Under Stoops, Kentucky football pointing upward

Ben Cook

February 18, 2014 at 4:08 pm.

Mark Stoops has the Kentucky football program moving in the right direction. (Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports)

From Day One of his coaching tenure at Kentucky, Mark Stoops made it clear he wanted to put up borders around the state, something no other coach has been able to do in Lexington.

He accomplished that on National Signing Day by inking the top four players in the Bluegrass State — a clear sign that a new era of Kentucky football is underway.

“I really feel good about what we did in Kentucky,” Stoops said. “I said a year ago at my opening press conference about how important it was to recruit this state.

“I thought this was going to lay the foundation to turn this program, and it was a very critical year, and I felt like we really had to hit the pavement and recruit extremely hard; could not be more proud of this staff and the way they went about their business. If I’m honest, we maybe had a little bit better success than I thought this quick.”

For a team that went 4-7 last season, and labors under the burden of Kentucky fans’ love for Wildcats basketball, the success on National Signing Day is just another in a line of good things that have happened recently for the UK football program.

The Wildcats finished the season on a high note by winning three of their last four games. And soon the team will be practicing in a brand new $45 million training facility, set to open in 2016.

“As we continue to make a commitment to improving all of our facilities, this is a significant step for our football program,” said Mitch Barnhart, UK Director of Athletics. “I’m very appreciative of the donors who are stepping up to help with this project. We look forward to completing the funding and design process.”

“We are so excited to get this project started and I am thankful to all of those involved,” Stoops said.  “Once again, this is an indication of the great commitment from our administration and our supporters who are making this happen. This facility is already helping us in recruiting and will play a key role in the future of Kentucky football.

“I knew we’d recruit good players,” he added. “Where it was rated and all that and the publicity, I like it, and it helps our program and all that, but, again, that’s not what I’m out for. I’m out to get great players to help build this program day in and day out. This is one of the most unique recruiting experiences I’ve ever been a part of. This group was so solid for so long.”

On signing day there were nervous moments and the occasional talk of losing commitments among the UK coaching staff. In those cases, Stoops and the staff just worked harder to keep those players on board.

“We don’t take anything for granted,” Stoops said. “We recruited every bit as hard last night and today as we did last year or the day after Signing Day or the whole year. We recruited from start to finish extremely hard, don’t take anything for granted, and go about our business the right way.

“I’ve read a lot of quotes from these guys that caught my eye that they know and understand that this is just the beginning of a lot of work,” Stoops said. “We’ve got some good players that are going to help this program, but we’ve got to go to work now and keep on building and put another great class together and do all the work, whether it be right now in winter if they’re here, or the guys that are going to show up in the summer. I think they’re very special that way.”

All in all, Kentucky football is on the rise. And it all changed when Barnhart hired Mark Stoops, who is the latest coach to bring a new attitude to Lexington. Only this time, it might be working.