MANCHESTER — The bright red pickup with a black "Friends of Coal" license plate that reads "Hyde" is one of most recognizable vehicles in Clay County, with 6-foot-21/2, 325-pound Jacob Hyde behind the wheel and flashing a smile as bright as the truck's headlights.
"I've never seen anybody as popular as Jacob," Clay County football coach Evan Napier said. "I've never seen kids gravitate to somebody like they do to him.
"I think every kid in our county knows him or has hung out with him. He's that kind of person."
That was the case even before Hyde committed last winter to play football at the University of Kentucky, so his profile in this mountain community is even higher now.
But Hyde hasn't changed. He's still volunteering at God's Closet (which distributes clothes to the needy), mentoring grade-school kids, working at a part-time job, and trying to fulfill his potential as a football player.
That last task may be the most challenging for a guy his coach describes as "a big teddy bear." But Hyde is intent on finding his grizzly persona as a defensive nose guard/offensive tackle.
"It took me about four years to realize it," he said. "But I finally realized it and I've got things going in the right direction."
Hyde admits he "used to be just fat. When I was a freshman, I could barely do one push-up. That's the God's honest truth."
But once he dedicated himself to the weight room, he started to see a transformation. "Everything just went through the roof. It changed my body tremendously. I love it. You can tell week by week how much your body's changing, how much stronger you're getting."
Hyde is still learning to be consistent on the field by not taking plays off, not relying solely on his superior size.
Napier saw a much-improved Hyde in Clay County's opener against Garrard County a few weeks ago.
"That was probably the best game he's played," the Tigers coach said. "He knew he was going to get double- and triple-teamed, but he was still beating them."
Hyde agreed that he was at high efficiency against Garrard County. "I figured this is my senior year. It's my time to shine, our year to shine."
Hyde, whose dad died when he was 4, credits his mother, Patricia, for instilling the right values in him.
He also has been positively influenced by Clay County assistant Mark Deaton, whom Hyde calls "a father figure to me on and off the field.
"He makes sure I stay out of trouble, keep my grades up in the classroom, and just makes sure I'm taken care of.
"There's only so much a mother can do. Coach Deaton is there when I need him. I've even got him listed as 'Dad' in my cellphone, and I even have my own room at his house if I want to stay there."
Deaton first took notice of Hyde when he was an eighth-grader. The big kid was playing middle school basketball, but he was already working out diligently in the high school weight room.
After Deaton took him to a UK basketball game, the coach and player struck up a father-and-son relationship that is now family-strong.
"It'll be a Saturday night, and I'll be at home in one recliner, and this 17-year-old kid will be in the other recliner," Deaton said. "I'll tell him, 'Jacob, don't you want to go to the movies with your buddies?' And he'll say, 'I'd rather be here.' I love him to death.'"
Deaton took Hyde to summer camps and combines so colleges would notice this huge player's huge upside.
Before his junior season, Hyde attended UK's camp, and was so impressive that Joker Phillips offered him a scholarship. Hyde didn't make an immediate decision, however, because he wasn't sure he could play at that level.
"I was afraid I might be getting in over my head," he said. "But after I thought about it a lot and made sure it was the place I wanted to go, I decided to commit."
That was last March.
Hyde's self-confidence got a boost this summer when he was selected and played for Team USA in all-star games in Texas. He's been invited back to play for Team USA again in February.
Deaton has no doubt that Hyde can blossom at UK.
"Jacob is just now starting to click, to realize what he can do," Deaton said.
"He's starting to see it, starting to get it, starting to realize how to use his strength and use technique.
"Once he gets to (UK) with (strength coach) Rock Oliver and (defensive line coach) David Turner, I think he'll be something very special."
Hyde won't get to UK until next summer, so before he becomes a big man on campus, he'll continue to be a big man in Clay County.
"I love kids," he said. "We live in a small town, and they need somebody to look up to. I love being a role model."
That's how Jacob Hyde rolls, in and out of his pickup truck.
Mike Fields: (859) 231-3337. Twitter: @MikeFieldsNotes. Blog: fieldsnotes.bloginky.com