It’s been a day over two months since Kentucky hired Mark Stoops away from his post as defensive coordinator at Florida State to be the head coach of the Big Blue Nation, and the Ohio native has already made the Wildcats program more of a presence in the Buckeye State than they've been in recent memory.
Mark Stoops did a nice job of recruiting Ohio in the class-of-2013, but he's looking for even bigger returns with the 2014 class.
A huge assist goes to childhood friend Vince Marrow, who played with Stoops at Youngstown (Ohio) Cardinal Mooney and will now serve as his tight ends coach in Lexington.
The hardworking recruiting duo combined to beat out several tradition-rich BCS programs in landing offensive lineman Kyle Meadows and cornerback Jaleel Hytche. On Monday, Stoops and Marrow had their biggest recruiting win yet, landing Cardinal Mooney four-star safety Marcus McWilson, who was previously committed to Nebraska. Cornhuskers head coach Bo Pelini is also a Cardinal Mooney alum.
“Coach Stoops is from the same part of town I’m from,” McWilson said. “Same with Coach Marrow. They’re all ready for change and ready for an opportunity to bring good guys in and win more games and compete for championships.
“I’m excited to be part of it and I’m ready to go to work.”
In his new post at Kentucky, Marrow has an opportunity to emerge as one of the nation’s top recruiters. Through his playing (Toledo) and coaching career, Marrow has lived in 75 percent of the state.
It appears it's taken a couple Ohio products to figure out that it just makes sense to recruit the state. Despite the close proximity to Cincinnati, just a one-hour drive from some of the most competitive high school football in the country, previous Kentucky staffs have focused more on recruiting in the Southeast than in the Midwest.
Being in the SEC and recruiting Big Ten country certainly doesn't hurt.
“These kids want to win and play, and now you’re an hour away from being able to play in the SEC, that’s a big deal,” Larry Cox said. He coached Meadows at West Chester (Ohio) Lakota West. “That league brand and being able to play for that coaching staff. That’s the vision they’re beginning to cast.
Four-star safety commit Marcus McWilson says new Kentucky coach Mark Stoops is getting the Wildcats ready for change.
“Obviously they’ve made a commitment more than anything,” Cox continued. “You can want to recruit Ohio but you really have to go out and get it. Coaches are territorial about some places they want to go. I know in past they really headed down South and were particularly interested in the Atlanta area and Georgia. I think with Coach Stoops being an Ohio native and Coach Marrow being an Ohio native, they realize Ohio is a great place to start.”
Hytche lives the same distance from Kentucky as he does Ohio State. He said Kentucky was hardly in the picture before Stoops and Marrow arrived around Thanksgiving. He pulled the trigger for the Wildcats in early January.
“Kentucky is in the SEC, the best conference in America,” Hytche said. “Pull that in with other Ohio kids seeing Ohio kids jumping on board and it’s just a group effort and I see us getting a lot of Ohio kids in the future.”
In the future, Stoops and Marrow plan on being more successful in their home state. They had to scramble to finish the 2013 class strong. In 2014, they’re already making inroads with several top prospects. A few of the talented juniors the Wildcats are already in good shape with are DeShone Kizer, perhaps the state’s top quarterback, Mikel Horton, arguably the state’s top running back, Derek Kief, maybe the state’s number one receiver, Nick Richardson, one of the state’s top offensive lineman and linebacker Dorian Hendrix, another high-end BCS recruit.
“They’re getting Kentucky ready for change,” McWilson said of Stoops, Marrow and company. “The guys are excited, the coaches are excited and I love them all.”