LEXINGTON — There’s no doubt that Highlands quarterback Patrick Towles is the “face” of Kentucky’s 2012 football recruiting class. He was one of the first players to commit to the Wildcats, had a banner season leading his team to another state title and never wavered in his commitment to the Wildcats.
However, as important as Towles was to the recruiting class that UK¿coach Joker Phillips signed Wednesday, what may have turned the group into something a little bit better than expected was the late additions of running back Justin Taylor and linebacker Khalid Henderson.
Taylor and Henderson, like Towles, were not players that UK had to beat mid-major schools to sign. Taylor was headed to Alabama and Henderson to Tennessee before both changed their minds.
Taylor was projected as one of the South’s top running backs going into his senior season before a September knee injury ended his prep career. The Atlanta native had rushed for 1,500 yards and 10 touchdowns as a junior, but backed out on Alabama after he was asked to wait until January to enroll.
He actually came to UK a few weeks ago with an academic team and Phillips found out.
“We invited him over. (assistant) coach (Randy) Sanders was the only coach that he got a chance to see,” Phillips said. “Our trainers checked out his knee and felt that he would be ready for June, and we feel that he will be ready to come back and display his ability in the fall camp as an SEC back.
“He's not as big tall-wise as he is compact, and I think that's what an SEC back better be to withstand the blows that he's going to take, (Signee) Dyshawn (Mobley) is the same type of back; he has the ability to make people miss. Coach Sanders always talk about one guy in the back end that you can't block, and we want backs that if we turn the safeties loose, about the third period, they don't want to tackle them. We have a couple of those guys, and we think that's important.”
It is, especially if Josh Clemons, who ran well as a true freshman last year before he suffered a knee injury, is back healthy as expected. Adding the 200-pound Taylor and 205-pound Mobley to the running back mix could give the UK offense a needed boost.
Henderson could do the same for the defense. He has Danny Trevathan-type speed (4.57 in the 40-yard dash) at 213 pounds. He had 74 tackles and two interceptions as a senior and the Georgia product was ranked as the 19th best outside linebacker in the nation by ESPN and No. 17 overall prospect in Georgia.
He was set to go to Tennessee before the Vols lost at Kentucky to end the season. He finally picked UK¿over Mississippi Wednesday.
“Khalid Henderson was a guy that we were sitting there waiting when he became available,” Phillips said.
Defensive coordinator Rick Minter visited Henderson and told Phillips he passed the look test.
“You kinda question until you see him for your own eyes, and when I did that, it was exactly what coach Minter saw. Again, fit the profile of what we want to be the face of our defense, and that's what the linebacker is, the face of our defense, and he runs around and makes play after play after play,” Phillips said. “Coach and him sat down and watched film, and it was only on Danny Trevathan.
“Coach doesn't mind long meetings when he has a recruit on campus, and Khalid didn't mind those long meetings. We are looking for football junkies, and that's what Khalid is. He saw the potential to be put into the position that Danny Trevathan was in making plays for us.”
Trevathan led UK¿in tackles the last two years. Ironically, ¿Henderson wore No. 22, the same number as Trevathan did at UK, in high school.
“You see a lot of the same things in him at this age that you did in Danny,”¿UK¿linebacker coach Chuck Smith said.
Assistant coach Tee Martin said Wednesday that no one knew what either player’s plans were until their letters of intent came in Wednesday morning.
“When a guy gets offered by those schools, you can’t stop recruiting them,” Martin said. “There’s so much time between summertime and a time like this. Some guys are offered as sophomores and juniors — we’ve offered a few juniors already — but a lot of time has to elapse. With the world of coaching changes and things happening, people having great years and bad years, a lot can happen in a time like this. You just have to stay on it.”
Kentucky did with Towles and kept him, which was the top priority for this class. But because the Cats also stayed “on it” with Henderson and Taylor, UK added two desperately needed pieces at the last minute to give a little more needed pizazz and strength to this recruiting class.