Morgan Newton hasn't been at the University of Kentucky for two full years, yet he's already had a career's worth of experiences as a young quarterback.
He arrived with a lot of fanfare in 2009, but appeared headed for a redshirt season until an injury to Mike Hartline forced him into the starting lineup after six games. Thanks in large part to Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke, UK won road games at Auburn and Georgia while Newton was the starter.
But Newton couldn't capitalize on the experience he gained as a freshman and played only in mop-up duty last season.
Now, with Hartline gone, it's Newton's show, and the theory is that if Kentucky hopes to reach a sixth straight bowl game, Newton must turn the corner and develop into a reliable Southeastern Conference quarterback.
If that story sounds familiar to Andre Woodson, it's because he lived a similar one. Woodson was a returning starter going into his junior season but was second-team at the end of spring behind Curtis Pulley. Woodson regained the starting job during the summer and went on to have one of the greatest careers in UK history.
Now Woodson is back in Lexington as a student assistant coach working with Newton and freshman Maxwell Smith, and Coach Joker Phillips hopes Woodson's presence can rub off on Newton. Woodson and Phillips believe Newton's story could wind up with a similar ending.
"Physically, Morgan's ahead of where Andre was at the same stage," Phillips said. "He didn't have a redshirt year like Andre, so he's not quite where Andre was mentally, but hopefully he can have the same kind of outcome Andre did."
Newton said it's a big benefit to have someone around who's walked in his shoes.
"There's definitely a lot of similarities," Newton said. "Having 'Dre around to bounce ideas off of has been a great help."
Former UK receiver Glenn Holt joined Woodson as a student assistant in January, and since they're not full-time staffers, they're allowed to work with the players in the off-season.
"We wanted those guys back in our program," Phillips said. "Andre, I can remember, his senior year, he and I talking in the sauna, and I was telling him he'd be a great football coach. I'm not sure he saw that at the time. But the players know what he did here. He has their respect. His name is still recognized throughout the state, and I think that will help us in recruiting also."
Woodson's presence also allows offensive coordinator Randy Sanders more time to work with the rest of the unit.
"It's great having Andre around, because having coached Andre a couple of years, he knows what I'm looking for and we speak pretty much the same language," Sanders said. "Having an extra set of eyes to do those things allows me to keep an eye on the overall offense."
Woodson said he's using the lessons he learned in the NFL to help groom Newton. He credits his former quarterbacks coach with the New York Giants, Chris Palmer, for sharpening his knowledge of mechanics, and mechanics will be the focus of Woodson's summer workouts with Newton, who is still developing as a pocket passer.
Woodson said he's already noticed a huge difference in Newton's passing so far this spring.
"He's good at throwing on the run, we just need to get him completely comfortable with dropping back in the pocket and getting rid of it," Woodson said. "But you can already see he's come a long way. I've tried to work with him on balance, keeping his shoulders the same height and following through so there's more explosion in his ball. And there's a complete difference in how he's throwing the ball right now. It's really coming out of his hands well."
Newton said his familiarity with the offense has also helped him become a better passer.
"Sometimes when you know more about the offense and know where the ball's supposed to be, you throw a better ball because your body's ready," Newton said.
Newton also said he's benefited from knowing he's the guy and not having to look over his shoulder.
"It's helped a lot," Newton said. "It's nice to know that you can go out there in practice and make a couple of mistakes and not worry about getting jerked out. Just being able to go out there, play, make mistakes and learn from them and get that cohesiveness with the first team is great."
In addition to helping Newton on the field, Woodson is working with Newton on the intangibles, such as leadership and the importance of film study.
One day, Woodson hopes he can look back and say he groomed two great quarterbacks in Newton and Smith.
"I'm in this for the long haul," he said. "I think Morgan can eventually be first-team All-SEC and maybe even All-American. He has a lot of ability. For him, he's just got to continue to work and get better. I can relate with what he's going through, and I'm excited to see how he's going to do this year. Both he and Max can be big-time players down the road."