Feb. 10, 2009
What Brian Kelly made clear from the moment he stepped onto the UC campus for his introductory news conference was that recruiting local players from local high schools was one of his most important priorities.
Of course, everybody says that when they take the Bearcats football job. Mark Dantonio said it, and he was fairly successful at it (especially if you were a decent player from Colerain High School). Rick Minter said it. Tim Murphy said it. Dave Currey said it. Tony Mason said it.
But you go and talk to the high school coaches around the area, and you ask them how much UC coaches typically have followed through on that campaign promise. With the exception of Dantonio, who was beginning to make some inroads, the answer is: not very much.
It's not that Cincinnati players didn't play at UC. It's that the top players from Cincinnati usually went somewhere else.
But Kelly slowly has begun to change that perception. With 22 wins in just two seasons and with a local recruiting bulldog in former Colerain coach Kerry Coombs, the Bearcats are beginning to win over some of the best athletes in the city. Now, Ohio State or Notre Dame or Michigan isn't an automatic choice. Now, they have to pay attention to UC.
This year, though, Kelly wanted to expand the local base just a bit. Yes, the Bearcats signed nine players from Cincinnati - including four-star recruit Chris Williams from Winton Woods High - but players from nearby cities like Indianapolis and Columbus have begun committing to Kelly's coaches.
If you're a strong player and you live within 100-mile radius of Cincinnati, Kelly wants to take a hard look at you.
"From our standpoint, it first starts with southwest Ohio and then you branch out," Kelly said. "We've done a nice job of combing through Dayton and (running backs coach) Tim Hinton has done a nice job up through Columbus. We have to get better north and east of campus as we continue to move up to Cleveland. We have to start heading closer to western Pennsylvania. We've done a nice job heading toward Indianapolis. It's been more of a focused effort than just being successful for one year as compared to another. We've really concentrated our efforts, and it's proved to be a good thing.
"More than 50 percent of our guys are within 100 miles of our campus. That's what this is all about. It's recruiting locally. But it's recruiting not within five or six hours, but within 100 miles. It's a great recruiting base for us that's just 100 miles in radius."
While most of this year's signing class committed before the season started, meaning the Bearcats won't see an Orange Bowl bump until the 2010 graduates begin making their commitments, this is an important class for Kelly.
One could argue that Kelly, for the past four seasons, hasn't had to play the people he's recruited. He was at Central Michigan for two seasons, and then came to UC and won largely with Dantonio's guys. This, of course, does not include players like Ben Mauk, Brandon Underwood and D.J. Woods - all of whom were sold on UC by Kelly's staff.
That's not a criticism, because the ability of these coaches to mold players who weren't recruited for Kelly's specific style of play has been outstanding. But beginning this year and next, the Bearcats will go only as far as the players brought in by the current coaching staff.
Kelly, though, sounds like he loves this class. And at this point, he hasn't given you a reason to doubt him.
"It's a BCS class," Kelly said. "All the kids we recruited were recruited at a high level. We know the talent level is really good. It's really balanced. I don't know if one word, like speed, does this class justice. I really think it's just a class that we went out and saw what our needs were and it fits our needs."