June is going to be a critically important month in the world of football recruiting, not just for the Kentucky Wildcats.
With the in-person dead period about to be lifted on June 1, it will be the first time in well over a year that high school athletes are able to take official visits to college campuses and talk with coaches face-to-face. Kentucky already has several high-profile targets from the class of 2022 planning to see Lexington next month, including two four-star prospects, Aamil Wagner and Tyreese Fearbry.
Looking a bit further down the road to the class of 2023, another highly-rated recruit will make the trip to see Kentucky’s campus. A.J. Salley, a rising high school junior who is rated by 247 Sports as a three-star recruit and the 19th best overall offensive tackle in his class, will make an unofficial visit to Kentucky’s campus on June 22. It’ll be a busy month for him, as well, with four more unofficial trips to Notre Dame, Cincinnati, Ohio State, and Pittsburgh on deck for the month of June.
A lot has changed in the past few weeks, official June schedule
— aj salley (@salley_aj) May 12, 2021
Hailing from Miamisburg High School, located just a short 20-minute drive from Dayton, OH, Salley is one of the top soon-to-be juniors in the state, regardless of position. The 6-foot-5, 232-pound offensive tackle has already picked up offers from the likes of Kentucky, Tennessee, Oregon Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Toledo while receiving heavy interest from Notre Dame and Ohio State.
Salley spoke with KSR on Wednesday to break down his thoughts on the five schools that he has visits planned with for June.
Notre Dame (June 6): I knew (defensive coordinator) Marcus Freeman, I talked to him before he went from Cincinnati to Notre Dame. I had a little bit of contact with them–Notre Dame, they’re a really good academic school and they just reached out to me early and I always watched Notre Dame growing up and I’ve always loved their college. I definitely want to get down there.
Cincinnati (June 10): You know what they’re doing. Coach (Luke) Fickell is turning the whole program around and they’re definitely on the come-up right now. I love Cincinnati, it’s really close to home, about 45 minutes, and I love the atmosphere. I can’t wait to get up there during June, that should be fun.
Ohio State (June 16): Growing up as a kid, Ohio State has been a dream school for me. I just recently got into contact myself with their offensive coordinator and he’s been wanting to get me up there on an unofficial visit so I can meet the coaching staff and maybe pick up an offer while I’m down there if I get lucky. When it comes down to it, Ohio State has always been a dream school for me.
Kentucky (June 22): My first Power 5 offer. They really made me feel like I was a part of the family and they’ve been keeping in contact with me. When they offered me the phone call was amazing, definitely the longest phone call I had. I talked to almost every single member on the coaching staff and it’s really close to home. I love the level of play in the SEC.
Pittsburgh (June 27): I picked up the offer about two days ago and I just really want to get down there. I’ve always been a really big Pittsburgh Steelers fan and I’ve been down there multiple times. I’ve seen the campus when I was little. I just have ties there, I have family there. I’m interested in playing in the ACC as well.
Salley is hoping he can get onto the campuses of both Notre Dame and Ohio State in order to pick up an offer from them. As he said above, the Buckeyes have always been a dream school of his and are incredibly close to home–a factor he takes into serious consideration when going through the recruiting process.
“Both of them (ND and OSU) really want to get me down there to see how I move, what I am as a football player,” Salley said.
As he’s grown over the last year or so, Salley has gone from being satisfied to playing his college ball in the state of Ohio to a big-time recruit who could have his picking of which school he wants to attend, whether it’s in-state or out.
“When I first came into the recruiting process, I only wanted to stay in the state of Ohio,” Salley told KSR. “That was last year before I had any offers, I was unranked and all that. I want to stay in the area, I definitely want to stay around Kentucky, around Ohio, in the area, the bordering states, but that could change. But right now it definitely does play a factor and that’s why most of those teams that I’m gonna go visit are all really close.”
Salley also puts stock in the schools that offered him before anyone else. Toledo and Cincinnati were the first to offer at the beginning of the year with Kentucky coming shortly after as his first from a Power 5 conference. He was quite shocked when the Wildcats came calling, actually.
“It was actually a surprise when I got on the phone,” Salley said about receiving his UK offer. “My coach called me down–I was still in class–calls me down and says ‘Hey I got someone that wants to talk to you,’ and I said ‘Who is it?” and he wouldn’t tell me. And he didn’t tell me until I got on the phone with them and asked them, and I heard Coach Coen talking about SEC and I was like hold on SEC? Before that I only had Cincinnati and Toledo (offers) so I got really excited. I jumped on the phone and he said ‘Yes this is the University of Kentucky,’ and they were all really energetic. It was just a really good phone call. There’s not much to say about it, it was just a really good phone call.”
Beyond blessed to say I’ve received an SEC offer from The University of Kentucky ?? @AllenTrieu @BurgFtball @TheUCReport @rivalsmike @RivalsJohnson @Bryan_Ault @Coach_MikeRob @JaredL77 @KyleMorgan_XOS @DemetricDWarren pic.twitter.com/Hcujj0vEP5
— aj salley (@salley_aj) March 19, 2021
During that meeting, Salley remembers talking with almost every member of the Kentucky coaching staff. Since then, his primary contacts have been associate head coach Vince Marrow and new offensive coordinator Liam Coen. As this staff has done before in the past with great success, they once again spotted an under-the-radar prospect right up the interstate.
“My first offer, Toledo, they said don’t forget about me and I said I won’t,” Salley added. “I want to play at a Power 5 school, but I’m gonna go where I feel I’m most wanted. I’m gonna go where I feel like the coaching staff built the best relationship with me. When it comes down to it I’m not going to go somewhere just because they’re good. When I make my decision there’s not going to be any decomitting or any of that. I’m gonna be sure where I want to go.”
He’s done his research on Kentucky, too, since earning the offer back on March 19, but the ‘Cats influence has always been around in some way or another.
“I’ve been looking up some stuff on the University of Kentucky,” Salley told KSR. “I saw their amazing facilities. They got some of the best facilities in the whole entire country. Zach Myers, he played at Kentucky for a few years, he’s a school counselor at my school and he’s been putting Kentucky in front of me for a while now and we’ve been talking about it. He’s been along for the whole ride, congratulating me after everything but he’s always told me about Kentucky and how great of a University it is.”
Some schools have recruited him as both offensive tackle and defensive end, although the ‘Cats like him protecting the quarterback. Salley said his goal for his junior season is to help his running back rush for 1,000 yards. He actually weighed closer to 260 pounds by the end of his sophomore season, but he cut a bunch of weight as he switched gears to the wrestling season and slimmed down to around 232. He plans on adding that weight back throughout the summer.
Salley could be on the cusp of a breakout season, too, considering he’s only played six true games in high school: two as a freshman and four as a sophomore with the latter season being cut short due to COVID-19 safety regulations. Despite that, he’s still earned three-star status.
Kentucky has established the in-road on Salley and his visit to Lexington next month could play a big role in where the ‘Cats stand going forward.