By LARRY VAUGHT
LEXINGTON — Jason Hatcher never really worried that he would not be able to play this season after being cited for marijuana possession during the offseason.
“Coach (Mark) Stoops and the whole staff have been very supportive. The thing I am most happy with now is that we are able to move on and continue to look forward,” said the sophomore defensive end from Louisville who had 19 tackles in 10 games as a true freshman in 2013.
Hatcher and former Trinity teammate James Quick, now a receiver at Louisville, were cited on May 26. Hatcher was cited for 2.5 grams of marijuana in his pocket when police arrived. The charge was dismissed after he completed a marijuana education course.
Stoops never publicly acknowledged what action he took against Hatcher before he was cleared to play this season.
“I believe being held accountable is going to make us better as a team. If coach Stoops holds you accountable to what you are supposed to do and when you don’t do it, coach Stoops is able to single that person out and coach Stoops don’t have no problem calling nobody out. When he does that it kind of sits with you and you want to go hard and get better,” Hatcher said.
Like senior Bud Dupree, Hatcher can play either defensive end in a 4-3 defense or shift to linebacker in a 3-4 alignment. He could back up either Dupree or Za’Darius Smith on the line.
“I hope to get him on the field as much as I can, but most of that is up to him and where his play is at, and that’s for everybody on the team. But he’s got a talent that I want to use, and we’re going to do everything we can to get him on the field and use him,” defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said.
Hatcher was one of the nation’s top high school prospects in the 2013 recruiting class. He was rated No. 8 in the country by Rivals.com and 10th by Scout.com after helping Trinity win three straight state titles. He played in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl following his senior season
“I was not satisfied at all last year. I felt like there was a lot of room for improvement. But I was satisfied with my progression during the season. I felt like each week I got better and got more fundamental and more technically sound, but my overall production I was not satisfied with it,” Hatcher said.
He said practice “has been going good” so far.
“We are moving around fast and covering a lot so when the season starts we will be ready,” Hatcher said. “I am going to be moving around a lot. I have been at outside linebacker and playing defensive end in the 4-3 behind Bud Dupree. Mainly at those two spots is where I will be.”
He knows playing behind Dupree and Smith, UK’s two best defensive line and potential NFL players, could limit his playing time. But it also gives him an opportunity to learn and improve.
“I am here to learn from those guys because they are extremely talented and technical, so my job is to learn from them and kind of fill in and not downgrade (tehe team) when they put me in and step up to the challenge,” Hatcher said. “I have learned so much stuff from last year to this year. One of the biggest things was just my football sense. Everything from my awareness on the field to my technique and reading offenses.
“I am about 10-15 pounds heavier than when I got here. I have trimmed my body tremendously. I am probably 12-13 percent body fat and I was 18 or 19 when I came here. I just want to play faster and more physical every day. I know all of my assignments and all I am supposed to know. I’m appreciative of just being out here and want to show everybody that I have learned things on and off the field.”