Kentucky football legend Jared Lorenzen dies at 38

Jared Lorenzen, the former University of Kentucky quarterback whose oversized body, outsized talent and good-old-boy charm endeared him to UK fans and foes alike, died Wednesday at the age of 38 after years of health problems related to his weight, his family said.

Jeremy Schaap, the ESPN personality who interviewed Lorenzen for his “E:60” series last year confirmed the death on Twitter, citing a text to his producer from Lorenzen’s mother: “Lorenzen’s mother Janet confirmed that Jared died today. He was only 38. Janet said, ‘I lost my sweet boy today after a long hard fight.’”

Moments later, Matt Jones of KentuckySportsRadio.com, who was also a personal friend who broke the news of Lorenzen’s hospitalization last week, released a statement from the family.

“It is with heavy hearts that the family of Jared Lorenzen would like to extend our sincere thanks and appreciation for all of your support and prayers over the past 6 days,” the statement read. “We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of Jared today, July 3, 2019. Again, we appreciate all of the warm wishes and prayers, but as a family we would request your respect and privacy. We will offer arrangement information in the coming days. Please keep Jared’s family and especially his children, in your thoughts and prayers.”

Lorenzen, 38, was admitted to a hospital Friday due to a number of ailments and as recently as Tuesday was reportedly holding “his ground” despite being hooked to a dialysis machine, suffering from both renal and heart problems.

As the news broke on the Internet on Wednesday afternoon, a swell of appreciation and sadness began to be expressed on social media.

“Jared Lorenzen was one of the finest people I have known ... a better person than a player,” tweeted Jones, a friend of Lorenzen who also had the former Cat on his radio show as a guest and host a number of times. “He was a huge part of our KSR family and an even larger part of the BB(N) family. My heart is broken for his family and friends. God Bless the soul of our amazing friend.”

Jared Lorenzen signed a souvenir football for a fan before the Central Kentucky Heart Walk at Keeneland last year. Matt Goins

Since his playing days ended, Lorenzen’s weight on his 6-foot, 4-inch frame topped 500 pounds, an issue he knew he had to address and tried to with a public declaration in 2017 that he would begin working toward a healthier lifestyle and helping others do the same. His “Jared Lorenzen Project” became a health and wellness tour as well as the subject of a documentary by noted filmmaker Anthony Holt and a segment on ESPN’s “E:60” series.

“Jared Lorenzen was a warm, caring, deeply introspective man, totally committed to his family. He was really funny, too — and man, what an athlete,” ESPN’s Schaap tweeted Wednesday.

UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart called Lorenzen an “incredible talent.”

“Jared was a uniquely gifted player who endeared himself to the Big Blue Nation with his passion for the game and his incredible talent.,” Barnhart said in a news release. “More importantly, he was a true Wildcat and a man whose love for the University of Kentucky was plain to see well after his playing days were over. That love was surpassed only by the love he had for his two children. We offer our support and condolences to them, as well as all of Jared’s family and friends.”

UK football coach Mark Stoops said the Cats were “heartbroken for Jared’s family and friends.

“Since I’ve been here, it has been obvious that he was one of the most popular players in school history. He was a proud member of the Kentucky football family and he will be greatly missed by the Big Blue Nation.”

Though he had a large support group and more than 33,000 followers to his Facebook page that he took with him on many parts of his journey, Lorenzen struggled to keep up his nutrition and fitness regimen. But through it all he remained honest with his fans and continued to encourage those trying to follow his example.

“I told you going into this, you’re going to see some good, some bad and some ugly. … This is a every day constant struggle for me,” Lorenzen posted in a Facebook Live video on April 12, just a few days after the sixth episode of the documentary was published on YouTube.

Born in Covington, Lorenzen played football, basketball and baseball for Highlands High School, earning Mr. Football honors his senior year as he led Highlands to a 15-0 record and the Class 3A state title in 1998. He finished his senior season with 168 completions on 271 pass attempts for 3,393 yards, an average of 20.2 yards per completion with 45 touchdowns and six interceptions. He also rushed for 904 yards, averaging 8.4 yards a carry, and an additional 15 touchdowns.

“I would get in games and I would hate to call anything except for our bootleg, sprint-out pass series, where he would have the ball and have the option of making a couple of decisions,” his Highlands Coach Dale Mueller told the Associated Press after his Mr. Football announcement. “He just dominated as a quarterback. You just couldn’t find anything he didn’t do well.”

In high school Lorenzen’s size at 6-4, 240 proved difficult for opponents to handle.

“I’m just a bigger guy than everybody else. I can take the hits. I’m not saying I like them, but I can take them,” he said.

Herald-Leader sports columnist Chuck Culpepper traveled up I-75 in 1998 to catch a glimpse of the quarterback who everyone said looked like a linebacker.

“You know how you usually watch football worried for the safety of the quarterback as he tries to scramble his lithe, little frame through beefy defenders who look qualified for the World Wrestling Federation?” Culpepper wrote. “Well, this is the reverse. In this highly entertaining instance, you worry for the safety of the defenders.”

Lorenzen was also part of the Bluebirds’ three straight runs to the Boys’ Sweet Sixteen from 1997 to 1999 as 9th Region basketball champions with his Highlands and future UK teammate Derek Smith also pulling two-sport star status.

“What great athletes they are,” said Bluebirds basketball coach John Messmer ahead of their final run to state. “To do what they’ve done in football and basketball has just been tremendous.”

At Kentucky, Coach Hal Mumme picked his redshirt freshman Lorenzen over returning starter Dusty Bonner before the 2000 season.

Affectionately dubbed the “Hefty Lefty” and the “Pillsbury Throwboy,” Lorenzen broke school and NCAA freshman records that season, passing for 3,687 yards with 19 touchdowns and 21 interceptions, but the Cats became embroiled in an academic scandal that cost Mumme his job.

The next season under new head coach Guy Morriss, Lorenzen was benched after a poor start to his sophomore campaign in favor of Shane Boyd. Rumors swirled that Lorenzen would transfer that October. He immediately dismissed them.

“There’s no reason to leave,” Lorenzen said at the time. “I love this place. This is the only place I’ve ever wanted to go, and there’s no reason to be leaving here.”

In his junior year, Lorenzen led the Cats to a 7-5 record, including a 22-17 victory at No. 17 Louisville to start the 2002 season. The Cats, however, could not attend a bowl due to penalties incurred under Mumme.

Kentucky struggled Lorenzen’s senior year in 2003 as the Cats adjusted to yet another new head coach in Rich Brooks, going 4-8 and 1-7 in the SEC. One of the losses was a seven-overtime 71-63 classic to Arkansas at then Commonwealth Stadium.

Despite all the upheaval during his college career, Lorenzen put up eye-popping statistics, especially for someone who played a skill position at the same weight or heavier than some of his offensive linemen. Lorenzen holds UK career records for total yards, completions, and passing yards. His record of 10,637 total yards eclipses the next-closest player by nearly 2,000.

Lorenzen was inducted into the UK Athletics Hall of Fame in 2015.

Signing as an undrafted free agent in 2004, Lorenzen backed up Eli Manning for three seasons with the NFL’s New York Giants, including their 2008 Super Bowl victory. Attempts to get back into the game after getting cut by the Indianapolis Colts in 2008 finally ended when he broke his leg while playing for the Northern Kentucky River Monsters, an indoor football team, in 2013.

After his playing days were done, Lorenzen began to struggle with his weight. He went through a divorce and he admitted to ignoring the problem for years. In 2017 he said before he began his project that he hadn’t stepped on a scale since being cut by the Colts in 2008.

When he was born at 13 pounds, Lorenzen made the local TV news, a fact highlighted in “The Jared Lorenzen Project” documentary.

“I’ve literally been big my whole life,” Lorenzen said in the documentary. “Always the tallest, always the biggest, always the guy who had his birth certificate checked ... which makes you feel a little out of place.”

During his attempt to get healthier Lorenzen said losing a specific number of pounds would never be the goal. He wanted to get healthier, whatever that looked like. But his six-episode documentary revealed he suffered a number of setbacks over the course of the project that had him nearly at his original weight after reportedly dropping more than 100 pounds in 2018. He had thyroid issues and problems with the leg he broke in his final game. He also tried testosterone pellet injections to try to boost his energy levels.

This year, Lorenzen had been taking part in a Kroger Health and Wellness tour and made an appearance with it and his mobile gym in Lexington at the Richmond Road Kroger on May 19. At that event, Lorenzen said he was “down and out right now with a busted leg.” Throughout the project, Lorenzen made public appearances often with his mobile gym and spoke to children about nutrition.

Lorenzen and wife Tamara divorced in 2014. They have two children, Taylar and Tayden. Lorenzen is also survived by his parents Joe Lorenzen and Janet Hermes, stepfather Jeff Hermes and a sister, Jennifer Lorenzen Lee.

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Jared Peck, the Herald-Leader’s Digital Sports Writer, covers high school athletics and has been with the company as a writer and editor for more than 19 years.
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