Kentucky football recruiting: Mark Stoops, Wildcats expect 7 early enrollees

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn't the greatest of debuts for first-year coach Mark Stoops, but there is plenty of talent on the way to Lexington.

Enrolling early is a major advantage for recruits who are mentally ready to skip their final semester of high school and begin a college curriculum and weight training program. Additionally, enrolling early allows the recruit to become acclimated with the program and participate in spring practice -- a major leg up on the other incoming players who must wait until the summer to start school.

Kentucky is expected to welcome seven early enrollees for the 2014 recruiting class, which consists of 24 players, including five four-star prospects.

Cory Johnson, a fringe four-star defensive tackle recruit out of ASA College (N.Y.), has a short time to play at Kentucky because of the time he spent at junior college, so enrolling early will be a big help in his quest to earn a starting position. Johnson chose the Wildcats over offers from Arizona State, Miami, Syracuse and others. He should provide immediate help along the defensive line at 6'4, 300 pounds. Johnson is rated as the No. 6 DT and the No. 32 junior college player nationally.

Johnson will be joined in Lexington by Drew Barker. Barker is an impressive quarterback out of Conner High School in Hebron, Ky. He is rated four stars by the 247Sports Composite -- a combination of the four major recruit rating services -- and is rated the No. 6 pro-style QB nationally. He also held offers from Louisville, Miami and South Carolina, among others. Barker has a real shot to start at Kentucky as a true freshman thanks to the reps he will get in the spring.

Still to come

Kentucky also holds non-binding verbal commitments from several star recruits it hopes to sign on Feb. 5, National Signing Day.

While Barker is the gem of UK's recruiting class, the best of the unsigned prospects for Mark Stoops is Darius West, a four-star safety recruit out of Lima Central Catholic in Ohio. West chose Kentucky over offers from Iowa, Miami, North Carolina State, Ole Miss and others. He is rated the 231st prospect nationally and the No. 18 safety.

Denzel Ware is another elite defensive recruit committed to the 'Cats for 2014. A four-star defensive end out of Crestview High School (Fla.), he possesses a sturdy frame at 6'3, 220 pounds. He is rated as the No. 13 weak-side defensive end and is a top-250 recruit nationally. Ware chose UK over the likes of Alabama, Clemson, Florida and Florida State.

On target -- Bud Elliott, National Recruiting Analyst

Kentucky has several remaining recruits on its board, but by far the most important is four-star defensive tackle Matt Elam, of Elizabethtown (Ky). Elam is 6'5 and 370 pounds, and would be a major anchor inside for the Wildcats. The competition? Oh, just the Alabama Crimson Tide, who are selling Elam on being the nose guard in their 3-4 defense. Kentucky has a shot, however, as football fever has swept the state thanks to Mark Stoops and his staff.

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