Kentucky Wildcats football coach Mark Stoops is the latest coach to offer a scholarship to a kid who hasn't even begun high school.
(Photo: Mark Zerof, USA TODAY Sports)
(USATODAY.com) - Mark Stoops has an eye for talent. In less than seven months as Kentucky's football coach, he has made significant inroads in recruiting.
But isn't he jumping the gun on this one?
Last week, Stoops offered a scholarship to a 13-year-old that hasn't yet begun the eighth grade. Defensive back Jairus Brents was participating in a football camp on the Kentucky campus when he received the offer.
I have no doubt Brents is talented beyond his years. But isn't 13 a little young for this?
It's unusual but not unprecedented. In his first year as head coach at Southern Cal in 2010, Lane Kiffin offered a scholarship to quarterback David Sills of Elkton, Md., when he was in the seventh grade. Sills accepted the offer and plans to sign with the Trojans in the recruiting Class of 2015.
It remains to be seen if Sills will honor the commitment if Kiffin is no longer coaching at Southern Cal. Frankly, I'll be surprised if he makes it past this season.
But that hasn't kept Kiffin from continuing to invest in the futures market. He recently offered a scholarship to high school freshman-to-be wide receiver Nathan Tilford. Not to be outdone, UCLA's Jim Mora countered with an offer to quarterback Lindell Stone, who less than a month ago was finishing up eighth-grade classes.
And then there is Dylan Moses, a running back from Baton Rouge, La. He's already received scholarship offers from at least eight top-tier programs, including Alabama, LSU and Texas even though he has yet to start high school classes.
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Isn't this a bit absurd, folks? Even with the proliferation of what amounts to scouting combines for young athletes, can you really project 13- and 14-year-olds into college football uniforms? These kids have barely graduated from Happy Meals at McDonald's. What's the rush?
It's a sign of the times. We're always looking for the next big thing, even when, as in the case of the 13-year-old Brents, the next big thing is 5-foot-8 and 152 pounds. We keep trending younger, for better or worse. And I think it's worse.
Look, there's a difference between trying to lock down commitments from players that already have made a mark in high school football and those that have yet to darken a high school huddle. Most programs have lined up several prospects that will be high school seniors this fall. Tennessee, for example, has 16 commitments for the Class of 214. Vanderbilt has nine.
Likewise, the Class of 2015 is taking shape. Texas already is up to seven commitments in that class. Recruiting never sleeps.
As for the offer to the 13-year-old Brents, maybe we should take it for what it is. Either Stoops is trying to get a head start on the Class of 2018 or he's doing whatever is necessary to keep Kentucky football in the public eye. Either way, he's succeeding.
Since arriving in the Bluegrass, Stoops has managed to close a good recruiting class in February and now has set his sights higher. Kentucky currently stands at No. 4 in the recruiting rankings at Rivals.com for 2014.
This would be low by Big Blue basketball standards but is unprecedented for Wildcats football. Finding Kentucky near the top of the nation in football recruiting is like seeing Justin Bieber on the featured stage at Bonnaroo. Some things simply don't fit.
Credit Stoops for ignoring conventional wisdom. First, he took the Kentucky coaching job when other candidates saw it as career suicide. Second, he chose to go head-to-head with college football's elite in pursuit of top prospects rather than fall back into Kentucky's customary position of taking the leftovers. And it's working.
When you offer a college scholarship to a 13-year-old football player, you're pushing the envelope.