Story by Steve Jones Video by Derek Poore Cats Illustrated
MANCHESTER, Ky. - Like many people in his Southeast Kentucky town, Clay County High School's Jacob Hyde has been a University of Kentucky football fan all his life.
The 6-foot-3, 315-pound defensive tackle is a proud resident of Manchester, considered a stronghold of UK fans but one not thought to have produced any recent football Wildcats.
It's set to produce one now.
Hyde, one of the state's strongest, biggest players, became UK's first verbal recruiting commitment in the class of 2013 on March 1, and he's still soaking in what it all means to him and his community.
The day after he committed to UK, when he sat at his desk for History class, the principal came over the intercom to announce that Hyde had become UK's first commitment.
"And everybody goes crazy," he recalled. "... I shook so many hands and hugged so many people, it's not even funny.
"That's a moment I'll remember for a while. ... It's a childhood dream of mine. My mom and I used to drive by (Commonwealth) Stadium. I'd say, 'Yeah, Mom, I want to play there when I get older.'"
Years later, he's made it a reality, and Manchester is rejoicing.
'Everybody's for him' His high school coaches say Hyde is one of the more popular people in town, and at 6-3, 315, it's not easy for Hyde to hide.
"You could go out anywhere in the county and ask if they know Jacob Hyde, and they'll say, 'Oh, yeah, I know Jake. He's a great guy,'" Clay County strength and conditioning coach Evan Napier said.
Kids, including the grade-school football players he coaches, look up to him. Adults respect him for his affability, for being a good student and for setting a good example for his young brother.
He said since his commitment he's been asked for his autograph multiple times.
"Everybody's behind him," Clay County assistant coach Bryan Samples said. "He's loved by everybody, and everybody's for him."
Napier said Hyde is a Manchester boy "through and through," and the player looks forward to representing the Tigers once he's a Wildcat.
"I'm very proud of Clay County," said Hyde, who was born in Lexington but moved to Manchester as a young boy. " ... They all have my back. The townspeople love me. The kids, people in general, families, they all accept me for who I am."
He said he wanted to play for the Wildcats in part because his parents were UK fans, including his father, who died in an accident when Hyde was 4.
Hyde committed to coach Joker Phillips during a meeting in his office on March 1, hours before they attended UK's Senior Night basketball game against Georgia.
Hyde's mother couldn't make the trip to Lexington that day because she had to get up at 5 a.m. the next morning for her job in London, but after he committed to Phillips, he called his mom to tell her the news.
"My mom said, 'I'm proud of you, son. You're daddy would be, too, if he was still here today,'" recalled Hyde, who said he thinks about his father every day. "It was a really big moment to me."
In recent years and during his recruitment, Hyde said part-time Clay County volunteer coach Mark Deaton, who met Hyde when he was in the eighth grade, has become like a "father figure" to him.
Deaton has taken Hyde around the country to participate in many combines and camps. But UK's camp last summer - after which Hyde earned his scholarship offer - was the only college camp he's attended.
UK remains the only team to have made Hyde an offer, but Deaton thinks there would be more if they'd been to more campuses to let him be evaluated him in person.
"But everything happens for a reason, and I think Jacob is very happy with the decision he made," Deaton said.
So are UK's coaches.
Deaton accompanied Hyde to the meeting with Phillips' staff on the day he committed, and he said the Cats were thrilled with the news. Hyde had been getting regular recruiting correspondence from Georgia Tech and Missouri, and Deaton mentioned Louisville, UCLA, Stanford and Western Kentucky as other schools that showed interest.
"(UK's coaches) were all smiles and (high) fives, and they know they snagged one before anybody else could get a chance to get him," Deaton said. " ... He's true Kentucky."
In the world of college football recruiting, a verbal commitment often doesn't mean a lot, but Hyde said it means a lot to him.
He said Phillips made clear that he wanted a commitment from Hyde only if he was prepared to honor it until next year's signing day, and Hyde gladly agreed to the terms.
"How solid am I?" Hyde said. "Once I say I'm doing something, I'm doing it. If a man's word is no good, he's no good. ... I'm 100 percent with UK. ... I've always wanted to beat the other schools instead of play for them. ... I'm 100 percent in."
Thick Hyde If Hyde's 100 percent on board for UK, the Cats have landed a powerful young prospect.
Hyde's work in the weight room is becoming stuff of legends and records at Clay County.
Napier calls him "an animal in the weight room" and "the strongest kid I've ever seen."
Napier, who played at Clay County through 2001, then at Eastern Kentucky University, said Hyde's strength reminds him more of his former teammates in college than it does of anyone he's seen in high school.
Napier remembered that the strongest offensive lineman at EKU when he played could bench press 505 pounds; Hyde - only a high school junior - recently lifted a personal best of 425.
"And he threw it up like it was 135," Napier said. "He was kind of mad at himself that he saw how easy he got it and could have done more."
Indeed, Hyde makes lifting a lot of weight look easy.
During a recent workout, he easily bench-pressed 10 repetitions of 315 pounds in what amounted to a warmup.
A few minutes later he made two reps of 405 - with four 45-pound steel plates on each side of a 45-pound bar - with relative ease. Hyde's set a goal of bench-pressing 500 by the time he finishes high school.
His maximum power clean lift is 325, and he's successfully squatted 560 with his sights set on one day getting "about 700."
Clay County's coaches aren't eager to let him push his limit on squat.
Last summer, with four teammates and two coaches spotting him, he tried to squat 685 pounds - that's seven 45-pound plates on each side - but had to quit when the bar bent.
"I said, 'Oh, well, there's a $200 bar we've got to buy," Samples said. "... It looked like the Hulk had got a hold of it. I said, 'That's done it for you. I hope UK has stronger bars than us.'"
Deaton said Hyde has been the strongest player he's seen at the various combines and camps they've attended.
"Not too many (other players at the combines) could move him," Deaton said with a laugh. "I don't want to be biased because I love the kid like my own, but he's just cornbread strong."
Deaton joked that Hyde likes to come up behind him and surprise him with bear hugs that hurt so badly that they've nearly brought him to tears.
"I can't imagine what Hyde will be after Rock Oliver gets done with him," he said, referring to UK's strength and conditioning coach.
Power ball On the field, Hyde's strength is, well, his strength. He hasn't yet learned a lot of defensive-line technique, so his game consists mostly of bull rushes straight ahead, his coaches say. But for a high school behemoth, it's an effective method.
"He's a driver. I call it a roach: 'Drive him into the ground,'" Deaton said.
Samples said Clay County has played some very good teams with strong players but that if Hyde can get a one-on-one matchup, "it's over. ... He just blows it up instantly."
Samples said he doesn't think Hyde has played a game in which by the third play, the opponent didn't have two linemen - and sometimes a fullback as well - assigned to block him.
"When I've got my hand down in the ground, I say, 'I feel sorry for the center in front of me and the quarterback after the snap.'" Hyde said. "But they're there for a reason. They're there to whoop my rump - or to try to anyway - and we'll see how it plays out in the end."
Deaton asked UK defensive line coach David Turner the day before Hyde committed whether he'd expect him to redshirt in 2013, and Turner said that Hyde's size and strength are sufficient that he could play right away as a freshman and possibly even start as a sophomore in 2014.
But Deaton said he's told Hyde that's only talk if he's not willing to back it up with hard work before he gets to college.
And Hyde intends to do just that.
"If people have never seen me play, they should expect a very hard-playing kid, hard-nosed kid who likes to get after it, a very dedicated kid," said Hyde, who would like to graduate in December and enroll midyear at UK if his curriculum schedule allows it.
Napier said he doesn't think Hyde understands the level of his football potential or how dominant he can be as a high school player of his size and strength, but he believes that the commitment to Kentucky will raise both his confidence level and his level of play.
Being a future Cat is already a source of pride for Hyde.
"Most kids cannot say they got to live out their childhood dream," he said.