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By ASHLEY SCOBY
What a difference a year can make.
Last July, Jason Hatcher, star defensive end from Louisville Trinity, committed to USC. He made a comment to ESPN at that time that he told Tennessee coaches (who had heavily recruited him), “you lost to the University of Kentucky. You lose to UK, you lose to everybody because UK finishes last in the SEC every year.”
Fast forward 12 months, and Hatcher is beginning fall camp in Lexington after an eleventh hour Signing Day snatch by Mark Stoops and his staff.
Since then, Hatcher said his biggest lesson was to not “bash other schools.” The memory of his comment gave him a good laugh at Media Day Monday, but Hatcher is taking a no-nonsense approach to his early days at UK.
For example, Erik Korem’s high performance program has helped Hatcher gain 12 pounds of “good” weight, toning his appearance to look like a bona fide SEC lineman.
“I don’t even really feel the difference in the weight, which is a great thing for me because I’m a pass rusher,” he said. “I don’t want to pick up weight and slow myself down. That was one of the things with the coaches. They want everybody to pick up good weight. Coming in, I was a little undersized, and then boom, I picked up the weight very fast. Now it’s like I don’t even really feel a difference.”
That weight gain will help Hatcher go up against the SEC’s big-time offensive linemen. But even more than that, he is gaining valuable insight from Za’Darius Smith and Bud Dupree, Kentucky’s two ends that are widely hailed as genuinely “SEC-caliber.”
“We go over notes and stuff like that,” Hatcher said. “I work a lot with Bud and Z both, but me and Bud play the same side so I pick up a lot from him just kind of in the film room. That’s where we’ve really been grinding this offseason.”
Hatcher said he is hoping to get on the field immediately during his freshman year. He has been ready for that opportunity ever since that fateful February 6 when he faxed his letter of intent to the Kentucky – not USC – coaching staff.
“There was a lot of excitement,” Hatcher said of Signing Day. “The one thing Coach Stoops asked me when I talked to him that day was, ‘Are you ready?’ And I told him, ‘yeah.’ He elaborated more on it, saying, ‘It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be a lot of expectations and a lot of hype and there’s going to be a lot of pressure on you. But you’ve got to block all that stuff out and you’ve got to come here to win games.’”
That’s the plan for Hatcher now, even if the road he took to get to Lexington was a little winding. Blocking out the pressure is one thing, but he is also blocking out Kentucky’s recent football history – the seasons that inspired his “UK loses to everyone” comment.
Now, as he has fully embraced the blue and white, Hatcher only voices his displeasure for his rivals. Convincing his mother, who grew up as a Louisville fan, to root along with him has been somewhat of a struggle.
“I told her she better not be wearing any of that red stuff around,” he said. “She’s still getting adjusted to it. She grew up being that other school’s fan. But I’m here now. I told her we’re going to get her some counseling or something.”
Who would have taken the bet on Hatcher saying that last year?