VERSAILLES — Drake Jackson said Saturday night that he has been "99 percent sure for a very long time" where he wanted to play college football.
"When I set the decision date," he continued, "that's when I knew where I wanted to go."
The Woodford County offensive lineman told the dozens of friends and family members gathered in his living room Saturday night — his decision date — that the place he wants to be is the University of Kentucky.
"It's my home-state school," Jackson said. "It's the place where I feel most comfortable. The coaches did a great job recruiting me, and I'm really excited about what they're doing. I can't wait to get there, and I can't wait to be a Kentucky Wildcat."
Every major recruiting service in the country considers Jackson the No. 1 junior in the state. Many of those services rank him as the No. 1 center nationally in the class of 2016.
When he stood up and zipped down his sweatshirt to reveal a Kentucky football jersey, he left three hats on the table in front of him: Alabama, Ohio State and Tennessee.
All three of those schools have won national championships in his lifetime, and Jackson is well aware of that success.
"Two of these schools are in the college football playoff — the first one ever," he said. "Tennessee — I believe they have a chance to compete as well. It's hard to turn these schools down. ... They're all really nice schools. There's nothing you find about them that you don't like. It's more about what you do like about each school."
In the end — and for most of his recruitment — he simply liked the Wildcats more.
Jackson called UK offensive line coach John Schlarman "by far my favorite coach that I've met along the recruiting trail." He and his father, Brian Jackson, spoke of how "genuine" they found UK Coach Mark Stoops to be throughout the process.
The Cats lost six straight games to end the season. Jackson was following closely, and he was in attendance for many of the losses down the stretch.
But he looked at the overall picture and decided that UK was a program headed in the right direction.
"One thing I did before the season is I made a list of things that I wanted to see," Jackson said. "And it wasn't really making a bowl game, it wasn't wins or losses. I wanted to see how they competed with other schools, especially top schools in the SEC. And the way they hung with Mississippi State, the way they competed with other schools — it answered my question.
"They improved, and that's what I wanted to see."
Jackson has been one of the players at the top of UK's wish list for a long time, and he's been on the program's radar from the very beginning of the Stoops era.
Former UK defensive tackle Ellery Moore was one of the family friends in attendance for Jackson's announcement Saturday night. Moore has been training Jackson as part of his sports and fitness program since the new UK commit was in the seventh grade.
As soon as the new coaching staff came to Lexington a couple of years ago, Moore said he contacted Schlarman and UK assistant Chad Scott to tell them about Jackson.
"I've got a kid and he's really special," Moore told them.
He should know talent when he sees it.
Moore played professionally after his four years at Kentucky and compared his current pupil to two offensive linemen he went up against during his playing days: Scott Wells and Jeff Faine.
Wells is in his 11th season in the NFL. Faine played 10 seasons in the league.
"That's what he has. He has that ability," Moore said. "I see him playing very early at Kentucky. He's an all-SEC-type guy. Not only because he works hard. Not only because he's athletic. But because his hands and his footwork is some of the best I've seen."
Jackson is also a talker.
He sat there Saturday night and took 30 minutes' worth of questions from reporters — and curious friends and family members — about his decision to commit to Kentucky.
Jackson will enroll early after graduating from high school next December and has said that he wants to be the "Drew Barker" of the class of 2016, referencing the UK quarterback's ability to recruit on the Cats' behalf and bring other talented players to Lexington.
"I think we're similar," he said. "We both like to talk."
UK now has six commitments for the class of 2016 — four of them from inside the state — but Jackson is eager to see that number grow.
"I've told them that I'm going to do my best to help build a class, and they're excited," he said. "The best recruiters are the peers of the players. ... I'm excited to (help), and I can't wait to do it."