LEXINGTON, Kentucky — Closing last season on a six-game slide after starting 5-1 made Kentucky coach Mark Stoops more determined to recruit prospects he believes will reverse the program's fortunes.
To that end Stoops announced a 23-member class on Wednesday that includes seven prospects from his native Ohio and two from Kentucky. Though lower-rated compared to last year's best-ever top-20 class, the Wildcats remained in the top 50 by Rivals (tied for 35th) and Scout (43rd).
Defense again highlights this year's group with 13 players signed in hopes of shoring up a unit that yielded at least 40 points in five of those six season-ending losses.
"Hitting 13 defensive guys was important," the defense-minded coach said. "I felt like we just continued to build depth, to get the size we're looking for."
Stoops' talent search even expanded into Washington, D.C., and landed defensive back Will Jackson; offensive lineman Levon Livingston; and wide receiver Jabari Greenwood. Kentucky's Ohio contingent includes two Nebraska transfers: tight end Greg Hart and linebacker Courtney Love.
Top 25 class: No.
Best in class: C.J. Conrad, tight end, LaGrange, Ohio. Rated as one of the nation's top prospects at his position by all four recruiting services, the 6-foot-5, 245-pounder has been called an athletic and explosive receiver. Conrad enrolled early and has already begun bulking up in an effort to increase the tight end's role in the Wildcats' offense now run by Shannon Dawson.
Best of the rest: Eli Brown, OLB, Bowling Green, Kentucky. Also considered a consensus four-star prospect, he's rated as the state's best at his position. Brown chose the Wildcats over nearby Western Kentucky, Louisville, Ohio State and Penn State.
Late additions: DT Courtney Miggins (JUCO), WR Therrell Gosier, DE Alvonte Bell (JUCO), WR Tavin Richardson. All four committed in the past week with the first three making it official on Wednesday.
One that got away: Damien Harris, RB. Considered the nation's top backfield prospect, the Berea, Kentucky, native last month picked Alabama over the Wildcats, who were considered strong finalists.