UK looks to Ohio players for retooling football program

For now, Jarrett LaRubbio and Mikel Horton are fierce rivals. That’s a given for high school football players at Lakota East and West.

But by this time next year, that’ll flip. Both have committed to continue their careers at the University of Kentucky. If all goes according to plan, LaRubbio, a 6-foot-5, 260-pound offensive lineman from East, will be blocking for Horton, a 6-1, 230-pound running back at West.

“That is going to seem different,” LaRubbio admitted. “There are a lot of players from this area down there, which is going to make it a lot easier.”

More often than not stuck in the lower half of Southeastern Conference results, UK is hoping to buck that trend by making a complete program makeover that features a huge Ohio influence. It started with the hiring of the youngest Stoops brother, Mark, as head coach last December. He was lured from Florida State, where he was the defensive coordinator.

His brother Mike Stoops is Arizona’s head coach. Yet another brother, Bob, has defined his head coaching career at Oklahoma.

From Youngstown, Stoops tapped into many of his Ohio coaching friends and lured them to the Wildcats’ campus at Lexington. Most notable is Vince Marrow, like Stoops a graduate of high school football power Youngstown Cardinal Mooney. Ohio is Marrow’s recruiting territory and he has immediately made a big impact.

Of the 18 members of UK’s recruiting class of next year, 10 are Buckeye bred. Four are area players: receiver Thaddeus Snodgrass of Springfield High School, Wayne linebacker Dorian Hendrix and LaRubbio and Horton. And that doesn’t include Lovell Peterson, a standout Wayne lineman who decommitted to UK to pursue a track and field career at Grand Valley State in Michigan.

Those four are just part of why UK’s recruiting class of 2014 is ranked No. 1 in the nation.

“When Mark first got the job, the main thing that he told me was we’re going to hit Ohio,” said Marrow, who previously was the tight ends coach at Nebraska, where he landed former Alter standout Greg Hart.

“I knew the Dayton and Cincinnati areas had real good talent. It’s only one-two hours from Lexington. We decided to make Ohio our home base and go at it with the big guys who are going after these recruits.”

Expect that trend to continue for several reasons. The SEC long ago surpassed the Big Ten as the go-to conference power for elite players. Recent national champions Alabama, LSU, Florida and Auburn are the main draws. Playing against those teams is the next best thing. Plus, families can easily make the drive to and from a UK home game in the same day.

The Wildcats slumped to 2-10 last season, which cost former head coach Joker Phillips his job. But that opened the position for Stoops and his deep Ohio roots.

Springfield High School head coach Eric Gillespie has noticed UK’s recruiting commitment to Southwest Ohio.

“The SEC’s hot right now and a lot of kids want to play in the SEC,” he said. “This is probably the most that Kentucky has ever poked its nose into Ohio. At the same time, for whatever reason, Kentucky (football) has a decent reputation. Sometimes when Kentucky comes in (to a school to recruit), that carries more weight than some of the Big Ten schools.”

UK’s numbers back that up. Only four Ohioans are among its upperclassmen, including corner Cody Quinn of Middletown High School and Miamisburg grad Zach Myers, a center. Just three Ohioans are incoming freshmen, including offensive lineman Kyle Meadows of Lakota West.

But the Ohio influence goes to the extreme for UK’s recruiting Class of 2014. Wayne linebacker Dorian Hendrix was the first Ohioan to commit to Kentucky with Stoops in place. Expect that link to continue.

“That’s a hotbed right there,” Marrow said of Wayne’s program at Huber Heights. “(Wayne) Coach (Jay) Minton does a great job. We’ve already started a pipeline there. We’ve already offered some of his 2015 guys. That school produces a lot of big-time guys.”

Marrow has beaten a path to the best talent in the Greater Cincinnati League, Greater Miami Conference and the Greater Western Ohio Conference. All those conferences are loaded with BCS-level players.

“Our attitude is we’re the SEC,” Marrow said. “We’re going to go into Ohio and recruit the best kids. When you turn programs around you have to change the culture and change the type of talent that you bring in and things get turned around fast.”

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