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August 7, 2013

Hatcher's house divided, but he's all in at UK

Jason Hatcher grew up seeing red.

The Louisville native and Trinity product has a mom who's a big Cardinals fan. Her closet was all red, no blue.

"It's a house divided now," Hatcher said. "She's still getting adjusted to it. She grew up with that other school. But I'm here now, so I told her we got to get her some counseling or something."

And some new clothes, because Hatcher figures to be an important part of the team wearing blue.

When the four-star Hatcher committed on National Signing Day, it was a fitting capstone for the highest-ranked recruiting class in school history.

And although he's one of the highest-ranked players in the group, he's nowhere near alone.

"That was the biggest thing for me," Hatcher said, "because I didn't want to be the biggest name coming into a class."

The staff told him its excitement about his decision.

They also told him some hard truths.

"The one thing Coach (Mark) Stoops asked me when I talked to him that day was, 'Are you ready?'" Hatcher said. "He said that it's not going to be easy."

On neither an individual nor a team level. The former Southern Cal commit is joining a team that went 2-10 a year ago.

And Hatcher, despite his high ranking, has talented defensive ends in front of him on the depth chart. Bud Dupree and Za'Darius Smith are both upperclassmen who figure to be impact players on the line.

Even with that experience in front of him, Hatcher wants to compete. He's ready to get into pads, show what he can do, try to earn a spot in the rotation.

"He's very confident," freshman defensive lineman Regie Meant said. "He's got a big ego, you know what I'm saying? And hard work(ing) also."

His confidence seems well-placed. Hatcher gained 12 pounds through summer workouts - he's up to 256 pounds - and has drawn good early reviews from coaches.

Hatcher is focusing on learning "the techniques and the fundamentals" of the position, he said. He's more of a speed defensive end, and he needs honed skills to be able to beat SEC offensive linemen consistently.

"He looks very good right now," Stoops said. "He's in great shape and just watching the film and knowing the type of competitive person he is, I would expect him to come in and contribute this year."

He might not be the only freshman contributing.

Defensive tackle [db]Jacob Hyde[/db] and Meant, while less highly touted than Hatcher, could also see some time in the rotation. Both expressed a personal goal of finding a way to get playing time of some sort.

"We're here for one reason," Meant said. "We're trying to get out on that field. We all have that state of mind."

If they can learn the system, they can be used. Defensive coordinator [db]DJ Eliot said developing depth is a goal for the defensive line this season.

"I think as a group, as a defensive line, we can get things done," Hyde said.

It might not start with the freshmen, but they plan on being included.

Especially Hatcher, who never would have planned on being included on Kentucky's roster a year ago.

"No, I didn't think that, but I'm glad I am here," Hatcher said. "You know what I mean? Because I believe in what's going on. We're going to do something special here."


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