By LARRY VAUGHT
LEXINGTON — He grew up a Kentucky fan and always dreamed of playing, and then coaching, at the University of Kentucky.
That’s why new UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown said Monday he has a simple recruiting pitch for in-state players like James Quick of Trinity, Ryan Timmons of Franklin County, James Hatcher of Trinity and others.
“Come be a hero. You look at the guys that have played well at the University of Kentucky that are home-grown products, they come back here to live — and they have good lives,” said Brown. “Some of the guys that have gone on other places, they come back home and the name recognition, the notoriety is not the same.
And the other thing is: If you build this football program, if you’re a Tim Couch, you’re an Andre’ Woodson, you’re those type of kids — and those are just quarterbacks, I could go into position players, too — in a place where you have a personal investment, where you grew up a fan, because we all know in here that most kids in this state grow up to be a Kentucky fan. They wear blue from an early age. I was one of them, I can tell you that— if you can do that at the state school, then it’s going to be a special thing. And do it, there’s a good opportunity that you’re going to stay employed for a long time here.”
A video that Texas Tech media relations put on various social media early last season for fans and recruits to see has been beneficial for Brown since he took the UK job 10 days ago.
“We used it at Texas Tech to sell (the program), used it through social media on our Twitter, Facebook and those types of things,” Brown said. “Kids really relate to those. It’s one thing to talk about and tell people, ‘Hey, this is what we’re going to do,’ and listen to it vocally and show it to them on the board and all that kind of stuff but when they see it with their eyes and hear, ‘Touchdown, touchdown, touchdown’ a lot then they can feel the excitement in it.”
Brown says recruits he’s seen have been “excited” about Kentucky football.
“I think anytime you go into a new situation, and you have something to fall back on — we had a lot of success at Texas Tech and at Troy. When you’re talking to skill players in particular, you can talk about how you’re going to get them the ball and you can show them, you can show stats and proven results, that’s going to pop their eyes open,” Brown said. “At certain spots, our scholarship numbers are low and the opportunity to play early is going to be here. That’s another thing that perks their ears up.”
Brown, a former UK walk-on receiver after his standout career at Boyle County, says he was “very average” as a college player and that he has to get “better players than I was” to play at Kentucky.
“What I sell is what hard work and begin prepared. That’s the bigger message that I sell. I tell everybody that I come in contact with: I was a very average player. When I got to the University of Kentucky, I was a very average player. I think average players make really good coaches a lot of time because you’ve got to figure out ways to be successful. I’m not selling them on myself as much,” Brown said.
“When I talk to people, I sell them on our vision, and the No. 1 thing we talk about is our stadium will have 70,000 people in it. It will. There’s a lot of excitement, and our fan base is strong. It’s going to be an exciting brand of football. It’s a young coaching staff that can relate to players. Those are the things that we’re really selling here early in the process.”
He’s basically recruited Texas the last three years after joining the Texas Tech staff in 2010 after running the offense at Troy the previous two seasons.
“Texas has great football players. I don’t know about it being a ‘home state,’ so to speak for recruiting, but I think we can go in there and pluck a couple players each year,” Brown said.
He did downplay the chances of signing a junior college player even though tight end Steven Borden of Kilgore College in Texas visited UK last weekend and told various media outlets that the Cats were No. 1 on his list.
“It’s hard because we’re late coming in the process. Recruiting is really different now. It’s an 18- to 24-month relationship-building, and we’re really coming in on the back end. And we’re going to be able to flip some (high school) kids for sure (but) it’s hard on junior college kids because signing day is tomorrow. So we’re really talking about a week to try to get a guy flipped, so we probably won’t go that route,” Brown said.
He also had an interesting perspective when asked if he would have to change the type of player UK has been recruiting to fit his system.
“They were spread for the first two or three games (last season), to my memory until (quarterback) Max (Smith) got hurt. I think they got a lot of spread principles in there,” Brown said. “We’re going to fit our system to the players we’ve got.
“This is a message I had for our offensive coaches. We have to go get recruits, no question. But our biggest recruiting deal is getting the guys that we have sold on our system and maximizing the guys we have on campus right now. Those are going to be the biggest players for us in the fall.”