He's never met Kentucky linebacker Kash Daniel, but Pikeville High School junior Jackson Hensley admits he is "inspired" by what Daniel has done in college.
"I think we have similar qualities. No matter where we go, we are going to succeed because we both work to make big things happen," said Hensley. "I have never talked to him but I am friends with a lot of his friends. I know the work he has put in."
Daniel is from Paintsville, another small eastern Kentucky town like Pikeville. Hensley says his roots make him an "outlier" and makes most people doubt you -- a problem Daniel also had to overcome and prove to critics that he could become a SEC starting linebacker.
He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.48 seconds (laser timed) at a recent combine in North Carolina where he also had a 37-3 vertical jump and finished the agility drill in 4.33 seconds. He's had a 39 foot, 5-inch triple jump as a part time track performer where he also runs the 100-meter dash and hurdles. He's a star center fielder in baseball with a strong arm, above average speed and good bat.
Last year he caught 39 passes for 829 yards and 16 scores and ran 15 times for 235 yards and two scores. He also had 50 tackles and one interception that he returned 43 yards for a score. He had 154 yards receiving and two touchdowns along with seven solo tackles in the 21-20 loss to Beechwood in the Class A state title game.
"I don't know if it is the competition I have played against or what that makes people still doubt and question me," Hensley said.
Hensley says UK has "not shown much interest" in him other than talking to his coach after the state title game in December at Kroger Field. He did go to spring practice at UK.
"I have talked a lot to Louisville, Eastern Kentucky, UNC-Charlotte, Western Kentucky, Michigan and Marshall along with Ohio State," Hensley said. "It would be a dream to go to UK, but there are a lot of schools I would love to play for if they want me."
He could have college baseball options but he says his "heart has always been in football" and that he was encouraged often to pursue baseball by those who don't think he is big enough or fast enough to play big-time college football. He hopes the numbers he he put up at the recent combine in North Carolina was his "big break" for football.
"It got more heads turning my way. I am grateful for the opportunity I got there," Hensley said. "I went down knowing what I I could do and I think I proved I can perform with the very best. I just did my thing."
Hensley was measured at 6-1, 190 pounds at the UNC-Charlotte Junior Day. However, he says his weight can range from 185 to 194 depending on how he's hydrated at that time.
"All the schools are looking at me as a receiver but I would step in and play anywhere to get on the field for a team," Hensley said. "I am still putting my summer camp schedule together. I am waiting to see what schools show the most interest. I can't be going somewhere every day because of the travel limitations from living in Pikeville. So I just hope to pick the five or six that fit me best and give me the best chance to show coaches what I can do."
What he doesn't want to do is lose track of his goal to help Pikeville win the 2019 state title that it barely missed last season.
"I think our football team should be good. Losing by one point at state has really driven us," Hensley said. "I don't think I ever don't think about it. It drives us to be an even better team and end our year back at Kroger Field with a win this year."