Jairus Brents and Tahj Rice, both of whom are going into their junior season, are about two years away from making their decisions on where to play college football. In the meantime, they are continuing to fine-tune their craft as top recruits in the class of 2018.
â€œWith both of them, we are trying to hone in on the specific skill set of the positions they play,â€ describes Coach Johnson at Waggener High School. â€œBoth of them have tremendous physical attributes given the advantage in high school, but when they get to college, that is going to even up a little bit. So we are trying to prepare them in these next two years for college so that they will be at a level that they already need to be at.â€
Brents, ranked No. 14 in the nation at his position by 247sports.com, is a 5-foot-9, 178-pound physical and aggressive cornerback and has been compared to Darrelle Revis, cornerback for the New York Jets. Coach Johnson says he is â€œthe best man-to-man cover I have ever seen at the high school level.â€ With a ferocious style of play, he has the ability to shut down just about any wide receiver in a game.
Last season, he had 40 tackles and two interceptions â€“ both returned for touchdowns. But Brents has worked harder in zone coverages, knowing he must improve in that area as he prepares for college.
â€œIâ€™ve sat down with coaches and have been studying a lot of film to get better in my craft,â€ Brents attests. â€œI work out every day. Tackling drills, getting stronger, speed and agility â€“ everything I need to do to be a better player.â€
Interest has been expressed from Florida, Alabama, Penn State and Virginia Tech to name a few, but Brents maintains he doesnâ€™t have a favorite as to which school has his most attention. â€œI am just trying to get an offer from every college, the top Division I colleges â€“ those schools who have an interest in me.â€
While college letters continue to pile up in his locker room mailbox, he says he will stay focused to perform well in each game.
Holding the fort down on the defensive line is 6-foot-4, 287-pound defensive end Tahj Rice. 247sports.com ranks him No. 24 in the nation at his position. As a sophomore for the Wildcats, he had 57 tackles, three fumble recoveries and returned two for touchdowns.
He says he has worked on the mental aspect of the game to enable him to see the field better. â€œIâ€™ve watched a lot of film with a lot of position coaches,â€ he says. â€œI let people critique what I need to work on and what I am getting better at. I need to use my hands more on the field and just grow as a football player in general.â€
This summer, Rice attended camps at Alabama, Duke, Penn State and Ohio State and was glad to build a rapport with coaches there. As he sits and contemplates in front of stacks of recruitment letters, he hasnâ€™t decided whether he wants to stay in Kentucky or go out of state.
â€œThere are perks in both of those, and then there are some things that go into it that I wouldnâ€™t say are losses, but are things you canâ€™t dictate,â€ he muses.
Coach Johnson speaks highly of the vocal leadership that Rice exhibits more in his actions and work ethic: â€œTahj has great leadership abilities. When you have such a large man telling you what to do, you tend to listen to them a little more. Some of the littler guys who have leadership skills donâ€™t quite lead as he does just because of the physical presence he has. He commands excellence on the field, in the classroom, in the locker room â€“ that is just what he does.â€
It can become very common for star players to become lackadaisical in improving their skill set when a major Division I program is an obvious future destination. But Coach Johnson gives special attention to these two players â€“ not settling for complacency but keeping them hungry for more.
â€œIâ€™ve said it my entire coaching career â€“ youâ€™ve got to coach your best players harder than the lesser players,â€ he affirms. â€œI evaluate a lot of film with them and point out what theyâ€™re doing wrong and what theyâ€™re doing right. So Iâ€™m quick to congratulate them and I want to celebrate their successes, but I am also the first person to point out what they are not doing right and what our next step is to improve them.â€ VT
Photos by Randy Whetstone Jr.