By LARRY VAUGHT
Remember a few days ago when I noted how 11 of the 25 signees in Kentucky’s 2014 recruiting class had transferred and two others — Boom Williams and Drew Barker — did not complete their eligibility for other reasons.
Now another key piece of that highly regarded recruiting class — linebacker Denzil Ware — is leaving. He completed his undergraduate degree Thursday and then announced he was leaving as a graduate transfer rather than play his final year at UK. His former UK roommate, Jeff Badet, did the same after the 2017 season and finished his career at Oklahoma.
Ware had a rocky end to the 2018 season. He played in the first 12 games with 48 tackles, including 6.5 for loss, and had an interception and two forced fumbles. But he was suspended for UK’s bowl game for a violation of team rules and don’t forget he was seen swinging a trash can at a Louisville player during a sideline fracas in that game. However, coach Mark Stoops insisted he was fully reinstated for spring practice.
“Today is bittersweet as I am proud to graduate from the University of Kentucky with a degree in community and leadership development,” Ware posted on Instagram. “However, I am also announcing that I am transferring for my final season. It was a very tough decision to make. I want to thank Coach Stoops and all the other coaches for everything they’ve done for me. Thank you, #BBN for all the support over these last three years. To my teammates, y’all are my brothers. I’ll always bleed blue. Go Cats.”
He played in 37 games with 156 tackles, including 26.5 for loss and 13 sacks. He had been considered a possible early entry for the NFL draft but along with linebacker Josh Allen and safety Mike Edwards opted to remain in college. Those three were supposed to be the anchors for an improved UK defense in 2019.
Now Ware has bolted and dealt a major blow to UK’s expected defensive strength for next year. Sophomore Josh Paschal was moved to the defensive line in spring practice as a way to get him on the field, but he could now shift back to his natural position at linebacker with Ware gone. Sophomore linebacker Boogie Watson also can play multiple spots and could get a chance at more playing time with Ware leaving as could redshirt freshman Jordan Wright, a highly rated recruit in the 2018 class.
Ware’s decision was a surprise even to those close him. He became a father several months ago and his infant son lives in Lexington. One reason those close to Ware felt he opted not to leave for the NFL was to remain in Lexington close to his son. Stoops had visited Ware’s infant son in the hospital — he was born premature — and those close to Ware said the UK coach made it clear he cared about Ware as player and person.
He had also joined a UK fraternity and and was going to live in the frat house.
However, remember Ware did leave his Florida high school briefly midway of his junior year before returning for his senior year. He also had been verbally committed to Florida State where he was recruited by Stoops before switching to Kentucky after Stoops was hired by UK.
Ware did not announce where he would play next season but if ends up at Florida State it would not stun me.