Three in-state stars — Jackson an interior offensive lineman from Woodford County, Young an offensive tackle from Lafayette, Daniel a linebacker from Paintsville — who said ‘no’ to a Who’s-Who of traditional college football titans to stay home and try to help Mark Stoops alter the course of UK football.
Last fall, however, the college careers of the homegrown trio got off to very different starts.
Young started three games at left tackle, was a regular in UK’s two-deep offensive line rotation and was credited with 27 knockdown blocks.
Never miss a local story.
Daniel, Kentucky’s 2015 Mr. Football, became a UK special teams ace, playing in all 13 games and recording 19 tackles.
With UK boasting standout senior Jon Toth at center and an unusually deep pool of guards, Jackson did not get to join in the fun. Instead, a guy who turned down Alabama, Florida and Ohio State among others took a redshirt year at Kentucky.
“I understood it just from a depth standpoint,” Jackson said Friday night, after UK’s spring football game. “I mean, I sat behind Jon Toth. What are you going to do about that?”
Watching his friends make valuable contributions at UK has left Jackson primed to get his own Wildcats playing career launched this fall.
UK offensive line coach John Schlarman said the fact that the 6-foot-2, 290-pound Jackson did not play as a true freshman was a reflection on the quality of depth Kentucky has built in the interior of its offensive line and not on the former Woodford County star’s promise.
Schlarman regularly used nine offensive linemen last season, rotating two players at every position except center.
“There would have been years past here where Drake would have gotten thrown in there due to lack of depth,” Schlarman said. “We’re just in a position now where it is really competitive.”
Last season, when the Wildcats traveled for road games, Jackson said he would go visit his parents, Brian and Candy Jackson. “I’d go back home, help my parents with some work and watch the game,” he said. “It was fun.”
That should not suggest it was easy for Jackson to sit at home and watch his team play on TV.
“I’d say it was kind of hard for him,” Daniel said. “I talked to him through the season at the dorm. It’s kind of hard being an (Army) All-American (in high school) and coming in and having to sit for a year. But you see that with kids all around the country. I think that’s going to help Drake.”
Jackson thinks sitting out has already given him a major boost in the classroom. Because he enrolled at UK a semester early and then redshirted, the marketing major thinks he has a prime chance to leave college with multiple degrees.
“I’ve got four years of (football) eligibility left,” he said. “For school, now I can get two degrees, maybe three. There are a lot of pluses that came out of it.”
With Toth preparing for the NFL Draft, UK’s starting center position is vacant.
Conventional wisdom is that junior Bunchy Stallings, who wrested the starting right guard position away from veteran Ramsey Meyers last season, is the favorite to snap the football to Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson this fall.
“From what Coach Schlarman has told me, he’s letting (the starting center job) be a competition,” Jackson said. “Competing with Bunchy is a good thing for both of us.”
Though Jackson came to UK ranked the No. 1 center prospect in the country for 2016 by recruiting service Scout.com, he did not actually play the position in high school. So he is still mastering the fine points of playing center.
“For the long term, I could probably see him being a little bit more of a center,” Schlarman says. “For the short term, in terms of how he could impact our line, maybe a little bit quicker route would be (playing) guard.”
This fall, Jackson just wants to join his buddies Young and Daniel on the field as UK contributors. If that means playing guard next to Stallings at center, he can live with that.
“Where did Bunchy play last season?” Jackson asked of Stallings. “He was the starting right guard. What are they doing with me? I’m getting guard reps. Whoever is at center, the other guy is going to be at guard.”