The University of Kentucky's 2004 football recruiting class can be said to be like a hungry dog on a hang glider - a ticklish mix of anticipation and expectation. That is, most of the recruits should someday be good players, while a few should (need to) play immediately.
What Kentucky can't afford to have happen is to have that hang gliding canine land on the Titanic. In other words, Kentucky, which already lags towards the back of the SEC talent parade, can't waste any scholarships on sinking ships.
But that, we all know, is entirely possible. Because that's recruiting.
Recruiting is like buying stock. You do the historical analysis (study films, go to high school games, scour the internet). You evaluate the stock price against your current assets (number of available scholarships vs. depth at particular positions). And you make performance projections (will recruit A be a better/quicker/more consistent contributor than recruit B?). You may even get a tip or two from your broker (high school coaches). Then after careful consideration of all these factors, you make a purchase.
And you win a few, you lose a few. Stocks that look great on paper and on CNBC sometimes go bust. And stocks that no one else seems to want sometimes shoot the moon. People - especially young men who'll be entering into entirely new academic, social, and athletic environments - are even less predictable.
Although you think you know all there is to know about a kid, you never really know what you're going to get until the kid gets onto the field. Even then, as coach Rich Brooks wisely stated in his signing day press conference, it typically takes two or three years to properly judge how wonderful or un-wonderful a player is.
Take, for instance, Yancey Reynolds. Who? (Don't feel silly for asking.) Yancey Reynolds - junior college All-American at offensive line, the only 2002 incoming player with a 4-star rating. Arrives at UK, gets hurt, gets redshirted, gets way out of shape and gets off the team. We'll never see the gem of the 2002 class in a Kentucky uniform.
And we've yet to see the gem of the 2003 class. Quarterback Andre Woodson was the lone 4-star recruit last year. He was ranked seventh in the nation at his position coming out of high school. But, as he was redshirted in 2003, the jury is still out on him. Odds are he'll be a fine player. But only time (on the field) will tell.
Getting on the field next season likely won't be a problem for 2004's single 4-star recruit,offensive lineman Micah Jones. He's ranked 17th nationally; his work ethic and will to win are said to be as phenomenal as his size and speed. Plus, UK really needs some help at O-line. For that same reason - last year's porous O-line performance - Kane Hannaford, not nationally ranked in the top 100 but huge and highly regarded by the UK staff, could also see time at as a true freshman.
Other than Jones, Hannaford, running back Rafael Little (ranked 9th nationally), and possibly receiver Lonnell Dewalt (ranked 70th), don't expect other true freshmen to make a big splash. Sure, some may contribute, but few will make a significant impact this coming season. That shouldn't be surprising or disappointing, for true freshman, as a whole, seldom make a difference on the field. Last year, Durrell White was the top frosh with Keenan Burton coming in a distant second. No one else from the 2003 class did very much for the Cats.
But overall, though, the 2004 class looks solid, and better than last year's. Will they be the class that turns the program around? Until next season and beyond, you never can tell.
Yet you can always hope.