LEXINGTON, Kentucky — Kentucky coach Mark Stoops didn't flinch, saying his fourth recruiting class is his best ever.
Considering his top-20 class in 2013 was the program's highest rated, declaring the 25-player group he announced Wednesday as even better speaks volumes about the talent level. And especially after consecutive 5-7 seasons could have worked against the Wildcats on the recruiting trail.
If anything, Stoops suggested that last year's finish after starting 4-1 helped convince five Kentucky prospects commit to helping the turnaround. The class includes three from the Lexington area — offensive lineman Landon Young, cornerback Davonte Robinson and center Drake Jackson — and comprises the highest in-state total since 2009.
"We are blessed to have some guys very close to home," Stoops said. "I thought those guys were critical."
That local contingent includes 14 players from neighboring Ohio — Stoops' home state — and highlights a group that includes three U.S. Army All-Americans.
Kentucky signed 12 players on offense, and 12 on defense.
On offense, the group included quarterbacks Gunnar Hoak and junior college transfer Stephen Johnson II; two-year starter Patrick Towles and Reese Phillips transferred. Sophomore Drew Barker is Kentucky's projected starter and will have four new linemen protecting him.
Stoops was also busy recruiting assistants, luring wide receivers coach Lamar Thomas from Louisville on Tuesday after hiring Eddie Gran and Darin Hinshaw in December to guide the offense.
Other things to know:
Top 25 Class: No
Best in class: Landon Young, OL, Lexington, Kentucky. Rated as a five-star prospect by at least two recruiting services, the 6-foot-7, 305-pounder is considered the state's top player.
Best of the rest: Jordan Griffin, DB, Jonesboro, Georgia. Considering the Wildcats' secondary started three freshmen last season, the 6-foot, 175-pound, four-star prospect could quickly become part of the mix as well. He's among a trio of defensive backs Kentucky signed. "I think those guys will have an opportunity to compete for playing time and I look forward to working with them," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said.
Late addition: LB Jordan Bonner. The JUCO transfer committed in December but made it official this week. He'll have three years of eligibility remaining.
One that got away: Kentucky had pursued DT Kobe Smith before the Lawrence, Georgia, native chose South Carolina.
How they'll fit in: Though it takes time for linemen to develop, Kentucky's offensive line issues last season create a chance for Young and 6-6, 310-pound Tate Leavitt to become part of the rotation.
The full list: http://www.ukathletics.com