UK Notebook: Phillips, UK having success recruiting

January 02, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - Kentucky football recruiting coordinator Joker Phillips says the UK coaching staff has been well received everywhere it has been recently despite last season's 4-8 finish.

"It's all been very positive. We've been in a lot of homes we would not have been able to get in last year," Phillips said. "All across the state the reception has been really good.

"Our own players have done an unbelievable job of helping us recruit and making players feel comfortable when they come on campus. (Receiver) Glen Holt helped us recruit a guy who is going to play the same position as him. That's the commitment you need in your program."

Recruiting has gone so well that Kentucky has signed five junior college players and has verbal commitments from 18 other players for its 2004 recruiting class. Since UK can sign only 17 more players in February to go with the five junior college players, the Cats are facing some hard decisions in the weeks ahead.


"There are a lot of good players out there who need to say something soon or we will be overbooked," Phillips said.

At least two players who have verbally committed to UK have said they'll have to go to junior college because of academic reasons. Several others have yet to meet full academic eligibility requirements.

Players could also be greyshirted. That means they would sign scholarships in February but not enroll at UK until January of 2005 and count against the 2005 recruiting class.

"That really benefits some players. As our numbers continue to go up, we'll decide on who we might take that approach with to make sure we are fair to the young men," Phillips said.

The Cats' most recent verbal commitment is Ohio defensive end Adjei Oninku, who had verbally committed to Michigan State earlier before having his scholarship offer withdrawn. He was also interested in Iowa, Pittsburgh and Wisconsin before they all told him they were out of scholarships.

He came to the UK-Louisville game last season and decided to verbally commit before making his official visit next weekend.

Oninku is ranked as the 29th best strongside defensive end in the country by He has 110 tackles, including 19 for loss and eight quarterback sacks, last season.

Loyalty: A hamstring injury that forced Ben McGrath to miss the first seven games of his senior season did not deter Kentucky's interest in the Cincinnati Moeller quarterback. That's one main reason he verbally committed to UK earlier this week.

"I was just impressed by how much they came after me," McGrath said. "They made me feel like I was really wanted. They were the first ones to offer and they never backed off because of my injury.

"For them to still want me the way they did, that meant a lot to me. It just showed me how much they think I can do."

He said he had also considered Cincinnati, West Virginia, Duke and Northwestern.

McGrath passed for 878 yards and six touchdowns and rushed for 144 yards and four scores last year.

Kentucky assistant coach Ron Caragher has told McGrath he'll have a chance to compete at quarterback. However, he's also seen as a potential defensive end or outside linebacker because of his 4.6-second speed in the 40-yard dash.

"I just want to get on the field and help the team," McGrath said. "I have played some linebacker and I liked that."

Signed: Former UK receiver Aaron Boone signed a two-year free agent contract with Chicago earlier this week just hours before the Bears fired coach Dick Jauron.

"Luckily it was the general manager (Jerry Angelo) that signed me and not the coach," said Boone, who had 16 scoring catches at UK in 2001 and 2002.

Boone will go to Chicago for four weeks of training before reporting to Tampa in February for a three-week training camp for the NFL World League in Europe. He'll be picked to play on one of the NFL Europe teams from April though June and then return to the Bears training camp in July.

"It all came together so well for me," Boone, who had spent the three previous weeks visiting friends he made in Peru on an earlier two-year Mormon mission trip, said. "I passed my physical and for an international business major like myself, going to Europe to play is a big opportunity. There are also a lot of players from that league every year who make the NFL."

Boone came close to making the Dallas Cowboys as a free agent before a shoulder injury near the end of training camp cost him a chance to stay on the roster.

"I can go to Europe, get some playing time and see what happens. All the NFL teams have scouts there watching," Boone, who has two younger brothers playing college football at Utah, said.

"The experience I got at Dallas last year helped me and now I'm ready just to get back to playing again."

Improving: Another former UK player, defensive end Dennis Johnson, had the best game of his two-year NFL career in Sunday's season-ending win over Minnesota.

The Harrodsburg native had a career-high eight tackles against the Vikings. He finished the year with 42 tackles, including three quarterback sacks, and five pass deflections in 15 games. He missed one game because of illness.

In 2002 he had only 15 tackles in 13 games and did not have a sack.

The Cardinals fired head coach Dave McGinnis Monday and are now looking for a new coach.

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