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Keeping Kentucky players in state for their college careers was little more than an afterthought for Western Kentucky University’s former coaching staff.
That changed once prodigal son Willie Taggart returned from Stanford to take over his alma mater.
“We are going to recruit (Kentucky) first and foremost, and then we are going to Florida,” Taggart recently told The Louisville Courier-Journal. He is a Florida native.
Although he was disappointed he couldn’t sign more, Taggart was thrilled to have at least one in-state signee in Elizabethtown High School senior tight end Mitchell Henry.
“I’m going to have to go down there and represent Kentucky, I guess,” the 6-foot-4, 245-pound Henry said jokingly after he signed his national letter of intent with the Hilltoppers on Wednesday morning at EHS.
Henry was fifth in Offensive Player of the Year voting and second in readers’ voting when the News-Enterprise’s annual All-Area Football Team was released in November. He was an All-Area first team tight end in addition to being selected as an honorable mention wide receiver on The Associated Press’ All-State team.
Henry caught 72 passes for 1,171 yards and 14 touchdowns this past season for Elizabethtown, which went 4-8 and lost at North Oldham in the second round of the Class 3-A state playoffs. With a 13-catch, 325-yard effort in an Oct. 1 home loss to Glasgow, Henry matched the KHSAA’s record for single-game receiving yards.
He finished his Panther career with 2,293 receiving yards (32nd best in KHSAA history), 151 receptions (19th) and 25 touchdowns.
While WKU has struggled in its transition to the Football Bowl Subdivision level from the Football Championship Subdivision, it hasn’t hurt Taggart’s recruiting. According to rivals.com, Taggart landed the Sun Belt Conference’s best recruiting class for the second straight year.
“I’ve met him in person several times and I’ve talked to him on the phone several times more,” Henry said. “I really like his energy and I look forward to playing for him.’’
Henry, who also had offers from Bowling Green and Memphis and a grayshirt offer from Mississippi, gave a verbal commitment to WKU offensive tackles/tight ends coach A.J. Pratt in mid-December but couldn’t make his decision official until Wednesday.
“A week ago, I thought I knew where I was going,” said a relieved Henry. “But today makes it seem more real.”
Henry plans on carrying on a family – literal and football – pipeline to WKU. His grandfather and parents have ties to the school, as does outgoing Elizabethtown coach Brad Todd.
“The people at Western is what makes it such a great school,” said Todd, who was a WKU linebacker from 1976-80. “They’ve put a lot of money into their athletics program the past few years, especially football, and they really want to get to that next level. Hopefully Mitchell will be a big part of that.”
He plans on it.
Henry said he reports to WKU on June 7, but won’t know if he will play as a true freshman or redshirt until he is evaluated on campus. The Hilltoppers return five tight ends, four of whom caught at least two passes in 2010. Henry is 1-of-3 tight ends in WKU’s 2011 signing class.
However, he physically matches up with WKU’s tallest and heaviest returning tight ends.
“I’m really not sure what’s going to happen. I’ve been down there and have seen how much bigger and faster and stronger those guys are, so I definitely need to improve that part of my game,” Henry said.
Something Henry is sure of is he’s glad National Signing Day finally arrived.
“I think the best part of today was just signing the letter and knowing all of my hard work has paid off,” Henry said.
Nathaniel Bryan can be reached at (270) 505-1758 or at email@example.com