It has been an average year for Kentucky football, though at times the Wildcats have been downright embarrassing. So far, the Mark Stoops era of Kentucky football has been underwhelming, and one has to wonder whether the powers that be might end up making a change at the end of this season if things don’t get better soon in Lexington.
Especially when compared to Kentucky basketball, what the Wildcats have been able to do (or have not been able to do) on the gridiron under Stoops is laughable.
That doesn’t mean everything has been bad for Kentucky football, though. Stoops has been a decent recruiter and he currently has the No. 39 ranked 2017 class in America as a result (12th in the SEC). His 2016 class finished ranked No. 34 nationally (12th in the SEC) and the 2015 group checked in at No. 38 (13th in the SEC) so the Wildcats are trending right around their high-water mark on the recruiting trail.
If Kentucky wants to get some momentum rolling again on the football field, Stoops and his staff will have to start translating their success on the recruiting trail into success on the gridiron. Finding naturally talented athletes and play-makers is part of that process, because generally, top recruits show up on campus ready to contribute early and often. Kentucky needs those type of young players.
JaVonte Richardson, four-star 2017 wide receiver from Maple Heights, Ohio (Maple Heights), is that type of player for the Wildcats.
Richardson is Kentucky’s top-rated 2017 recruit and he’s a major commitment for the Wildcats. He verbally committed this past March and though he only has seven offers total, there were some very notable programs after his commitment. The biggest was undoubtedly Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines, so the fact that Stoops and co. were able to keep Richardson away from Ann Arbor was a huge notch in their collective recruiting belts. Illinois, Purdue, Bowling Green, Syracuse and Toledo also offered the four-star, and schools such as Florida, Miami, Michigan State and Ohio State were also found on his interest list.
All things considered, he was a pretty good win for a Wildcats program that could use a few big victories.
Perhaps the most intriguing thing about Richardson is his versatility.
He’s ranked as the No. 30 wide receiver nationally, but he does also play safety for Maple Heights. In fact, his trainer, Mark Harris, told Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports that he could see Richardson making a huge impact for Kentucky on defense.
“It’s hard to find a kid with that size that can move like that,” Harris said. “I think he’s a solid receiver. I think he’s a monster on defense.
“There’s nothing the kid can’t do.”
That’s high praise from somebody who’s obviously very connected to the recruit, but it checks out on film. Richardson is 6-foot-4, 216 pounds and he runs a 4.52 40, per his HUDL account. That’s an elite blend of size and speed, and naturally when you see a player with that height, weight and speed you do think wide receiver.
Richardson is imposing at the line of scrimmage and his size obviously makes him a mismatch for ball-possession routes and especially jump-balls. He has quick footwork and is a smooth runner, so it’s easy to see him taking a quick slant and using his body to box out the cornerback, but at the same time he can be a deep threat thanks to his speed and length.
He’s the type of receiver who can fight for extra yards because of his size and physicality, but that’s what makes him intriguing as a safety as well. He’s big and strong enough to fight through the wash and make plays as a tackler, and his ball-hawking nature makes him very natural as a deep-field safety. It would be very hard to get a deep ball past him thanks to his height, length and speed.
No matter which position he ends up playing, Richardson is a game-changing recruit for the Wildcats. The key for Kentucky will be keeping him committed through signing day, and that could be tough considering his talent. It’s not like schools such as Michigan will stop talking to him just because he’s committed elsewhere. One also has to imagine an Ohio State offer would be pretty big for the state of Ohio product as well.
If Stoops survives the 2016 season, keeping Richardson in the fold will be one of his most important tasks. If Kentucky decided to go another route at head coach, though, that task doesn’t change.
A player like Richardson can be a cornerstone of a successful program. Getting him to Lexington is vital for the Wildcats.