By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky returns four of the seven highest rated offensive linemen — Darian Kinnard, Landon Young, Drake Jackson and Luke Fortner — in the Southeastern Conference next season according to Pro Football Focus.
“We knew when we got here if we were going to compete in the Southeastern Conference that we had to dramatically upgrade our offensive line play,” said Kentucky recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow. “Those are the dudes you build a program with. If you want to win in the SEC, you better be good up front.”
Kentucky signed five offensive linemen in its 2020 class, including four players rated as four-star prospects by at least one recruiting service. The Cats are already off to a strong start with offensive linemen in the 2021 class, too.
Two Ohio junior linemen — Paul Rodriguez and David Wohlabaugh — have both already verbally committed to UK.
“Rodriguez will probably be a guard,” CatsIllustrated.com publisher Justin Rowland said. “His coach told me he had one of the most dominant stretches last year he has seen in a long time and that’s a team that plays against high level competition. He played against a Ohio State defensive line signee and held his own. Michigan State was pursuing him really hard but he just shut down his recruiting.
“Wohlabaugh had a brother play at Ohio State and Duke. He has a tremendous bloodline. His father played nine years in the NFL. He’s an athletic tackle who is light on his feet. He really studies the game and is an intelligent player.”
Rowland said Wohlabaugh’s father had a huge influence on him and his demeanor surprises many.
“You think he might be a NFL know it all but he’s not that. He goes to camps and and films it and sends it his son’s high school coaches,” Rowland said. “He has passed on his love for the game to his son. Football is just in his blood.”
Rowland said both Rodriguez and Wohlabaugh are part of the new “offensive line tradition” at Kentucky.
Rodriguez was finalizing his final schools — Purdue and Cincinnati were possible final choices for his commitment — when Marrow turned down a chance to leave Kentucky for Michigan State. He said that “pushed me over the edge” to commit to UK.
“It showed me how committed he was to Kentucky and that I did not have to worry anybody leaving UK any time soon,” Rodriguez said. “Coach Marrow is a very down to earth guy and a great guy to hang out with. He really cares about his players and that’s the kind of coach I want to play for.”
Same with Kentucky offensive line coach John Schlarman.
“He came into my school a lot. He sends me a text every day maybe just saying he was hoping I was having a good day,” Rodriguez said. “He’s very similar to coach Marrow … very down to earth, cares about this players.”
Rodriguez has worked on his own with Paul Alexander, a NFL offensive line coach with the Bengals for 23 years who now helps played at all levels improve their skills.
“He helps with my steps, pass protection and things like that,” Rodriguez said. “I have always loved the weight room, or maybe I grew to love it. Before my freshman year I got brought up to play JV (junior varsity) and then I realized I better love the weight room even more.”
Alexander is currently a three-star recruit that UK coaches thinks has five-star potential like some other underrated players they have developed.
“Stars do not really matter to me. O course, I would be happy to add more stars by my name but I don’t play for stars,” the Ohio offensive lineman, who played basketball until his high school freshman season, said.
Rodriguez says he doesn’t have a lot of hobbies other than hanging with his girlfriend, doing homework and spending time with other football players in his position group.
For him, football is his passion.
“I think I am a hard-nosed. I love to hit. That’s one of the biggest things I like about football and something Kentucky fans will hopefully like about me,” Rodriguez said.