When class of 2022 Manual High School running back Jawaun Northington parlayed a strong showing in a University of Kentucky football camp Tuesday into a Wildcats scholarship offer, it provided a special thrill to someone who holds a singular place in UK sports history.
Jawaun “is my father’s brother’s grandson,” former Kentucky defensive back Nate Northington said Wednesday. “I don’t really know him that well because he’s much younger, of course. But I’ve been keeping up with him.”
In 1967, Nate Northington, of course, broke the color line in SEC football when he played for Kentucky against Mississippi at old Stoll Field.
Since 2016, a statue of Nate Northington and three of his Black UK teammates who were pioneers in the integration of Southeastern Conference sports has stood at Kroger Field.
So it would be historically resonant if a Northington were to again wear a Kentucky blue football uniform.
“It’s very exciting,” Nate Northington says.
If things go UK’s way in its 2022 football class, there could be a bevy of players with familiar last names signing on to join Mark Stoops and troops.
Kentucky could add as many as five “legacy recruits” to its roster in 2022. Already, Boyle County kicker Jackson Smith (his father, Andy Smith, was UK’s starting punter in 1999) has committed to the Cats.
In addition to the 5-foot-11, 206-pound Jawaun Northington, others players with direct family ties to UK football who the Wildcats are pursuing in the class of 2022 include:
▪ Frederick Douglass High School star wide receiver Dane Key, whose father, Donte Key, was a four-year Kentucky letterman (1992-95) as an outside linebacker during the Bill Curry coaching years;
▪ Texas offensive lineman Nikolas Hall, whose dad, Antonio Hall, was a standout offensive tackle who played for three different UK head coaches (Hal Mumme, Guy Morriss and Rich Brooks) during his four years lettering with the Cats (2000-03);
▪ Highly recruited Ohio offensive tackle Aamil Wagner. His older brother, Ahmad Wagner, gave up playing college basketball at Iowa to transfer to Kentucky and become a hard-to-guard wide receiver for the Wildcats (2018 and ‘19).
(In addition, UK ace recruiter Vince Marrow and Co. are also pursuing Frederick Douglass defensive back Ty Bryant. His father, Cisco Bryant, was a Wildcats wide receiver (lettered 1983-85) during the Jerry Claiborne coaching era.
Various media reports, however, have recently indicated that Ty Bryant is planning to reclassify from the class of 2022 to 2023).
To the frustration of Kentucky fans, the “legacy-recruit market” has historically been a tough nut for UK recruiters to crack.
For much of the 21st century, UK has had an overall bleak record in wooing the highly touted sons of its former players.
Quarterback Nick Fanuzzi, son of ex-UK QB Mike Fanuzzi, chose Alabama over the Cats in 2007. In 2009 and 2011, respectively, brothers Zack and Nick Martin, sons of ex-UK defensive tackle Keith Martin, picked Notre Dame — in Nick’s case, after decommitting from Kentucky.
Meanwhile, safety Jamal Adams, son of ex-UK running back George Adams, chose LSU in 2013.
In 2017, defensive back Russ Yeast, son of ex-UK wide receiver Craig Yeast, picked Louisville after having earlier decommitted from Kentucky. That same year, offensive lineman Josh Myers — a double-legacy as the son of ex-UK offensive lineman Brad Myers and brother of ex-Cat Zach Myers — chose Ohio State.
Two years ago, Frederick Douglass star offensive lineman Walker Parks, son of ex-UK guard David Parks, chose Clemson.
Yet perhaps reflecting a tide beginning to turn, Stoops has in recent years had some notable legacy-recruiting successes.
The Wildcats 2021 roster will include defensive lineman Josh Paschal, younger brother of ex-Cat TraVaughn Paschal; defensive back Moses Douglass, son of former UK cornerback Maurice Douglass; quarterback Beau Allen, son of 1980s Cats QB Bill Allen; and cornerback Andru Phillips, son of former Wildcats linebacker Carlos Phillips.
To be determined is whether Kentucky can close the deal with the uncommitted legacy recruits it is wooing for 2022.
A four-star prospect in the 24/7 Sports composite rankings, Dane Key also holds offers from Oregon, South Carolina, Cincinnati, Arkansas, Louisville, Michigan, Northwestern, Purdue, Tennessee and West Virginia, among many others.
Rated the No. 7 prospect in Ohio in the class of 2022, Aamil Wagner is considering Ohio State, Notre Dame, Penn State and Stanford, in addition to UK.
Besides Kentucky, the 6-6, 300-pound Nikolas Hall has scholarship offers from Arizona State, Baylor, Colorado, Mississippi, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M.
Meanwhile, the 5-11, 206-pound Jawaun Northington also holds offers from Boston College, Cincinnati, Indiana, Liberty and Purdue. After UK offered the Manual back, the Courier Journal reported that Louisville suddenly increased its recruiting efforts toward Northington, too.
“I’d like to see Jawaun just make the best decision for him,” Nate Northington says.
And if that “best decision” were to put another Northington into a Kentucky Wildcats football uniform?
“Oh man, that would be awesome, wouldn’t it?” Nate Northington said.
It would be pretty cool.