Brooks: Cats covered every need

February 05, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - Ten minutes into his press conference, Rich Brooks got the "thumbs up" signal from recruiting coordinator Joker Phillips.

That told the University of Kentucky coach that his recruiting class just got a lot better because South Carolina running back Rafael Little, ranked among the nation's top 10 all-purpose backs by, had become UK's 21st, and final, signee Wednesday.

"I think we covered every need we had," said Brooks. "A year ago, we did not sign any offensive linemen. We have five. We only had two quarterbacks, now we have three, or four. We have depth and we have staggered out our (scholarship) numbers."

Brooks had made signing a marquee running back a priority. Kentucky went to Alabama to get Tony Dixon and New Jersey for Shomari Moore, but there is no guarantee one or both won't end up on defense. Little was the one running back Brooks really wanted, and had to wait until the last minute to know he had.


The 195-pound Little scored 90 touchdowns during his prep career and once had a streak of seven straight games with at least one punt return or kickoff return for a touchdown.

"He's a big-time back," Brooks said. "He scored so many touchdowns it was hard to keep up with. I think he'll bring instant competition to the running back position this fall.

"I just like the way he gets the ball in the end zone. He has less than five percent body fat. He has a great change of direction and he's very difficult to tackle. People bounce off him."

However, Brooks thinks he has other "big-time" players in his second Kentucky recruiting class.

He expects Warren Central's Lonnell Dewalt to compete for immediate playing time at receiver. The 6-6, 220-pound Dewalt is the big, physical receiver that Brooks felt his team lacked last year.

"He's a playmaker not only at wide receiver, but on defense," Brooks said. "He's a guy that is going to be very difficult to cover. He's a big, physical guy that can run. I'm not sure there are a lot of guys like him. He's even a little taller than the ones we play against. He's a huge target and there's no question he's physical. He knocked the heck out of people on defense."

Brooks also emphasized that Dewalt has his blessing to join UK's basketball team, too.

"My opinion is he will (join the basketball team) and he can help them," Brooks said.

Brooks praised both Mayfield's Micah Jones, Kentucky's best offensive lineman, and Florida's Kane Hannaford. Both bench press around 400 pounds and weigh over 315 pounds.

"Hannaford looks like the lines we played against," Brooks said. "He's a big human being. I think he'll be a factor as a freshman. He can move and he mauled people in high school. He's big-time.

"I've not seen many linemen do what Micah Jones does, even as a junior. He can run and he's physical. I think we have linemen that can challenge for playing time and maybe even do more than challenge."

Very high on safeties

Brooks said he had "never signed two better safeties in one class" than Marcus McClinton and Wesley Woodyard.

"Those two are what I saw a lot of playing against us," Brooks said. "They are big, tough guys who run and hit."

Gabe Wallace, McClinton's teammate at Fort Campbell, also impressed Brooks.

"He gives us a good-sized linebacker and he has great speed," Brooks said. "He's a real playmaker."

The coach said it would not surprise him to see Wallace playing early in passing situations to cover backs because of his speed.

Kentucky even pulled off a late recruiting coup by signing Georgia quarterback Joe Joe Brown. He had verbally committed to South Carolina, but started listening to other offers when South Carolina got a commitment from another quarterback.

"Those who wrote we would not sign a quarterback were wrong," Brooks said. "He runs a 4.5 or 4.6 (40-yard dash). He has good height. He throws well. He's an excellent athlete."

Offensive coordinator Ron Hudson evaluated Brown in the spring, but Kentucky concentrated on landing Trinity quarterback Brian Brohm. Once Brohm decided he was going to Louisville, UK started looking for other options.

"It was an easy sell," recruiting coordinator Joker Phillips said. "He's coming to a place where we only have two quarterbacks."

Counting five junior college players that signed in December and are already enrolled at UK, the Cats have 26 players in their signing class. They are limited to 22 because of NCAA probation. Brooks said three players probably would grayshirt - wait to enroll in January - and another player likely would go to a prep school or junior college to make the numbers work.

"Overall, I think we have definitely upgraded our size and speed," Brooks said. "We are going to be better in the long haul and in the short term because of these guys. You never get everything you want, but we're very satisfied with the class we have."

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