LEXINGTON, Ky. – The University of Kentucky completed a clean sweep of the state’s top three football recruits in the Class of 2016 on Saturday when four-star linebacker Kash Daniel of Paintsville picked the Wildcats.
He joins four-star offensive linemen Drake Jackson and Landon Young, his fellow U.S. Army All-Americans, to form a homegrown core of talent in what could be Mark Stoops’ best class yet at Kentucky. Daniel is 6-2, 235 pounds and rated the No. 2 inside linebacker and No. 96 overall prospect in the country by 247Sports.com.
“The guy’s got tremendous athleticism, great work ethic. He’s strong and he’s good laterally, which is what you need,” said JC Shurburtt, a national recruiting analyst for 247Sports. “A lot of people get caught up in 40-yard dash times, but with a linebacker you’ve really got to pay attention to the shuttle and the lateral ability, because that’s really what’s going to make them or break them at the next level. He’s certainly elite laterally.
“I think the guy can go to Kentucky and be the leading tackler for the Wildcats three years. Just tough as nails, knows the game, is extremely talented and has a good upside. When you’re trying to play football in the SEC, you can never have too many guys like this.”
Daniel had 180 tackles and four interceptions on defense last season, when he also rushed for more than 1,000 yards and threw for another 1,000 as Paintsville’s quarterback. He picked UK over Louisville and South Carolina.
He is the Cats’ third top-100 commitment in this class, which ranked 14th nationally before Daniel made his announcement, and is the 33rd player rated four stars by at least one of the four major recruiting services to pick Kentucky since Stoops took over in 2013. Cornerback Jordan Griffin and quarterback Gunnar Hoak are the others this class.
It’s unusual for the state of Kentucky to produce three U.S. Army All-Americans in the same year – Jackson, Young and Daniel will play in that elite showcase Jan. 9 on NBC – and impressive for the Cats to land all of them. Before Stoops, top talent often left the state for college.
“It’s huge. I’ve always said it doesn’t matter if you’re Kentucky or Missouri or Florida; if you recruit your state well in the SEC, you have a chance,” Shurburtt said. “And that’s been proven everywhere from the rise of South Carolina under Steve Spurrier to the Mississippi schools. The Mississippi schools have signed 97 percent of all the players rated four stars or higher for the past four years. So even if you don’t have a deep state, you need to get the guys in your state that can come and make a difference.
“It’s huge to have three guys that are Army Bowl guys this year, and to get them all, it’s gigantic. Every recruit in the country watches that and they’re going to be hearing ‘Kentucky, Kentucky, Kentucky’ over and over again during the broadcast.”
Building the class with local talent is also something of a safety net. The Cats were off to a great recruiting start last year and won five of their first six games – but after they lost six in a row to end the season, several elite out-of-state recruits jumped ship.
Players closer to home, who grew up on Kentucky football, are less likely to bolt if things get bumpy for Kentucky again this fall.
“Mississippi and Mississippi State were middling along a little bit (before taking off last season). South Carolina, the year they signed Alshon Jeffery and Stephon Gilmore (2009) and then the year they signed Marcus Lattimore (2010), they were 7-6 both of those years,” Shurburtt said. “So that’s a positive of getting in-state guys, because they tend to stick with you. Look at Tennessee. That roster has come a million miles under Butch Jones and a lot of those guys are in-state guys or Vols legacies.
“Even if you have a tough season, chances are those guys are going to stick with you. It’s not like a paper-tiger class.”
As for Daniel, now that recruiting is out of the way, he’s looking forward to focusing on his senior year at Paintsville High School. He said winning a Class A state title is No. 1 on his mind, while being named Mr. Football – an award for which he should be a top contender – is “the ultimate” individual goal.
A fiery competitor, Daniel is already thinking about hated district rival Raceland, which he wants to beat “as bad as I want to breathe.” That’s a glimpse at what kind of player he is. As is this:
“The thing people need to know about me is that I’m one mean dude on the football field,” he said. “I’m a completely different human being. It’s not even human. I go through a transformation. I’m a nice guy off the field. But when I step across those lines, the switch is turned on, it’s full throttle for four quarters. They’ve got to kill me to get me off that daggone field.”