Like a conquering general planting his banner after a long battle, Mark Stoops couldn't hide the grin on his face as he paused before starting his first signing day press conference as Kentucky's head coach and personally affixed the final player poster to the wall of the Nutter Center conference room.
"HATCHER," it read, with a photo of four-star Louisville Trinity defensive end Jason Hatcher smiling underneath.
"Makes that room look a little better, right?" Stoops proclaimed.
The last of 22 signees that Kentucky formally introduced on Wednesday was perhaps its biggest. The U.S. Army All-American is not only the Wildcats' highest-rated signee in a 2013 class being hailed as potentially the best in program history, but he also represents a symbolic breakthrough at tradition-rich Trinity, where UK had gone 15 years without landing a scholarship offensive or defensive prospect.
"Tremendous," Stoops said when asked what the addition of Hatcher meant to his class. "As you know, it's important to sign the best players in your state. With the addition of Jason, we signed three players from Kentucky, and Jason was important in a lot of ways: a tremendous person; a great family; Louisville. Momma was Louisville, so it was hard to get around that for a while.
"It gives us great credibility moving forward."
Hatcher (6-3, 250) is coming off a senior season which saw him help lead Trinity to its third-consecutive Class 6A state championship by recording 37 tackles and 13.5 sacks. He is rated the No. 10 defensive end prospect in the nation by FOX Sports and Scout.
The Wildcats beat out a long list of scholarship offers for Hatcher, including Alabama, Auburn, Louisville, Oklahoma, Penn State, South Carolina, Tennessee and USC, where he originally committed before flipping to UK this week.
He joins a banner recruiting class at his position, which was a major priority for the new UK staff. The Cats also signed Za'Darius Smith in December, who was considered by many to be the top junior college defensive end available, and formally announced the addition of four-star Florida defensive end Alvonte Bell on Wednesday.
Kentucky loses seniors Collins Ukwu and Taylor Wyndham from last year's team, but they struggled to get consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The starting duo recorded only six sacks in 2012.
"With Jason, you know, what makes him so dynamic is how explosive he is," Stoops said. "He's very good on his feet. He's very good off the edge. He can do a lot of things, but it's his first step – he's dynamic with his quickness and speed and athletic ability. We're excited about that."
Hatcher caps banner day for Stoops' Wildcats
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