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February 4, 2015

Mark Stoops

COACH STOOPS:  Exciting time.  I feel very good about this recruiting class.  As you all know and have been following, it's been a little bit of  grind.  It's been a tough year in certain aspects and great in others.
I feel like we really hit on a bunch of guys we were looking for.¬† Big thing that you'll notice with this group is great size, great length.¬† We feel like we hit a lot of areas of need in the secondary, O‑line, D‑line.¬† Overall, very pleased with this group.
I think hitting 13 defensive guys was important.  I felt like we just continued to build, to build depth, to get the size we're looking for, to get the players in the secondary was important.  So we're aggressive with defensive players.  Signing 13 of them was important for us and for our future.
Offensively, four offensive linemen.  It's always important to continue to build quality depth and get just solid class after solid class with offensive line.  It takes time to develop those guys.  So I feel very good with that group.  I feel like, once again, with that class, with the offensive line, it was good to get size once again.  We needed more girth.  We need to be more physical.  You hear me talk about that time and time again.  So I feel good about the offensive line.
Another group that you see great length and great size is the wide receiver position.  Two guys in the 6'3" range, one guy in the 6'6" range, and once again, we're starting to build a quality group of receivers.  We have a good nucleus, a good group coming back for next year's team that's already on our campus, and with the addition of these guys, once again, they continue to build some size
Tight end was another area of need, as you all know.  So hitting on two tight ends was also important.  And then with the late addition of the running back, with King, I really felt like that was an important position to get somebody in that position.  He's a guy that we felt like had big play ability and great speed.  So he was a great addition to our class late throughout the process.
Once again, defensively, all areas, we needed each level of the defense.  Signing four defensive linemen with great size was very important to us.  Two guys that stand out to me right away is Avonte and Courtney.  Those guys are difference makers.  It was very important to get those guys and to land them.  We went through some good recruiting battles to land those guys.  So I feel very good about the defensive line class and the size and the strength and the explosiveness of that group.
Linebackers, we've got to continue to build depth there.  I feel very good about the linebacking group and the size and the athleticism and the speed of those guys.
The biggest area, probably the area where I feel like we hit, was the secondary.¬† Y'all know, you've listened to me enough after each game, we had some bad matchup problems at times.¬† We play against some guys in this league that have great size and great skill at the receiver position, and I felt like we really needed to upgrade and get some quality guys in the secondary, and I feel very good about this group.¬† As you hear me talk after games and areas of need and continuing to build this program, you hear me talk about being physical, and it's not just on the O‑line and D‑line.¬† When you're talking about physical in length, you're talking about all levels of your team.¬† So I really felt like we needed to continue to improve that size and that physicality in the secondary and in the wide receiver position and linebackers and so on and certainly tight ends.
Overall, I feel very good about this group.  I felt like it was key for us this last week, these last couple days, into last night and into this morning to close on a few guys.  As you know, it gets very delicate when you try to hit that number perfectly.  Heading into this recruiting class, we had 23 spots available.  We could have signed up to 25, and you got to count on some attrition between now and next fall, but we actually had 23.  That's what we signed.  I feel very good about that.  It gives us a little bit of leeway if we have some attrition throughout our team between here and the summer.
So once again, it was‑‑ I think a lot has been written and a lot of people have followed it.¬† We've gone through some ups and some downs, but overall, very pleased, very happy with this group.¬† There are some very good football players that are going to be joining us and very excited to have them.¬† So just overall very pleased, very happy.¬† I really appreciate our staff.¬† I feel like this group of coaches worked extremely hard.¬† They work relentlessly, around the clock, did an awful lot of traveling, and really worked hard to hold this class together.
It's not like a lot of times you hear me talking after a game, a couple plays here, a couple plays there.  Same thing, a couple players here, a couple players there push you one way or the other.  But overall, very solid effort and really appreciate the efforts of our staff.

Q.¬† Mark, have you ever seen a stretch like this‑‑ or endured a stretch like this in your career?¬† Where so many guys change course in a short window.¬† Do you think that was related to the way you guys finished the season?
COACH STOOPS:  I don't think a lot had to do with how we finished at all.  As you say, if that would have been the case, I think we'd have had some turning early.  I don't think it had a lot to do with that.
No, I haven't been around a lot that you had that much change within a seven‑day span or so.¬† I don't think we're alone.¬† I think it's a situation that probably needs to be addressed on a national level, but, again, I'm not concerned about the guys we did not get.¬† I'm very excited about the players we got.
Are there some issues?  Are there some things that could be improved Nationwide?  I think so.

Q.  What do you know about the early signing calendar being under control?
COACH STOOPS:  I think there's definitely a need.  I don't know.  I can't speak for everybody.  I'd say the people I know and talk with, absolutely everybody is for an early signing period.  Where and when is the big discussion.  That's where a lot of people have different opinions.
I just know, generally speaking‑‑ I don't want to speak for the other coaches in our conference.¬† I just know from our meetings, just a general thought is people are not in favor of changing drastically our recruiting calendar, which means we're already got a lot on our plate, and you start doing things and having officials and things like that in the summer, spring, all that stuff gets very hectic, I think.¬† The consensus in our league is we like the way it's laid out right now if you could just find some kind of happy medium with an early signing period.
My personal thought is it makes no sense not to.  We recruit these guys for over a year, year and a half, two years.  Whatever it may be.  And if they give us their word and want to come to Kentucky, then give them the scholarship and let them sign it, and that protects both them and you.
I think sometime in December has been mentioned.¬† That's what I'd be in support of.¬† That gives you the entire season.¬† If they want to come up‑‑ and a lot of coaches in our league are afraid to move it up too far because we all are a little bit hesitant about hosting official visits all fall because we're busy enough with games, and then you take on‑‑ I don't know if you do the families justice a lot of times because we don't have the time to spend with them, and a lot of people are opposed to that.
But the point is for us‑‑ and, again, I can only speak for ourselves‑‑ they're going to come in season anyway.¬† If a prospect wants to come to a game on an official visit in the fall, then we say okay and bring them in, and we host them anyway.¬† So we're dealing with it.¬† We're dealing with the extra work as it is, and once again, that's what I'd be in favor of.¬† Give them the time to come in in the fall.¬† Give them the time to come in for a few weekends in December, and let them sign before Christmas and get it wrapped up.¬† It only makes sense.¬† They have our word that I'm going to give them a scholarship, and it would certainly save the university an awful lot of money, and it would save our coaches an awful lot of time.
Our coaches are flying all over the country‑‑ I know not a lot of people are worried about that, but they're going all over the place, sometimes just holding things down.¬† And the vast majority of these guys never even blinked.¬† They've been very solid, and they've been great to recruit the whole time, but we never take anything for granted.¬† So we're going in there each and every week, making sure things are buttoned down.
There's got to be a happy medium in there somewhere.

Q.  What can you tell us about what happened in Richmond with the players?
COACH STOOPS:¬† To be honest with you, just what you tell me.¬† I don't know.¬† I'm trying to gather the information.¬† I've been reading a bunch of reports from what everybody said, and to this point, I don't know what's true and what's not.¬† So I just‑‑ I have certain information, and I just need to let the legal process go through its course.¬† Right now nobody's been charged.¬† I think there's a lot of people looking into it, and I need to get a little bit more accurate information on that and see where it goes.

Q.  How many of these guys that you got late commitments from were you recruiting through the whole process, or did some of them pop up last minute?
COACH STOOPS:  Yeah, most of them we had a good fix on.  So most of the guys, we knew about or our coaches have been in contact and following up and staying on them and things like that.

Q.  Some of the fans might be surprised with some of the guys.  Were you surprised with any of the commitments?
COACH STOOPS:  I don't know about surprised.  I was pleased with some things down the stretch.  I'd be lying if I told you I was going to walk in here this morning and knew exactly how this was going to play out.  You never take anything for granted.  So I was pleased with some of the way we closed on some guys.

Q.  A guy like Avonte Bell, who committed to Kentucky, he didn't put up the best numbers in junior college.  What did you see from him?
COACH STOOPS:  The more quiet, the better.  I didn't want anybody to know about him.  We didn't talk about him.  None of y'all knew about him.  We didn't say a word about him, and that's the way I liked it.
He's a very good football player, very explosive.  Our coaches have gone there and watched him practice and been around him.  We feel like he's got a very bright future.

Q.  What do each of the four early enrollees give you now that they're here on campus?
COACH STOOPS:  Those guys have been very solid.  They've been very good football players.  Our strength and conditioning coaches have been very impressed with those guys.  Physically, they're what you want.  And with the four high school guys and the two transfers, all six of those guys have been nothing but good for our team.  They're physically what you want.  Mentally, they've been doing a great job.  So it's been very good to have those guys on campus.
Again, all of our coaches that have been around those guys have been very impressed with them, both athletically and how mature they are.

Q.  Players decommitting from the school.  What's your stance on late in the process, a guy that's been committed to you for a long time, saying there's not room now or we want you to wait and come next year?
COACH STOOPS:¬† I think you're probably going to see more and more of that.¬† It's not something I'm comfortable with.¬† I think y'all‑‑ you know, you probably know enough about me and how I try to be very fair and very direct.¬† So for me, it's not something I'm very comfortable with because relationships are very important to me, and as I go and recruit and talk to a prospect and talk to their parents and give them my word that I'm going to take care of them, that's something very hard for me to do.
So when I go and say I'm going to take care of them and treat them exactly how I want my son to be treated, that's not how I want my son to be treated.  So I don't know how I could say that and then do it.  That's just me.

Q.  What would you say to the Big Blue nation about the way things happened, [no microphone] how recruiting impacts you right now?  What would you say to those people?
COACH STOOPS:¬† Well, I'd tell them that we're fishing in the right waters.¬† I think we're going after the right guys.¬† So I think our staff has done a nice job of targeting and evaluating some very good players, and early on, sometimes when we go and target these guys and recruit them and sometimes get a commitment and a year later they blow up, I find‑‑ I feel like the staff deserves some good credit for that because I feel like we're working extremely hard.¬† We already worked hard on 16.¬† We've been at it for months, but in particular, really zeroed in on it again this week and moving forward on 16.
But I feel like our staff does a nice job.  We work very hard on identifying the right talent, and then we go after them.  I told you from day one that we're going to compete and we're going to battle with the very best teams in the country, and we're going to win some, and we're going to lose some.

Q.  Do you think [no microphone] will be part of this squad?
COACH STOOPS:  I don't think it's appropriate for me to comment on it at that time.  We'll submit the paperwork and the appeals and see if we can get him cleared to play.  I have no idea.  Probably wouldn't be right for me to guess on that.

Q.  What do you think of the tight ends in terms of pass catchers?  How much did you target C.J. for that?
COACH STOOPS:  I think it was very important for us to target C.J. and to land him.  He's a guy that we feel like can be a complete tight end.  He certainly can run and catch, and you see him physically getting better already since he got on campus.  I want to say he's gained the neighborhood of ten pounds already and is getting more physical.  So it was very important for us to get a tight end, and we need to continue to recruit and develop tight ends.

Q.  Mark, what are your expectations for Eli Brown and Mason Wolfe?
COACH STOOPS:¬† I think two very good football players, it was very important for us to get those guys, Mason and Eli.¬† There's a good chance that they'll be redshirted, but talent‑wise and size and everything, they're exactly what we're looking for, with the exception of Eli, of course, getting a little more physical, but he'll do that with no problem.¬† He can run and change direction.¬† He's very explosive and very talented.¬† We're happy to have them.

Q.  Mark, now that you have a recruiting class that's this strong, can you give us a feel as to where you think this program is at just from a physical point of view?
COACH STOOPS:¬† I think we're much closer to where we want to be.¬† I think‑‑ I was commenting on one of the shows that we had here today about that as far as where do we go from here?¬† So it's very exciting to wrap up this class.¬† Everybody asks me all the time, what do I feel about this?¬† We put a lot of hard work, and it's good to get it wrapped up.¬† It's good to introduce them to our fan base and to the media and talk about these guys publicly, which is nice.
But what's really encouraging is to get back with our team and develop our team.  Our guys have been working since we've been on the road, since we've been back after the break.  Coaches have been on the road traveling and recruiting and hosting weekends and all that stuff, and our team has been busting our tail in here with our strength and conditioning team.  The nice thing is we've been back on campus.  When we were back on Fridays or this week, walking around the weight room and walking around the complex and seeing our guys, physically, it's much closer to what we want to look like.
So we feel very encouraged about where we're at and where we're headed.  I think it's going to be a fun group to coach.  They are anxious, and we are anxious to get with them and to have a very tough, demanding winner to continue to build the toughness that we need in this program.
So I think I feel very good about where we're headed.

Q.  Mark, you guys have sold a vision really for the last three years to prospects coming in here, what this place can be.  Is it important going into a fourth recruit class and a third season, to start showing some results?
COACH STOOPS:  You're ready to turn it up already?  Well, why not?  It's important.  You know that.  I'll answer the question the same way, whether it's year one, year two, or year three, it's always important to go out and compete at a high level.  It's important to win.  That's always going to be the case.
I think, as I just answered, I think we're getting closer and closer to where we want to be.  I know we're making strides, and we're going to continue to put our head down and go to work and get better.

Q.  [ No microphone ]?
COACH STOOPS:  I think K.G. is a guy that, much like a lot of these guys that I talked about is what you're looking for.  First of all, he's a high character guy.  He's got great size, great length.  He's an unbelievable student.  So he's the type of guy you're looking for in your program.

Q.¬† Freshman offensive lineman, but having a guy here‑‑

Q.  Yes.  Getting him physically ready to play spring ball.  Is he one you looked at that you hoped could help you early?
COACH STOOPS:  Yeah.  George Asafo is a guy who physically has everything you want.  He's extremely mature and works extremely hard.  You just look at him, you walk around the building and look at him, he looks as good or better than anybody we have on our team, and he's been here just a couple of weeks.  So I think it's very important to have him here in the spring, and he will definitely help us, and he's definitely the type of inside physical presence that we've been looking for.
And the other guys, our other guys are getting better, as we know, but certainly it's good to have George here.

Q.  [No microphone].  He got here in the summer.  What are his chances to help turn you around?
COACH STOOPS:¬† We'll see.¬† We'll see how he does in the winter and how he does in the spring practices, but he's a guy that initially you would think that because physically he needs to mature a little bit and put on a little bit of strength and a little bit of weight.¬† But talent‑wise, he has everything you're looking for.

Q.  Looking back to last year's class, you brought in some linebackers.  None of them were dependable really coming on the field.  Is that group in the fall in a position where you can use them?
COACH STOOPS:  It's important.  I feel like Ryan really played well at the end of the year.  So he'll help us.  And Josh, obviously, as we talked about all through the fall, really showed some flashes of doing some really good things, but we need to constantly develop depth, especially at the outside linebacker position as well.  So Denzil is a guy we're very high on coming off redshirt that can really help us and hopefully be the body type and explosive like Bud was.  Obviously, he won't be as seasoned as Bud, but a very talented guy.

Q.  Mark, did you make any progress on the special teams front?
COACH STOOPS:  Yeah, I have.  It's official with Andy Buh.  I think Tony is going to give you a release.  We just got some clearance today or got it official.
>>  I got something a few minutes ago.  We got official clearance for him.
COACH STOOPS:  I'm glad it was official.

Q.  Will he have the same responsibility?  What will his role be?
COACH STOOPS:  It will not be the same responsibilities, no.  He will work with outside backers.  I'm not giving him the special teams coordinator title because I want to give some of our other staff some of those responsibilities and not put it all on one guy.  So Andy will coach on the defensive side of the ball.  He will coach the outside linebackers.  So Derrick Ansley will coach the whole secondary with me helping Derrick.

Q.  And special teams is going to be a group effort?
COACH STOOPS:  Special teams will be a group effort.  Andy will be in charge of the kickoff and punt team, and some of the other units that I'm still working with some of the offensive staff.  But there will be nobody with the title of special teams coordinator.
And I'm doing that because I believe in a lot of the coaches that I have on staff to handle the special teams, and I'm also doing it because I wanted to relieve some of that pressure of that person with all that work to do and to help get back in the defensive room and to help Coach Elliott and myself and just get another mind in there with Coach Ansley and Coach Brumbaugh.
The way‑‑ you see it.¬† Just do the math and look at all the teams we compete against, and things are difficult.¬† There's offense that's are very complex, and there's a lot of good coaching.¬† It was a position that I really was looking for a specific skill set in that hire, and I wanted somebody to bring some more experience and give us some help in the defensive room.

Q.  With where your entire roster is at, do you anticipate redshirting maybe more of these guys this year?
COACH STOOPS:  You know, I don't know.  Last year we were able to redshirt 16 of them, and I was very happy to do that.  We're going to be very happy as we move forward.  It's always a great balancing act right there because you hate to burn somebody's year and not use them as much as you'd like.  So I still prefer to redshirt guys if you can.  I think in the long run of your program, it's really going to help you.
So I feel really good about the 16 guys coming off of redshirt.  I think they're all going to help us.  So we'll see how many in this class we're going to redshirt.

Q.  Does this mean you're going to be a little more hands on with the defensive backs?
COACH STOOPS:¬† Yeah, it does.¬† I need to get in there.¬† Working into year three, much more comfortable with just day‑to‑day operation and all the things.¬† If I could just get Tony to relieve me a little bit and give me a little time in season.¬† No, I think it's important for me to get more involved.¬† I feel very good about where we're head the in the leadership of the defense with Coach Elliott.¬† I have total, 100 percent confidence in what's going on there and what's going on with Shannon on the offensive side of the ball.¬† I feel very great about our coaches.
I just, for myself, it's just good for me, and it's good for our team to be involved.
There's a lot of things to look at as you work with your staff, and I've always coached the full secondary, and there's both good and bad to that.  So I think the skill that you're looking for with breaking down safeties and breaking down corners, it's good to have two of them sometimes, and sometimes it's good to have one voice, but it's an awful lot of work.  So I'll be in there to help with Derrick.  That will be a lot for him, a lot for anybody, because it's a big group.  When you get into nickel and dime situations, you're talking about coaching five and six guys.
But last year Coach Brumbaugh had a lot on his plate as well because, with certain packages, he had quite a few of those guys up there as well.

Q.¬† Does that also sort of signify that you feel more comfortable to take the training wheels off of D.J. and say do this‑‑
COACH STOOPS:  The training wheels, D.J. has been in charge of that.  He and I have always been on the same page philosophically.  That doesn't mean we always have all the answers because things are very difficult.  You've heard me talk about it time and time again.  Sometimes when you're not as talented as you want to be, sometimes the first year you start throwing stuff at the wall and hoping it sticks.  The second year we got much better at who we're going to be and who we want to be, and I feel very good about the direction we're headed right now.  Then it's all a matter of being coached, and that's why you need a bunch of bodies on the field to execute the things you want to do.
So we went through a transition, both with myself and Coach Elliott, with some of the things we wanted to evolve to.¬† I feel very good about where we're getting to and who‑‑ exactly who we are.¬† And I think Coach Elliott's done a great job of organizing that and putting that package together, and it will help us be very clear on what we're going to do as we move forward.

Q.  [No microphone].  Were there any discussions this year?
COACH STOOPS:  It did come up and certainly was something I addressed each time in the homes and things like that.  As you can imagine, nothing but smiles there from the prospects because they're coming into it at a very good time.

Q.  I know you're excited about the guys you do have, but take us back to Damien Harris' decision going into it and how you felt after he made his choice.
COACH STOOPS:  Very happy for Damien.  Obviously, wish he was here, but wish him the best of luck.  I really enjoyed getting to know Damien and his family.  He's a quality young man and a great football player, and he'll have a great future.
We were disappointed, but we moved on very quickly and went back to work.  So it's part of it.  I know this, just like I said many times, that I feel very good about the work that we put in to show Damien how important he was to us, and sometimes you're going to win some of those and you're going to lose some of those.  It's part of the business.
But I felt like our staff and every legal time I was allowed to be in the school, I was in there.  Every legal time one of our coaches were allowed to be in there, we were all in there for countless hours.  We tried as hard as we could.

Q.  [No microphone].  Is that strictly in the NCAA's hands?
COACH STOOPS:  Yeah, somebody asked me that earlier.  I don't know if it's appropriate to talk about whether they'll be cleared to play or not because I don't know.  We'll file an appeal and send that to them and see how it goes.

Q.¬† Do you have recruiting territories in‑‑
COACH STOOPS:  Yeah, we do.  We're shuffling some right now, but we'll restructure some things, some territory.

Q.  It's too soon to tell?
COACH STOOPS:  I don't want to get into that right now.  You'll put me on the spot, and I'll be wrong.

Q.  Recruiting the physical corner or a safety, does this class fit that mold?
COACH STOOPS:  They definitely do.  This secondary group is very versatile.  You hear me use that word a lot, but it's true.  With all the different packages, awe the things you have to do.  The bottom line is you've got to be a very good football player.  The guys that could jump in and play corner, play nickel, play dime, even play a little safety, those are the guys you want, and I feel like this group is a lot like that, very rangy, very athletic, and very versatile.

Q.  You had problems early in the season that you had guys in the secondary that kind of went [no microphone].
COACH STOOPS:  I'm sure they did.  I didn't look at it that way.  I've coached the secondary my whole life.  So I know what we're looking for, but, no, it is.  I don't know, to answer your question.  I didn't notice it.  But I know there's very good football players in this league, and that's what we're looking for.  So I feel like, once again, I just love the range of this group.  Very tall, lengthy guys that can run and change direction.  So I feel good about that.

Q.  With the defections, I think the recruiting rankings it's the fourth best class Kentucky's had in a dozen or so years.  Do you like that you've got this program going but fans here might be grumbling over a class that you feel really good about because the expectation has been raised?
COACH STOOPS:  Sure.  I'm not worried about that and the expectations, you know that.  We're going to recruit the very best players we can, and we're not afraid to compete.  We're certainly not going to lay off anybody because some other schools are recruiting them.
Once again, we feel very good about this group, and I want to concentrate on the victories that we have in this group because there's a lot of guys in here that maybe‑‑ I don't know who or whatever.¬† I don't read all that.¬† You may know that better than me, but I know there's a lot of guys in this group that we had to fight awfully hard to keep against some very good teams.¬† So I'm very proud to have these guys come and join our program.

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