Vaught's Views: Wildcats tap into junior college ranks

December 19, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

Kentucky has climbed deeper into the junior college football recruiting ranks than it ever has, a sign that UK coach Rich Brooks knows he had to have immediate help at some positions next year.

Brooks has signed two defensive ends, one tight end, one wide receiver and one offensive linemen this week and all will be enrolling at Kentucky for the second semester.

The latest two to join the Big Blue bandwagon are offensive lineman Ernie Pelayo of Chula Vista (Calif.) Southwestern College and defensive end B.Jay Parsons of Saddleback College in California.

Pelayo is a 6-6, 290-pound tackle who certainly should pass the look test to play in the Southeastern Conference. He's the same type of big lineman Kentucky faces when it plays Georgia, Tennessee, Florida or most other SEC teams.


UK's recruiting pitch was easy - an offensive line that was ordinary at best last year lost three starters and the chance to play immediately is there. That sold him on Kentucky over UCLA, Arizona State, Arizona and Oregon.

Parsons could possibly move to outside linebacker, a spot UK needs help next year. He's 6-5, 250 pounds and has the speed (4.6 seconds in the 40-yard dash) that defensive coordinator Mike Archer wants. He had 76 tackles, including 15 sacks, last season and should have a chance to compete for early playing time even though UK returns most of its top 22 defensive players from this year.

It's also interesting that offensive coordinator Ron Hudson, the man who received much of the blame for UK's struggles last season, again used his California junior college recruiting contacts that he developed during his years at Kansas State to persuade Pelayo and Parsons to sign with Kentucky.

Previous UK coaching staffs have also tried to go the junior college route for help. Most have failed either because they could not persuade players to sign with UK or could not find players to meet UK's academic standards.

"If they are good players, it makes sense to bring in junior college players when you need help," said former UK offensive coordinator Tony Franklin.

He was perhaps the most effective recruiter on Hal Mumme's coaching staff at Kentucky, which is why so many former UK players played for him last season when he was head coach of the Lexington Horsemen. However, Franklin stuck to high school players.

"First, I never thought it made sense to get a junior college player unless he had three years of eligibility," Franklin said. "If he just has two years, he better be an impact player. It's hard for any player to come in right away and have a big impact whether he's coming out of junior college or high school.

"Then it is hard for junior college players to have enough credit hours to be eligible at Kentucky. Most people don't realize how hard Kentucky is academically and that's going to limit the junior college players you can find."

Franklin knows nothing about the talent level of the five junior college players that signed with UK this week. The other three are tight end Jamir Davis, defensive end Cedric Kroger and wide receiver Scott Mitchell. Those three along with Pelayo and Parsons all play positions where UK needs help next season.

Tight end and offensive line were recruiting priorities for UK. The Cats were also dangerously thin at outside linebacker last season.

The only glaring need Kentucky apparently has not filled with a junior college player is at running back. Last year UK, and Hudson, went to California to get Draak Davis. However, he was undersized and never was a big factor in UK's offense last season.

"You've always got to recruit the best players you can get," Franklin said. "I'm sure they were looking for a running back. Maybe there's not one out there better than who they have. Maybe there's not one out there who can get in school in time for spring practice. Maybe there's not one out there who wants to be part of a rebuilding process.

"It's not easy recruiting the junior college ranks when you are at Kentucky. This coaching staff obviously has found players it thinks can help and that's all you can do. You just have to trust your instincts and find players that can help or you won't be coaching for long."

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