UK hits transfer portal to fill holes – The Advocate-Messenger | Daily News Byte

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UK hits transfer portal to fill holes

Published on Monday, December 26, 2022 at 11:28 am

By Larry Watt

Contributing columnist

Mark Stoops and Vince Merrow are both high school recruits who will always be the foundation of the University of Kentucky football program. But that doesn’t mean they don’t understand the importance of transfer portals.

They brought in quarterback Will Lewis, receiver Van’Dell Robinson, linebacker Jaquez Jones and offensive tackle Der Rosenthal in 2021, and UK won 10 games. Last season they added cornerback Kidron Smith, offensive guard Tashaun Manning and receiver Tevian Robinson, both impact players on seven-win seasons.

Now the head coach and recruiting coordinator have gone to the transfer portal to fill holes on the 2023 roster with six players who could play key roles next season. Rivals.com named Kentucky A top five portal winner for the second time in three years.

“I appreciate our team again, the way they handle things and accept people who come. They know there is going to be great competition, but they want our team to do better. They do a good job of that transition with the transfer,” Stoops said.

Naturally the headliner in the transfer portal this year is North Carolina State quarterback Devin Leary, who is expected to take over for Lewis, a two-year starter who won 17 games.

“Very much like Will, authentic. Not forced. He’s one of those guys, he’s a dude,” Stoops said. “Pretty much you can see it’s a great fit. It happens easily.”

He ranks sixth in school history in the state of North Carolina with 6,807 passing yards and fourth in completion percentage (.602).

While Larry is the marquee name, five other transfers also get a chance to play key roles as others have played starting roles over the past two years.

• With the departure of Chris Rodriguez, UK’s leading rusher over the last three seasons, Vanderbilt running back Ray Davis could become almost as important as Leary. He rushed 232 times for 1,042 yards and five touchdowns last season and was fourth in the SEC and 32nd nationally in rushing yards per game. He had five 100-yard rushing games, including one in the win against Kentucky.

“He kind of fits the mold of who we were, how you need that tough, strong, physical guy. But we also wanted some dynamic play-makers,” Stoops said. “With Ray it was very important. He’s another guy who obviously did very well against us. He is a proven player in the SEC. It has been a great addition. He has a very charismatic personality, a very strong man on and off the field. We are grateful to have met him.

• Northern Illinois’ Marquez Cox also had a good showing against UK last season. before suffering an injury that ended his season. He allowed just three sacks in more than 1,000 snaps and has started 33 collegiate games, according to Pro Football Focus.

“Just a big, athletic guy. Again, arguably one of the most talented tackles out there. We knew we needed a tackle. I think that was a really important idea for us. You see the length, you see the athleticism. Another great addition,” Stoops said.

• Ohio State defensive back Jantzen Dunn was a primary recruit for UK and one of the state’s best high school players at South Warren High School. The four-star player played four games last season. The 6-0, 185-pound Dunn ranks as a top 10 safety in the transfer portal but Stoops has a different spot for him.

“The plan is to play him at corner right now. I think that is where we have an area of ​​need. He is a guy with very good top-end speed and length. Again, he’s a guy who’s versatile, though,” the UK head coach said.

• Defensive back JQ Hardaway played one season at Cincinnati and is rated the ninth best overall player by 247Sports, a transfer portal. The Georgia native had one sack, four assisted tackles and seven total tackles. He was a four-star recruit who played in the Under Armor All-American Game and had high school interest from Georgia, Tennessee, Ole Miss and others.

“Another versatile guy that we think can help us right away in the secondary,” Stoops said.

• Glasgow High School product Tanner Bowles, a 300-pound offensive lineman transfer from Alabama, is another former four-star high school recruit who wanted out of Kentucky high school. He played in 19 games over four years at Alabama, primarily on special teams. He had offers in high school from Florida State, LSU, Tennessee, Oklahoma and many others.

Bowles was the backup center/guard at Alabama but Stoops says UK plans to use him at guard.

“Again, a guy with experience, who’s at a great program from out of state. He is a big, strong guy. He is excited to come back home and play. We welcome him back and are excited to have him in,” Stoops said.

“Again, I think he fits what we were, a physical, tough guy. He is well coached, he was in the program. We are excited.”

Stoops and Marrow, UK’s recruiting coordinator, both spoke openly about the need to add key “free agents” from the transfer portal to fill the remaining holes.

“I think we have done a very solid job of what we were aiming for in Portal. I feel pretty good about that. That doesn’t mean you don’t want to take more,” Stoops said, laughing.

All six transfers are expected to enroll at UK in January and participate in spring practice.

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