New Kentucky coach Mark Stoops landed his first two Wildcats Wednesday, announcing a pair of junior college signees, including a huge recruiting coup just weeks into his new gig as UK coach.
Smith, rated as the No. 2 juco weakside defensive end, recorded 46 tackles (11 for loss) and 6.5 sacks this season.
Scooba (Miss.) East Mississippi Community College 4-star defensive end Za'Darius Smith and Kilgore (Tex.) Community College tight end Steven Borden both signed with Kentucky, the coach announced Wednesday.
"This is a great start to our recruiting class," Stoops said. "Being able to sign such impact players with a short amount of time to recruit gives me great optimism for the future."
Smith (6-6, 250), who ranks as the No. 15 junior college prospect in the country by 247Sports and No. 2 weakside defensive end, finished 2012 with 46 tackles (11 for loss), 6.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and an interception.
"Za’Darius has great size and is an ‘every down’ player – a physical player who can stop the run and also can rush the passer," Stoops said. "We’re very happy to sign him."
Smith played for new UK defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh at East Mississippi C.C.
“What helped me make my decision was my relationship with coach Brumbaugh, coach [D.J.]Eliot and Coach Stoops and my trust in them,” Smith said.
Smith chose UK over schools such as Auburn, Florida State, Miami, Mississippi State, Texas A&M and Texas.
"Za’Darius is a humble person in that he is a fantastic athlete who knows he still has a lot of work to do," East Mississippi Coach Buddy Stephens said. "He has a tremendous skill set to be an excellent pass rusher. He has a body frame that can carry more weight and he’s only played three years of football. He also knows he is in this thing for a college education. He’s a very loyal, articulate young man who will be a fantastic spokesman for Kentucky football."
Stoops says Borden gives the Cats a much-need physical presence .
“Steven brings us a player who is very versatile and brings the physical presence we need at the tight end position," Stoops said. "We can move him around in the offense and play different positions. We’re excited to have him join us."
Borden, who was recruited by new UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown at Texas Tech, thinks he's a good fit for Brown's up tempo offense.
"Who I was going to play for and what kind of offense they run was how I based my decision and both fit well with me,” Borden said. "It started with the coaching. Coach Stoops, coach Brown – and his offensive system – and [tight ends] coach [Vince] Marrow all were pivotal, all have successful coaching histories. It is a young, ambitious coaching staff – all hungry to make things happen at Kentucky."
Kilgore offensive coordinator Josh Pruitt says Borden's work ethic may be his best asset.
"The greatest thing about Steven is his work ethic," Pruitt said. "He is relentless, always trying to get better. He has great speed for a player his size. He power blocks well and the best thing he does is catch the ball, with how fast he is and how good his hands are. We have highlights this year with some unbelievable catches he made."
Borden, who is the son of professional wrestling legend, Sting, caught 11 balls for 181 yards and four touchdowns this season.
Both players are graduating in December and plan to enroll at Kentucky in January. They will participate in spring practice and each has two years of eligibility remaining.