In every recruiting class, there are those players you target early on and that ultimately sign with you. But there also are those players who emerge late in the process and might not get an offer until the final weeks before signing day.
For Kentucky, Abule Abadi-Fitzgerald was that player in the 2017 class.
Abadi-Fitzgerald moved to the United States from Nigeria when he was in sixth grade. He first played football as a freshman in high school, but he didn’t play at all as a sophomore and played very little as a junior. The 6-foot-6, 240-pound defensive end returned to the field as a senior and finished with 24 tackles, 2 sacks and 13 quarterback hurries.
Still, there was little to no recruiting interest in Abadi-Fitzgerald until late in the process. South Dakota was the only school to offer during the season, and after the season, offers began coming in from in-state schools South Florida, Florida International, Central Florida and Florida Atlantic.
Finally, about a week before signing day, Abadi-Fitzgerald received SEC offers from Florida and Kentucky on the same day. He visited both schools over the next week and ultimately chose to sign with the Wildcats.
For Kentucky coach Mark Stoops, it was the perfect way to cap off the class.
“With our staff, they do a phenomenal job of identifying players very early,” Stoops said. “And that’s been the key to our success is identifying the right guys early, staying on them and building that relationship. But it’s also about finishing and closing. And a guy like Abule was a very strong finish for us. He’s a guy that kind of blew up a little bit late. He’s a terrific young man with unbelievable upside. He’ll be a great addition to our program.”
Similar to Abadi-Fitzgerald, former Kentucky defensive lineman Za’Darius Smith also didn’t play football until his senior year in high school. After two years in junior college and two years at Kentucky, Smith is now playing in the NFL. He was a fourth-round draft pick of the Baltimore Ravens.
It will take time for Abadi-Fitzgerald to develop and gain experience, but the hope is he can follow a similar path that Smith did.