It’s not easy for any Kentucky football recruiting to overshadow basketball recruiting, especially when the basketball news involves the top-ranked center in the 2013 recruiting class.
Yet Cincinnati cornerback Jaleel Hytchye’s verbal commitment to new UK coach Mark Stoops over the weekend seemed to generate a bigger buzz among UK fans than center Dakari Johnson’s verbal commitment to coach John Calipari’s already dynamic 2013 recruiting haul.
“I was a little surprised at just how excited UK fans got,” said Hytchye. “I was not expecting that, but it is a blessing and I’ll go with that. It’s kind of fun.”
Fun? It was more than fun from him seeing the way Kentucky football fans reacted on various social media to Stoops’ first high school commitment. On Twitter, @TheRealLeel_9 (his screen name)started getting messages from UK fans as soon as he made his commitment public Saturday night.
Hytchye — his father is Cuban and that’s where his name come froms — spent a lot of time over the weekend seeing what he could do to help UK’s recruiting as well. He made a phone call to Franklin County receiver Ryan Timmons, who seems down to Ohio State and Kentucky, urging him to play at Kentucky. He planned sometime Sunday to reach out to junior college defensive tackle Ben Bradley, who visited UK Saturday and was at Auburn Sunday.
He says he “hit it off” with Florida cornerback Blake McClain, who has committed to UK, and immediately joined him in working on Asianti Woulard, McClain’s teammate and one of the nation’s top dual-threat quarterbacks who also started drawing attention from Florida last week.
“I watched Asianti and know he is a great quarterback,” Hytchye said. “Bradley, we need those defensive linemen. Anybody who can hit, I want on our team. I know a couple of guys from Ohio who are considering Kentucky, so I am going to hit them up.”
What did Timmons, who did not have any real interest in UK until after the coaching change, tell him?
“He is pretty much wrapping it up. I feel really good with where he is at with Kentucky, but that is his thing. I want him to come on board and I’m hoping he does. Me and him could be good friends and I know he is really a good player. But I don’t want to say too much about his recruiting. That’s for him to do,” Hytchye, who is ranked as a four-star player by some recruiting services, said.
The 6-0, 165-pound Hytchye is ranked as the nation’s 50th-best cornerback prospect by Rivals.com. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds at an Ohio State camp. He had received scholarship offers from Tennessee, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Louisville, Purdue, and Vanderbilt as well other schools.
Previous UK coach Joker Phillips and his staff had recruited Hytchye and he “loved” the campus and “everything about the school” on his visits. However, he was not going to come to UK.
“I just didn’t get that winning vibe from the previous staff like the program was ready to compete in the SEC. With Stoops and (defensive coordinator D.J.) Eliot, I just feel that vibe,” Hytchye said. “Before, the football program just was not there. Now I get a feel from all the coaches that they don’t believe in losing. With those coaches and players and now recruits buying in, I think we can do something special and start a new tradition. Being part of tradition is a good thing, but starting traditions is even better.
“I am a fast guy, cover corner. Probably a little feisty. I definitely want more bulk. If I can do that, I can play a lot more physical, and that’s the way I want to play. I can cover a lot of ground. I like to hit and stop the run. I can’t put a big hit on now like I want to because I don’t have that much weight. The challenge for me is to put on weight and bring it even more when I hit somebody.”
Hytchye, who didn’t play cornerback until his freshman year at La Salle High School, sounds similar to another Ohio cornerback — Cody Quinn — who made significant contributions as a true freshman last season at Kentucky. He’s from Middletown, which is only about 30 miles from Cincinnati.
“I went to see him play once in high school and knew who he was. We’ve talked briefly,” Hytchye said. “I can see myself helping out as a freshman like him.”
Hytchye thought it was important to commit now rather than wait to take other official visits.
“We’ve got to get other guys on board. We need other guys to do something special at Kentucky,” the new commit said. “I am willing to buy in and do all I can to help make our class special. We could be the cornerstone class to get it done at Kentucky. We need to get as many good players on board and then we can do special things.”
He’s not sure if he will run track at UK, but he has that option. He’s run the 100-meter dash in 10.9 seconds, but he’s so versatile that he has also been timed in 1:55 for the 800-meter run. Seldom do sprinters try a distance event like that, and Hytchye admits running the 800 is not good for his football because the training causes him to drop weight.
“I do it all from sprints to the 800,” Hytchye said. “Kentucky coaches gave me the option to run track, and the track coaches were happy with that. I’m not sure what I will do. I am thinking about track and preparing for a big senior year. Depending on how that goes and then how my first UK season goes, then I will know whether to consider it.”
However, he knows playing football at Kentucky is going to be popular with family and friends.
“Everybody here is excited. A whole bunch of people at my dad’s job wanted me to pick Kentucky. They had a little party when I did. We went out with some family and friends to celebrate,” he said. “This whole weekend has been great. I just know I made the right choice.”