PAINTSVILLE — On a soggy Independence Day in this city of 4,300 people, Kash Daniel brightened up the afternoons of Wildcats fans across the commonwealth by announcing his commitment to the University of Kentucky.
A sizable crowd, many decked out in UK gear, were on hand to see Daniel — the second-ranked inside linebacker according to 247Sports and one of the site's top 100 players in the nation — select Kentucky over Louisville and South Carolina.
"Wherever this world takes me, wherever I end up, Paintsville, Kentucky and Eastern Kentucky will always be my home," Daniel said. "That's where I'll call home the rest of my life."
Soon after giving due praise to his hometown, he donned a cap with "CATS" written above the bill.
"I'm blessed to be able to further my education and football career at the highest level," Daniel said. "I can't wait to play football my senior year (at Paintsville) and then get to Lexington to hopefully help the Cats win an SEC championship."
The Paintsville sensation joins 18 other prep standouts who have already committed to the Cats in the Class of 2016, including fellow Kentuckians Zy'Aire Hughes (McCracken County), Drake Jackson (Woodford County), Davonte Robinson (Henry Clay) and Landon Young (Lafayette).
Twitter and livestreams weren't enough for Jackson; he came from Versailles to watch Daniel make his announcement in person.
"I played with Kash in middle school and back in the day we said, 'man, wouldn't it be really cool to play in the SEC, play big-time college football,'" Jackson said. "That was our goal. We just didn't know we'd be doing it together."
Being able to play alongside longtime friends like Jackson was an opportunity that resonated with Daniel.
"Having a guy who's the No. 1 center in the nation pick a university based on wanting to stay at home and to go to a top-notch program, that really struck me as his friend," Daniel said. "He said 'I want you to come be a part of this (at UK) and roll over that bond we had in eighth grade' and I said 'OK, let's roll with it.'"
Scott Daniel, Kash's father, called UK a "great fit" for his son. He praised Mark Stoops' staff for having a program built on work ethic and appreciated their thought-out plans for how to coach each individual position, emphasizing players' strengths rather than focusing on their weaknesses.
"I know he's going to do great things and be around great people," Scott Daniel said.
The last player to go to a major football program from Paintsville was Joey Couch in 1987, an All-State linebacker and 2,000-point scorer for the Tigers' basketball team who went on to become an All-SEC defensive lineman at UK.
Rivals.com rated Kentucky's 2016 class as 16th in the nation — sixth in the SEC behind LSU, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Texas A&M — entering Saturday. Daniel's commitment should bump UK up to 13th in Rivals' rankings, putting them ahead of the Aggies.
Daniel plays both sides of the ball for the Tigers. As a quarterback he rushed and passed for more than 1,000 yards and figured in more than 20 touchdowns.
He had 180 total tackles, 111 solo, to handily lead Paintsville. He had four interceptions, returning two for touchdowns.
He'll likely contend for Mr. Football honors this fall.
But first, Fourth of July fireworks. Daniel said he knew he was going to UK on June 24, his birthday, but wanted to celebrate along with America.
"The greatest holiday in the world," Daniel said. "... Without the men and women who fought and died for this country, I wouldn't be signing here today."