In his junior year, QB Morgan Newton is unquestionably the man

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistAugust 6, 2011 

  • Fan Day — Saturday6 p.m. at Commonwealth Stadium

    Season opener — Sept. 19:15 p.m. EDT, vs. Western Kentuckyat LP Field, Nashville

    Home opener — Sept. 10Noon, vs. Central Michigan

  • Wildcats' schedule

    Date Opponent Time

    Sept. 1 a-Western Kentucky 9:15 p.m.

    Sept. 10 CENTRAL MICHIGAN Noon

    Sept. 17 LOUISVILLE 7 p.m.

    Sept. 24 FLORIDA TBA

    Oct. 1 at Louisiana State TBA

    Oct. 8 at South Carolina TBA

    Oct. 22 JACKSONVILLE STATE TBA

    Oct. 29 MISSISSIPPI STATE TBA.

    Nov. 5 MISSISSIPPI TBA

    Nov. 12 at Vanderbilt TBA

    Nov. 19 at Georgia TBA

    Nov. 26 TENNESSEE TBA

    a-at Nashville (LP Field)

Joker Phillips sat at a table inside Wildcat Den for 30 minutes during the University of Kentucky's football Media Day Friday and fielded 27 questions.

The UK coach was asked about the running backs, the special teams, the strength of his offensive line. He was quizzed on his defense, his schemes and his new policy about interviewing freshmen.

He was asked about his backup quarterback Maxwell Smith, the cool cat from California who is now, to Phillips' chagrin, sporting a Mohawk and earrings.

He was not asked about his starting quarterback.

Not one question.

"The interview must have got cut short," said Morgan Newton, who for the purpose of this article we would identify as Kentucky's starting quarterback were it not for the fact that everyone knows Morgan Newton is Kentucky's starting quarterback.

That knowledge is why, in 30 minutes, more than enough time to pop a question usually among the first at any Media Day news conference, there was no question.

There is no quarterback controversy, no hot-button issue, no reason to conduct Internet polls or pump up talk-show chatter.

Newton is the man.

Entering fall camp, how does Newton feel about that?

"I don't know, that's a tough question," said the junior. "I guess excited. Excited about the opportunity to come out here and play again. Excited about being coached. And excited about showing how much I've improved since last year and being that leader and great player for this team."

Here's how Newton looks: Calm, confident.

Since he arrived on campus as the heralded recruit from Carmel, Ind., Newton has never been an excitable guy.

He lacks the rapid delivery of his predecessor, Mike Hartline, but he also lacks Hartline's penchant for trying to say things a quarterback is expected to say. Newton isn't as shy as Andre Woodson, Hartline's predecessor and now Newton's mentor as a UK student assistant.

Instead, the 6-foot-4, 235-pounder has the air of someone who is in the moment he thought he would be all along. The path might have taken some twists and turns — shoved into the starting lineup as a true freshman when Hartline was injured; the emergency bowl game starter when Hartline tripped into trouble before the BBVA Compass Bowl.

"I didn't play a lot of meaningful minutes last year, I guess you could say," said Newton on Friday.

You knew someday he would get those minutes, especially when fellow quarterback Ryan Mossakowski, who arrived the same year as Newton bearing similar clippings, fell prey to a shoulder problem and ultimately transferred.

Now, the quarterback competition is Smith, a kid with a Mohawk and a future but no experience. Erase the word competition. Write in backup. With ink.

"How much confidence he has in himself," answered senior guard Stuart Hines when asked what impressed him about Newton. "He's really embraced his role as the starting quarterback and the leader of this team."

"He's taken on that role as the quarterback," said sophomore running back Raymond Sanders. "The quarterback, being the leader, being there early, making sure everyone is where they need to be at, making sure everyone is on top of their classes. He's doing the little things that's going to help our team become a great team."

Someone asked Newton on Friday what the wait felt like to get to his moment?

"I don't really consider it a wait," he said. "It's just learning, always learning. I'm sitting in our first meeting today and I was like, wow, it's clicking more.

"That's what it's going to be, it's going to be a learning experience every day, getting better. That's what I'm looking forward to about this camp."

It's a camp where Morgan Newton is the man.

No questions asked.

Reach John Clay at (859) 231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3226, or jclay@herald-leader.com. Read his blog at Kentucky.com. Check out his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/jchl. Follow him on Twitter at @johnclayiv.

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