With the rising success of the University of Kentucky football team over the last several seasons, high school recruits are starting to take notice.

As head coach Mark Stoops has led the Wildcats to steady, continuous improvement in his six seasons at the helm, his recruiting classes over the years haven't followed the same pattern.

Kentucky's most-hyped class of the Stoops era was most notably the 2014 group that had 14 players rated as four-star recruits by at least one of ESPN, 247sports or Rivals recruiting services. That season, the Cats could argue that they put together one of the nation's top 20 best recruiting cycles.

In the years to follow, though, UK dropped back into the mid-30s nationally.

However, 2020 has the potential to top anything Stoops has done before.

With the commitment of five-star defensive tackle Justin Rogers, a 6-foot-4, 314-pound behemoth from Oak Park, Michigan, along with five others who have received four-star notoriety, the Cats are in prime position moving forward.

In total, UK has secured 14 commitments for 2020 and remains in the hunt for four-star running backs Vito Tisdale (Bowling Green) and Michael Drennen II (Dublin, Ohio), among others. The December signing period will show exactly where the Cats stand in the grand scheme of things.

Of course, much of that attention has come as a result of last season's 10-win campaign, along with the ever-growing number of former Cats who have reached the NFL.

Stoops, and more importantly, his recruiting prospects, know that Kentucky's momentum is undeniable.

Part of that has stemmed from the quality of players the Wildcats have brought in -- you can't win without talent -- but an underrated aspect is their ability to then develop and foster that talent.

After all, some of UK's most productive players weren't even among the most hyped on their way into Lexington.

Benny Snell Jr., the Cats' all-time leading rusher who's now taking preseason snaps with the Pittsburgh Steelers, was just a three-star prospect out of Westerville, Ohio.

Josh Allen, last season's National Defensive Player of the Year who was drafted No. 7 overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars, was only a two-star recruit out of Montclair, New Jersey.

That just goes to show the two-fold nature of recruiting.

You can bring in all the top-rated talent that you want, but it doesn't mean anything if you can't help that talent grow into something more. So far, that's where Stoops and his staff have excelled.

At the same time, however, evaluating that talent is a crucial facet of recruiting.

Would Stoops and recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow have brought in Snell, or Allen, or any number of players over the years, if they didn't see some kind of potential?

There's also the wide net the UK's coaches cast in finding the right players to fit the program.

In addition to finding talent within the state, most notably metro areas like Louisville and Lexington, the Cats have made Ohio a major focus each season. Georgia is also a hotbed for UK recruits, along with an ever-growing pipeline to Michigan.

Of Kentucky's 14 commits for 2020, only three come from outside of those areas.

With the ferocity in which the Southeastern Conference operates, Wildcats coaches have to carve out their own niche to stay successful. Working in areas where they can recruit successfully, in addition to identifying the right talent and then developing that talent, are all necessary steps to stay relevant within the most competitive league in America.

UK has never been able to consistently recruit head-to-head with the SEC's best. Since Stoops has been in Lexington, none of his recruiting classes have ever cracked the conference's top 10.

So, as the old saying goes, when everyone else zigs, the Cats have to zag.

The Wildcats have been able to do that with success. They've found both highly-rated prospects and under-the-radar players and helped them grow into stars, sustaining on-field team success along the way.

If the 2020 class pans out to be the best in recent memory -- and that upward trend continues -- just imagine what Kentucky can do then.

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