This was to be Jason Hatcher's time to shine.
No more backing up defensive star Bud Dupree. No more waiting his turn. No more giving way to experience. No more waiting to meet expectations.
Three weeks away from the start of Kentucky's 2015 campaign, everything was in place for this to be the junior defensive end's breakout season.
"He's the real deal," Andy Buh, UK's new defensive end/outside linebackers coach, said last week.
For now, Hatcher is on hold.
The former Trinity High School star, highest-rated recruit in Mark Stoops' first recruiting class, is serving a university-sanctioned suspension for an unspecified violation of team rules that will keep him out of the season's first two games.
The 6-foot-3, 252-pounder is practicing, but is not receiving the same number of repetitions as those who are preparing to play.
"He hasn't gotten as many," said Stoops when asked about Hatcher's reps after UK's first fall scrimmage Saturday. "He wouldn't get the normal reps with the ones and twos like he normally would. You've got to get the other guys ready to go."
Those would be Jabari Johnson and Denzil Ware, currently atop the depth chart at the defensive end spots occupied last year by Dupree and Za'Darius Smith. Dupree was a first round pick of the Steelers. Smith was a fourth-round pick of the Ravens.
Coming out of high school in 2013, Hatcher's future shared a similar projection. Both Rivals and 247Sports ranked him as the eighth-best weakside defensive end in the 2013 class. Hatcher was ranked in 247Sports' Top 200 nationally. Rivals placed him in its top 250.
Hatcher committed to Southern Cal before his senior season, later backing off that choice. When Stoops was hired in December, the former defensive coordinator made the future prep defensive star a high priority, sweeping into Trinity High School with his staff to make an impression.
The strategy worked. Signing day, Hatcher inked a national letter of intent with UK in a highly-publicized press conference at his high school. It was recruiting win No. 1 for Stoops' troops.
Since then, however, Hatcher has been hindered by immaturity. He's gregarious, smiling, laughing, one that likes talking to the media. He's also a kid, one who has had more than his share of off-the-field headlines.
His freshman year, Hatcher was one of three players suspended for the November game at Georgia. The following May, Hatcher was cited along with former Trinity teammate and current Louisville wide receiver James Quick for alleged marijuana possession. The charge was dismissed and later expunged after Hatcher completed a marijuana education program.
This year's Media Day brought the latest hint of trouble. Hatcher was a no-show. Academic work was the explanation. A day later, however, Stoops announced the suspension.
By all accounts, Hatcher has responded the right way. ("He has," Stoops confirmed Saturday.) But it's his junior year. The clock is ticking.
Stoops preaches discipline and preparation and making sure players focus on what's important. And there's little doubt Hatcher has the talent to be a star. In two seasons, some of it while playing with a broken hand, all of it playing in a supporting role to Dupree and Smith, Hatcher recorded 47 tackles, including 8.5 for a loss.
"Jason has worked extremely hard," Stoops said last week. "He's put himself in position to help this team."
"We're seeing what we saw in the spring, even a better version of it," Buh said after Hatcher made some nice plays in last week's open practice. "He and Jabari and Denzil Ware would be a pretty good 1-2-3 punch type of thing with all three having the capabilities to pass rush and all of them having the capabilities to play in the SEC at a high level right now."
Buh also said: "We've got to get him back on the field as fast as we can."
Though the start date has been pushed back, it will still be Jason Hatcher's time to shine.