LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — Mark Stoops is glad to be back home.
The Kentucky football coach has been on the recruiting trail ahead of the early signing date and blazing the trail with standout defensive performer Josh Allen, who has racked up several national awards this week.
“It’s been fun and being with Josh, he gave us a few extra things to do this week, with the award shows, but those are a lot of fun,” Stoops said Friday. “To be on the stage and see Josh win those awards has been truly special. It’s been a great couple of weeks.”
In addition to making his rounds and bringing home hardware, Allen decided to play on New Year’s Day when the Wildcats take on Penn State in the VRBO Citrus Bowl. Stoops said the decision to play was ultimately up to his defensive standout, although Allen hinted that his college career wasn’t over following Kentucky’s win over Louisville in the regular-season finale last month.
Earlier this week, Stoops told Allen that his “legacy is set here and myself or nobody will judge you any differently if you choose not to play in this game.”
“It just says a lot about who he is, the way he cares about this place and he cares about his teammates,” Stoops said. “I was definitely a factor in that decision a year ago in helping him make that decision (to return) but I didn’t want any part of (this) decision. I wanted to him to truly make that decision on his own.”
Stoops said Allen made the final decision on the plane flight home Thursday night. Stoops said when Allen made his decision to return last season he “never looked back” and “Went to work.” The Kentucky coach expects Allen to be at his best against the Nittany Lions.
“He’s going to do things the way he always does and that’s to put his head down, go through things 100 miles per hour, play hard, practice hard and prepare the right way,” Stoops said. “He wants to continue to improve his stock and he wants to help us win a football game.”
Stoops said the added exposure by Allen “means a great deal” to the program, especially when it comes to recruiting.
“It helps you and that exposure helps the program,” he said. “It’s been a lot of fun and there are a lot of positive vibes out there. I’m very proud of the work we’ve done and we feel really good about what’s going on.”
On the recruiting trail, Stoops said the Wildcats are used to getting upended by late-minute decisions from targets who change their mind after making a verbal commitment. Western Hills star Wandale Robinson flipped his recruitment and opted to attend Nebraska after verbally committing to play for the Wildcats last month.
“We’re the first to offer a lot of kids and we trust our own judgment,” Stoops said. “We’re not always right, but we do our homework, we evaluate and if we like someone, we pull the trigger. We’ve been the first on a lot of kids and whether we get them or not, we never know.”
The Wildcats returned to practice Friday and Stoops and his staff was met with plenty of enthusiasm going into the team’s first appearance in the Citrus Bowl.
“It was really good to get back out there and get moving around again to start preparing for a New Year’s Bowl game,” Stoops said. “It’s going to be an exciting time and it was good to get back at again (Friday).”
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.