven are on campus. From the 10 Ohio signees to the two from Texas and four from Florida, UK's signees have developed a sort of collective personality.

"They've been very solid that way," Stoops said. "They've got to have a--this group is very confident in their ability, but you know what -- and I know they have some fun with the media, which is great. They have the personality, and it's good. It's good for everybody. I want them to be themselves.  But as a group, they're also very humble, and I think humility is very important."

Humility will be necessary as the recruits arrive on campus and compete for playing time. Because for both players and coaches, it's time to grind after a short celebration of a memorable day for Kentucky football.

"I've read a lot of quotes from these guys that caught my eye that they know and understand that this is just the beginning of a lot of work," Stoops said. "We've got some good players that's going to help this program, but we've got to go to work now and keep on building and put another great class together and do all the work, whether it be right now in winter if they're here, or the guys that are going to show up in the summer. I think they're very special that way."

Video: Stoops' Signing Day press conference

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Live blog: Signing Day 2014

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All the action -- from our live webcast to social media -- is going on at our Signing Day home page right here. But in case you only want to follow along with Cat Scratches' live blog, you can join below.
 

SigningDay.jpg As UK football welcomes a new class on Signing Day, fans will be able to follow along like never before.

Coverage on UKathletics.com will begin at 8 a.m. ET on Signing Day and continue late into the morning or early afternoon. The centerpiece of the coverage will be a webcast live from the Nutter Training Facility produced by UK Sports Video that will spotlight Mark Stoops' signing class currently rated No. 13 nationally by Rivals.com as National Letters of Intent arrive.

The live stream will feature exclusive access to UK's coaches, including a special "Xs and Os Room" with star UK quarterback Tim Couch. Couch -- the top pick in the 1999 NFL Draft -- will break down film of signees with their respective position coaches, showing why the newest Wildcats project to be the future stars of UK football.

Dick Gabriel, Tom Leach, Kentucky Sports Radio's Matt Jones and former UK quarterback Freddie Maggard will join Couch on the coverage. UK's seven mid-year enrollees - including highly rated quarterback Drew Barker - will be interviewed as part of the coverage as well. As soon as live coverage concludes, the webcast will be rebroadcast on UK's official YouTube channel.

In addition to the webcast, fans are invited to be a part of Signing Day. Not only will Cat Scratches host its annual live blog, the first place to learn when signees become official, but UKathletics.com will also provide a social-media experience that will integrate the best fan posts on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Fans are encouraged to post with the hash tag #UK2014Class. The best content will be featured both on a social-media mosaic and on the live webcast.

Fans will also be able to welcome signees on Twitter to the Big Blue Nation using the "Congratulate a Cat" feature. The signees generating the most buzz on Twitter will be compiled on a leaderboard called "Trending Cats."

Fans unable to follow online can listen to the Leach Report from 9-10 a.m. and Kentucky Sports Radio from 10 a.m.-noon. Both shows will be broadcasting live from the Nutter Training Facility.

It all begins bright and early on Wednesday morning.

Video: Tim Couch goes one on one with Drew Barker

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Video: UK football's Super Bowl ad - 'Why Not?'

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This commercial aired just after the end of the second quarter of the Super Bowl between the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks on Sunday. It features a voice over by Mark Stoops and 17 Wildcats.

The theme: "Why Not?"

Here's the complete list of players who appeared:

Jeff Badet
Drew Barker
Javess Blue
Bud Dupree
Dorian Hendrix
Mikel Horton
Cory Johnson
Jojo Kemp
Ashely Lowery
Blake McClain
Marcus McWilson
Za'Darius Smith
Thaddeus Snodgrass
A.J. Stamps
Jordan Swindle
Jon Toth
Ryan Timmons
T.V. Williams
Nate Willis

More than two months ago, Mitch Barnhart stepped to the podium at the unveiling of plans for a $110-million renovation of Commonwealth Stadium.

He talked about the project would "change the personality" of UK football's long-time home, how the more intimate surroundings would positively affect fans and players alike. Barnhart was mindful that the day was a celebration of the hard work of many, but insistent at the same time how much work was ahead.

In no uncertain terms, he spelled out his goal to compete at the highest level in the Southeastern Conference under Mark Stoops.

"The transformation of Commonwealth Stadium is the first step in that process," Barnhart said of the stadium plans in November, "but it's not our last."

On Friday, the UK athletics director unveiled the next one.

Plans for a privately funded $45-million practice facility were approved by the Board of Trustees, setting into motion a process that will move UK's entire football operation.

"One-stop shop for all of our kids," Barnhart said. "So now they'll be able to academically do their work. They'll be able to train. They'll be able to get most of their food over there."

The two-story structure will be located at the east end of the Nutter Field House, with two practice fields and an adjoining drill area also a part of the project. When finished in 2016, administrative offices, locker spaces, team meeting areas, training areas, high performance and weight room spaces, equipment rooms, a hydrotherapy room, player locker rooms, lounge facilities, an academic lounge/study area, and an entrance lobby with enhanced visitor amenities will be housed there.

"All that gives us a better ability to take care and make sure we've got a really good understanding of what our kids are doing in all facets of their lives," Barnhart said.

The practice facility upgrades were in initial plans for Commonwealth renovations, but it was ultimately decided the projects would have to be separated. Now that the stadium renovation is in the beginning stages of construction, that fact is even cleared.

"There's no possible way you could've done both projects with one scope of money," Barnhart said. "You couldn't have done it."

Per university rules, no project of this size can brought to the board without at least half of the funding necessary to complete it secured. Barnhart didn't go into detail, but he did say UK is past that 50-percent threshold and "well on our way to getting the rest of it done."

There are still decisions to be made as the project moves forward, including exactly how the existing Nutter Field House will be affected and whether to change the playing surface in Commonwealth to turf.

"Our goal is to immediately get to design," Barnhart said. "We've got some pretty good thoughts about what we want to do. It's not without thought -- we've been doing this, thinking about what it would look like -- and we've seen other buildings, other places."

As football gets an upgrade, so too will other UK programs that will take advantage of open space in the Nutter Training Center.

"It's really important to keep that for our other sports," Barnhart said. "And then track and field and gymnastics will probably move into that facility in addition to some other things probably because that is closer to where they live."

Next on Barnhart's radar are facilities for the baseball and men's and women's tennis programs.

"The two things we have left to address -- really important -- is obviously our baseball stadium and our indoor tennis," Barnhart said. "Those are two that are hanging out that we have got to get fixed in order to have them be respectable in this league."

But at least for a little while, Barnhart wants to enjoy the accomplishment that is getting approval for the football practice facility. The news comes on the heels of the beginning of the Commonwealth project and just days before the best recruiting class in school history becomes official on Signing Day next week.

Combine all those things with the fact that alumni Jacob Tamme, Danny Trevathan and Wesley Woodyard are all set to play for the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl on Sunday and it's a special week  for UK football.

"I hope they have a championship ring," Barnhart said. "That's what they've worked their whole lives to get to is those kind of moments, and they're all deserving guys. They've been unbelievable representatives of this program. And so to have that, and with what's going on with Mark and his staff, and to have the facility up and running, it's a very exciting time for our program."

On Friday, the UK Board of Trustees approved UK Athletics' plans to build a $45 million practice facility adjoining to Nutter Field House. In the video below, Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart talked about the importance of the project and the excitement surrounding UK football under Mark Stoops.



Video: Signing Day promo - Who's Next

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Signing Day is less than a week away. Stay tuned in the coming days for news on how fans will be able to follow along like never before.

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