Kentucky quarterback Shane Boyd walked off the Neyland Stadium field with his head high.
In the final game of his college career, the former Henry Clay star threw for 218 yards and two touchdowns and came achingly close to leading NCAA probation-ravaged UK (2-9) to an upset of No. 15 Tennessee before falling 37-31.
Nov. 27, 2004, was the date.
The University of Kentucky has not started a Lexington product at quarterback since.
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Lafayette’s Walker Wood is as determined to change that as one can be.
First things first, Wood will seek to lead Lafayette (9-1) to the Class 6A state championship game for a second straight year. The Generals, last season’s 6A state runners-up, will open the 2016 playoffs at home against Butler (4-6) on Friday at 7:30 p.m.
Since the 6-foot, 189-pound Wood committed to Kentucky last Oct. 15, there has been ample local debate over whether the Lafayette star is big enough and is a refined-enough passer to stay at quarterback in college.
“They offered me as an ‘athlete,’” the 2017 UK commit says. “So I guess on the recruiting (commitment) list, I am an athlete and I can play any position. But my goal is to compete for the quarterback job.”
Some look at Wood’s lack of height — and his abundant tenacity — and see a slot receiver. Others look at the passion and physicality with which he plays and see a strong safety.
When Wood looks in the mirror, he’s always seen a quarterback.
Tom and Wesley Wood’s only child was in the sixth grade when he asked his parents for a white dry-erase board. “After he finished his homework and before he went to bed, he would draw up football plays,” Wesley Wood says. “That’s what he did every night.”
The quarterback had the good fortune to get to Lafayette as a freshman in 2013, just as the school was starting a run of nationally recruited offensive linemen. Wood played for three seasons with 5-star offensive tackle Landon Young, now a freshman at UK.
Wood is a senior classmate of 5-star offensive tackle Jedrick Wills, who, like Young, has his pick of scholarship offers from the nation’s football powers.
The recruiting interest in Young and Wills meant colleges also saw Wood.
A dual threat, Wood has 64 passing touchdowns and 60 rushing TDs in his career so far. “Sixty and sixty, I don’t know too many people who have done that,” Lafayette Coach Eric Shaw says. “That’s impressive.”
“When that came in,” Wood says of UK’s scholarship, “I felt a little more excitement than I had felt with my other offers.”
Wood’s enthusiasm has not dulled even though Kentucky just received a 2017 quarterback commitment from former Ohio State recruit Danny Clark, a 6-3, 230-pound pocket passer from Akron, Ohio. The Cats also have a 2018 pledge from Jarren Williams, a 6-3, 205 dual-threat QB from Lawrenceville, Ga.
“The more the merrier,” Wood says. “Competition is a good thing for all of us. It’s not only going to make me or whoever I am competing with better, it will make our team better.”
However one evaluates Wood’s potential as an SEC quarterback, no one can question his toughness.
Last year, after leading Lafayette to a 42-28 win over Simon Kenton in the 6A playoffs semifinals, Wood woke up the next morning with an ache in his throwing shoulder.
He did not think much of it until the next week in practice. Preparing for the state championship game with undefeated Male, Wood literally could not throw the football.
The thought of not playing for the state title never occurred to him, but Lafayette did have an “all-run” game plan just in case. “In warmups, I could barely get it 30 yards. It kind of freaked me out,” Wood says.
So Wood took an Ibuprofen and then his adrenaline kicked in. With a bum shoulder, he threw 36 passes, completed 22. Male won 41-14, but Wood had 220 yards passing and 136 rushing.
Months later, doctors at UK diagnosed Wood with a SLAP tear (an injury to the labrum) in his shoulder and performed surgery to repair it in April.
Wood says he began his senior season with his shoulder at around 80 percent. “I’m probably about 95 percent now,” he said.
Whenever the Generals’ playoff run closes, Wood’s time at Lafayette will be all but over. He will enroll early at Kentucky in January and go through spring practice.
Walker Wood’s aim is to start in the Wildcats’ quarterback room — and to stay there.
“Quarterback is what he wants to play,” Shaw says. “As long as he has the opportunity — and UK has said they will give it to him — he’s gonna be just fine. ... He’s going to be a delight to see at quarterback in the SEC.”
Lafayette quarterback Walker Wood’s career statistics: