When members of the University of Kentucky's Student-Athlete Advisory Council embraced the idea of a lip-sync competition for the 2015 Catspy Awards, the call went out to each UK sports team for volunteers.
After the idea was pitched to the Wildcats' football team, one hand shot up with enthusiasm. UK quarterback Patrick Towles then showed up at the tryout by himself, drafted a reluctant Landon Foster, the Kentucky punter, as his partner and picked the song the two would "perform."
"Pat said, 'We'll do the Backstreet Boys,'" Foster recalls. "That was all Pat."
Which is how Kentucky's quarterback, Foster in tow, ended up in front of his peers at UK's annual athletics awards ceremony last April in Memorial Coliseum vamping to I Want It That Way. Only a guy with a quarterback's self-assurance could pull off a boy-band tribute in front of an arena full of college athletes.
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"Pat's definitely a confident guy," Foster says, "and that carries on to the (football) field."
Last week, Mark Stoops announced a starting quarterback decision that surprised few. Towles, the incumbent Kentucky starter, retained his position after competing with redshirt freshman Drew Barker.
If 21st century Kentucky quarterbacking history holds, the 6-foot-5, 240-pound redshirt junior from Fort Thomas Highlands should be sitting on a big year. At UK, QBs with talent — and the strong-armed Towles qualifies there — have tended to hit their stride in their redshirt junior seasons.
Andre Woodson came into his own in his second full year as a starter (2006) and fourth season in the UK program. Mike Hartline seemed to be doing the same when his redshirt junior season (2009) was ruined by an injury at South Carolina. In Jared Lorenzen's fourth year (2002), he quarterbacked Kentucky to seven wins.
Lorenzen, who helped coach quarterbacks at Highlands during Towles' high school career, says no UK quarterback faced more early obstacles in Lexington than did Kentucky's current starter.
"He encountered every bump in the road you could have," Lorenzen said. "He had his redshirt pulled (midseason in 2012). He gets in a game and throws a touchdown on his (fifth) pass (vs. Mississippi State in '12), but then he gets hurt in that game. Then he kind of got down the depth chart the next year and didn't even play. He's just had so many obstacles he's overcome."
Last fall, Towles' first year as the Wildcats' starter was a tale of two different seasons. In Kentucky's first eight games, Towles completed 61 percent of his passes, compiled 2,077 passing yards and threw for 12 touchdowns versus four interceptions. The Cats went 5-3.
In UK's final four contests, Towles completed only 50.8 percent of his passes for 641 yards. He had a meager two TD passes versus five picks. Kentucky was 0-4 in those games and saw its bowl aspirations go up in smoke.
Dale Mueller, head coach at Highlands when Towles quarterbacked the Bluebirds to three straight state championships, says the Kentucky quarterback will draw motivation from the way his sophomore season ended.
"Patrick has toughness in his makeup," Mueller said. "His dad (Terry) is a lawyer now, but he used to be a policeman. A policeman's job, he puts handcuffs on people and puts them in the backseat (of the police car) with everybody in the world second-guessing you.
"Patrick's grandfather is Jim Bunning, who was a powerful member of the U.S. Congress (as a U.S. Representative from 1987-99 and U.S. Senator 1999-2011). That's another position where people aren't always telling you what a swell guy you are and what a wonderful job you are doing. Patrick grew up seeing first-hand that a certain toughness is necessary to get through life. And he has that."
Lorenzen says there is a primary reason why so many of Kentucky's better quarterbacks have blossomed in their redshirt junior seasons.
"The game slows down for you so much," Lorenzen said. "People don't realize how big the adjustment is to the speed of the college game, especially in the SEC. Playing Boone County and Campbell County and CovCath (Covington Catholic) is nothing like playing Florida. You aren't just going to walk in off the street and make that adjustment."
If you can believe the talk coming out of the UK training camp, the Towles of 2015 will be a more refined operator than last year's model.
Barker says Towles "has improved since I got here. I think we both have. (Towles) made a lot of good decisions (during the QB competition), you know, didn't make many mistakes."
Shannon Dawson, the new Kentucky offensive coordinator, says Towles' "efficiency is really high. You factor in everything as far as experience; how he's matured since I got here; and just the overall consistency of play — completion percentage, getting the ball to the right place and taking care of the ball, ... Patrick is just playing really, really well."
Suffice it to say, the quarterback who lip synced the Backstreet Boys wants it that way throughout 2015.
"I wouldn't say I'm a huge Backstreet Boys fan," Towles says with a grin. "I saw them in concert at Rupp (Arena). That was my first concert I'd ever been to — with one of my aunts. ... I mean, I'm not not a fan of the Backstreet Boys."