Vaught's Views: Phillips has to be creative to fill UK's wish list

July 19, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

Putting together a wish list is not Joker Phillips' problem. It's figuring out how to fill that wish list that keeps the Kentucky football recruiting coordinator looking for any edge he can find.

"I get girlfriends' phone numbers because I know that's where I can usually find a kid. I love talking to little brothers and telling them that their brother really likes Kentucky. I always make them say my name, too," said Phillips. "At Kentucky, we've got to be creative and personalize everything in recruiting.

"We don't have a lot of tradition to sell. We've got to sell the university, the fans, academics. We've got to sell the SEC (Southeastern Conference), which is the second best football league in the country."

Second best? Doesn't the SEC tout itself for its football prowess and annually proclaim that it is the best in the country? So which conference does Phillips rate No. 1?


"The NFL is No. 1," Phillips smiled and said. "So if you want to come play against the best, come to the SEC."

That's how Phillips has to be able to reach the blue-chip talent that Kentucky needs to compete against Georgia, Florida, Tennessee and others, including LSU, in the SEC.

He was glad Barnhart raised ticket prices

He was glad athletics director Mitch Barnhart decided to raise ticket prices because of the subtle message it hopefully sent to UK players.

"To compete against everybody else, we've got to act like everybody else," Phillips said. "We've got to feel and act like Georgia and Florida. That's how we can beat their tails. If our tickets are $20 and others are $40, that's telling me, and our players, we are not the best."

Phillips has been busy evaluating talent for UK's 2005 recruiting class. Last year the Cats signed nine of 12 in-state targets. This year Phillips thought UK would offer scholarships to fewer in-state players. However, he says spring and summer camp evaluations have led him to believe the Cats may end up offering more in-state players a chance to be Wildcats this season.

"I like to see Kentucky kids competing with the blue and white on," Phillips, a Kentucky native who played at UK under coach Jerry Claiborne, said.

UK has eye on three area players

Kentucky has an eye on at least three area players - Danville running back Kelvin Turner, Boyle County quarterback Brandon Smith and Mercer County running back Andrew McCloud - this season. None have been offered scholarships, but all have had contact with the Cats.

Phillips and coach Rich Brooks have also made recruiting Ohio a higher priority. Four Ohio players were in UK's recent recruiting class, but Phillips wants more.

"There are 450 schools playing football in Ohio. That's almost double what it is in Kentucky. I would like to see us sign five or six (players) out of Ohio every year," Phillips said.

While recruiting needs could change based on what happens this season, Phillips has this preliminary plan:

Quarterback (2): "We've got to sign two great quarterbacks. We won't sign two pure dropback passers or two option quarterbacks. We'll get two diverse guys who are both great players."

Running back (2): "We've not had a big-time, take-it-the-distance back in a long time. Artose (Pinner) was a big-time back, but he was not a guy who could go 80 yards and lay the ball in the end zone. We need two of those guys."

Offensive line (?): "We need to get all we can."

Wide receiver (1): "With all the young, talented receivers we have, we still want to sign one."

Tight end (?): "You can never have enough tight end bodies. We've got to sign 6-8, 220-pound guys that can grow and develop either into a top tight end or able to play another spot."

Defensive line (3): "With the defensive alignment we play, three we would a good year for us. But we have to get at least two."

Linebacker (3): "We need help. We've got to have three."

Cornerback (4): "Because of who we are losing and where we are at, we've got to sign four cornerbacks. This is a priority spot for us."

Fitting an athletic need isn't enough, though, to merit a scholarship offer from UK. No matter how much the Cats could use a particular talented player, he'll still have to meet other criteria Phillips and Brooks have.

"We want kids with character, guys that want to be positive leaders. We want guys who love the game and want to get better. We want guys that are physically and mentally tough," Phillips said. "But most of all we want guys you can trust to do the right thing."

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