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'That community keeps me going': The town that made Jacob Hyde

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Jacob Hyde with the Deaton family after UK's 41-38 win over Louisville.

MANCHESTER— A small crowd is gathered at Manchester Baptist Church on a recent Wednesday evening, all thinking back to a special February day they made for Clay County’s favorite son. “Jacob Hyde Day” honored Kentucky’s senior defensive lineman for his contributions to the community in his hometown of Manchester and also in Lexington.

Chuck Thomas, a UK football season ticket holder for 10 years and member of the church, wanted to recognize “a kid who had done well” prior to his final season with the Wildcats. After a few weeks of planning, the church surprised Hyde with his own day.

“You can take the crowd we had for Christmas and the crowd we had for Easter and add them together,” Thomas said of the gathering on February 26. “It was full.”

It seems that everyone in this small Eastern Kentucky town is proud of Hyde. Manchester and the people in it have meant just as much to Hyde.

“They saw me cry,” Hyde said. “I cried up there trying to talk to the church. I got choked up. That community keeps me going. Everyone has their reason why, and the city of Manchester is why I do things.”

These things Hyde does, like dress up as Santa Claus at church for Christmas, visit numerous ill children in the hospital and earn a spot on the SEC Academic Honor Roll for two straight years, might not have happened without two people sitting near the back of the church.

Mark Deaton, the offensive line coach at Clay County when Hyde was in high school, and his wife, Ann, brought Hyde to Manchester Baptist with their family when Hyde was 15. Back then, Hyde was a middle school basketball player going to high school football workouts after school. Since Hyde lived nearby and his mother, Patricia, was busy working, Mark Deaton offered to take him home from workouts.

When Mark got home, he told Ann, “Honey, I think I’ve met someone you’ll really like.”

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Hyde visiting a children's hospital prior to UK's bowl game last year. Photo by UK Athletics.

On his official University of Kentucky bio, Hyde lists Michael Oher -- whom the book and movie “The Blind Side” is based on -- as his sports hero “because they share similar life stories.”

His father died in an accident when Hyde was 4-years-old, leaving his mother alone to raise a young child on her own. He moved to Texas to live with an aunt, then moved back to Frankfort, Kentucky, where he lived with his mother until the fifth grade.

“My mother just wanted to get away from everything,” Hyde said. “She got married at 19, had me at 23, was a widow at 27. When you’re that young and you have a child, you have different coping mechanisms. She had an unhealthy way of dealing with it.”

Hyde returned to Manchester in the fifth grade and stayed through graduation. Not long after taking Hyde home from football workouts, the Deaton’s hosted a gathering for some of the high school football players at their home. Despite being in eighth grade, Hyde went anyway.

“That one weekend turned into two or three months straight of going there every weekend,” Hyde said. “(Mark) would look at me some weekends and say ‘Don’t you have anybody to hang out with or do anything?’ I would be like ‘nah, I’m just going to chill here for the weekend.’”

Mark and Ann have two kids, Abby and Nathan, but Hyde became part of the family. Eventually he called Mark his father, Ann his mother, and Nathan and Abby his brother and sister.

“When people ask me in general how many siblings I have, I say I have three,” Hyde said. “I go into detail and say I have two by heart and one biological brother.”

He began going to church with the Deaton’s, saw the beach for the first time with them on vacation and attended family reunions.

“Let’s be real, I’m the only black guy there,” Hyde said. “At first I was like ‘Man, this is weird.’ I just stood out. Me being a 315-pound, 6-foot-2 guy. But they accepted me. Now if I don’t show up at family reunions they’re asking where I’m at.”

Mark said he never heard any negative comments from those in the community about the time he spent with Hyde. However, when “The Blind Side” was released, he and Hyde went to see it.

“It irked me when that movie came out,” Deaton said. “When it come out I said ‘that’s like me and you.’ But I said ‘Hyde, I’m glad you were hanging around me before this movie came out.’ It ain’t the point of what I done for Hyde. Hyde wanted it just as bad. He knows my saying. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.”

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It’s not as though Hyde’s mother wasn’t around. He lived with her in high school, and still does when he returns home from school, so the Deaton’s always made sure to check with Patricia to make sure everything they were doing was OK.

“At that time of Hyde’s life, when I went up there to see her, she said ‘I’ve been praying for a male figure to come into Jacob’s life,” Deaton said. “She told me ‘when he’s with you, I know he’s safe.’ I’m very appreciative of her sharing him with us. I thought that was pretty cool of her.”

Because of their relationship and Hyde’s desire to play FBS football, Mark made highlight films after Hyde’s sophomore year, emailed nearly every FBS school in the country and offered to take Hyde to his five favorite schools, no matter how far or near it was from Manchester.

“I would say he’s 95 percent of the reason I’m here,” Hyde said when discussing Mark Deaton at the Nutter Training Facility last month. “He put in all the work behind the scenes. I just worked. I worked my body, I ran, I was out there running on my own, but he was the one doing the dirty work. Emailing college coaches, getting addresses and sending things out.”

The first -- and subsequently only trip -- was to UK. After performing well as a defensive lineman against Notre Dame commit Hunter Bivin, former UK head coach Joker Phillips offered Hyde a scholarship. Nearly a year later when Hyde became the first commitment in UK’s 2013 class, Deaton drove him to Lexington prior to a basketball game against Georgia so he could tell Phillips his decision face to face.

“Me and him talked and he said ‘listen, if I played at Kentucky, all the family can come, my friends,” Deaton said. “It was his dream. It really was.”

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Ann Deaton, left, and Patricia Hyde, right, with Jacob Hyde after UK's graduation.

Hyde was the first player from Clay County High School to accept a football scholarship at the University of Kentucky. He played in all but one game as a junior last season, but he’s spent his career as a reserve. Still, that hasn’t stopped him from being a valuable member of the team.

“We have a great leader in Jacob Hyde,” UK head coach Mark Stoops said last year. “He may not be the most talented defensive lineman, but he’s a great leader in that group.”

Because many high school players from Eastern Kentucky don’t make it to a school like UK, let alone finish their degree, Hyde feels he has a responsibility to be a positive reflection of the area.

“Many people who do play sports from there go back home, not even finishing it,” Hyde said. “They either mess up when they get here or something happens. I just didn’t want to be in that percentage of people. You’re tested by a lot of outside factors. Especially when people figure out who you are and where you’re going. Someone wants to bring you down. You just have to prove those people wrong.”

Back in the church, the crowd took turns reflecting on what Hyde meant to them. Ken Bolin, the pastor at Manchester Baptist, said he appreciated how Hyde has stayed level-headed throughout the years. Another family appreciated Hyde always running over and hugging them before a football game.

On Jacob Hyde Day, the church had IGA bake a cake for the ceremony. Written on the cake in blue lettering, the words said what everyone in Manchester feels.

“We love you and are proud of you, Hyde.”

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