By LARRY VAUGHT
Junior college defensive back Brandin Echols knew he was going to commit to Kentucky before the Wildcats played then No. 14 Mississippi State. However, he also knew if UK beat Mississippi State it would just make telling UK coach Mark Stoops his decision even more exciting.
Kentucky did beat State, Echols did tell Stoops and just as he expected the UK coach was ecstatic the 6-0,180-pound cornerback from Northwest Mississippi Community College committed.
“I told him the next day when we had our meeting,” said Echols, a Tennessee native who was on his official visit to UK when the Cats beat Mississippi State. “They had been telling me they were losing three of the corners that they played and I could come in and make an impact.
“When Kentucky first started recruiting me, they always stayed in contact with me. Others would offer and then stop communicating. Not Kentucky. They were always on me. Playing in the SEC was always my dream when I was watching football in eighth or ninth grade. So this is really a dream come true for me.”
He also had offers from Mississippi, Minnesota, Oregon State, Houston, Memphis and Middle Tennessee after leaving high school without a single Division I offer.
“Junior college prepared me for life,” Echols said. “It got me focused. I came to Northwest as a receiver and got switched over to defensive back two days before our first game (last season). I got better as time went by and feel like I am almost at the point I can do a lot of things.
“Not having any offers out of high school did motivate me. Then that feeling died down but I just stayed with it because I knew I had something to prove and knew where I wanted to get to. I never worried about what I did not have in junior college. I didn’t let that get to my head. I tried to keep positive thoughts and knew what I had to do to get to the next level.
“Not having any offers (out of high school) was partially due to my grades. The other part is the area I am from (Southaven, Miss.) just doesn’t get much recognition. It’s a very overlooked city and then not being focused on my grades hurt. I was trying to do too much at once. But as you get older, you learn.”
He’s learned enough that he will be graduating in December and arriving at Kentucky in January so he can go through spring practice. He will have two years of eligibility left.
Echols is ranked among the top 10 junior college cornerbacks nationally – his team is ranked third. He had 23 tackles, two interceptions and seven pass breakups in the first five games. He describes his play in a way Kentucky fans should like.
“I am a physical speedster is what I can say,” he said. “I am a ball hawk. That’s the way it is.”
He’s a versatile athlete who won the Mississippi long jump state championship as a high school senior and was also the leading scorer on his basketball team.
His parents will have about a 6 1/2-hour drive to Lexington to watch him play but are thrilled with his college choice.
“They really enjoyed being at UK just like I did. They were telling me what a good environment it was when we were talking at the hotel before the game. Kentucky also has so many connections that I can help me after football and Lexington is really a pretty calm city. Everybody on campus was really friendly,” Echols said.
“I can’t tell you how happy my parents are. They are very proud of me and just thrilled that I am going to be part of the Kentucky football program. I was hoping they would feel like that but they might have liked it even more than me and I loved it.”