UK Football

‘Lynn’s an alpha dog.’ New face of Kentucky football ‘is really into this university.’

Before he was a starting quarterback at the University of Kentucky, Lynn Bowden was the starting quarterback at Warren G. Harding High School.

It was not the only position he played.

As he’s done frequently for UK, Bowden returned kickoffs and punts. The Raiders’ best defensive back? Him. There was at least one occasion where he was inserted on a field-goal block team despite never having practiced with the unit before. So, of course, he was the guy who blocked the kick.

But not before making a promise that he so often made to the staff at Warren G. Harding, and has frequently uttered to the coaches at UK.

“He said, ‘Coach, I’ll get it,’ and he came off the edge and blocked the kick. He’s just a playmaker,” said Raiders Coach Steve Arnold. “ ... Those stories go on and on about Lynn Bowden.”

The stats written on the newest page in Bowden’s biography led to him being named co-Offensive Player of the Week in the Southeastern Conference this week. Kentucky’s best wide receiver may or may not be its best quarterback, but he certainly made a case for himself against Arkansas and could continue to do so in the coming weeks. Whether it’s as the full-time guy or a part-time role in tandem with Sawyer Smith, the staff has made it clear that it wants to build on what it saw from Bowden on Saturday.

Arnold is not surprised that his former pupil thrived.

“Lynn’s an alpha dog,” Arnold said. “He just wants to be the best at what he does.”

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Lynn Bowden (1) completed seven of 11 passes for 78 yards and a touchdown during his first start at quarterback as Kentucky beat Arkansas 24-20 at Kroger Field last Saturday. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Powerade

How seriously does Bowden take winning? Arnold during summer camp holds what he calls “Competition Days,” on which he would divide the team into two groups, talent split as evenly as possible, and assigns point values to every workout. The winning team gets Powerade, the losing team gets water.

Bowden’s teams never drank water.

“He hates to lose, at anything,” said Arnold, who along with other members of Harding’s staff came to Lexington last weekend to see Bowden play for the first time. Arnold surprised him in the Cat Walk. A familiar voice hollered, “L.B.,” and the two embraced.

What Arnold and his staff saw unfold was no different from what they got so used to watching on Friday nights in Ohio.

“He just had that vibrant energy, what he brings to the team, but also to the fans,” Arnold said. “Lynn has the ‘it’ factor.”

Arnold’s seen that energy even take over opposing bleachers.

“We had a game on the road against a team called Lakeside,” Arnold said. “We were winning, I don’t know, probably 40 to nothing at halftime, and I took Lynn out probably midway through the second quarter because I knew we were gonna be in the playoffs and I didn’t want him to get a freak injury. And the Lakeside fans were booing me because I took him out. ‘Hey coach put Lynn back in, you’re a jerk, you’re an idiot.’

“They’re booing the visiting team and swearing at me because I didn’t put Lynn back in the game. I thought, ‘These guys are nuts.’ People came out to see Lynn play.’”

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Lynn Bowden (1) celebrated a touchdown during Kentucky’s victory over Arkansas last Saturday. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Sacrifice

Vince Marrow, Kentucky’s associate head coach and recruiting coordinator, wasn’t surprised by Bowden’s performance against the Razorbacks. He’s seen him do stuff like that since he was a teenager.

“What I saw in high school, now you guys are seeing it in college,” Marrow said. “This kid’s just scratching the surface with this.”

Some schools recruited Bowden explicitly as a quarterback. Marrow told reporters this week that West Virginia was a concerning suitor during Bowden’s recruitment because there was a belief that they’d let him play basketball in addition to football at the school (Derek Culver, a basketball teammate at Harding, signed to play with WVU the same school year Bowden signed with UK). In the end, the Wildcats landed the four-star prospect, still the highest-rated skill player to sign in Mark Stoops’ tenure, even despite a late bid by Ohio State for his services.

It’s been a boon for Kentucky and Bowden, who early in his UK career drew the ire of coaches and fans for angsty social media posts that called into question whether he’d last in Lexington, let alone bloom into the current face of the program.

Marrow lauded Bowden for his willingness to do whatever is asked of him. Some players forego bowl games with their teams to focus on the NFL Draft; Bowden has given up a chance to climb up the UK record books and show off as a receiver, the position he’s most likely to play if he makes an NFL roster.

“He may tweet things out, he may say this or say that, but that kid’s heart is really into this university,” Marrow said. “And he really wants to win for our staff, this team, this state. ... If you’re a pro guy, and you saw what he did last Saturday, you don’t care if he’s playing quarterback, kicker, running back. You see the athleticism and you see the competitiveness. You see how he still made guys miss and that’s what you’re paid to do at the next level. I don’t see that as a problem. The last guy that did that was Randall Cobb here, right? And it worked out pretty good for him.”

Marrow suggested that Bowden has always wanted to play quarterback, and that his maturity as a leader is “off the chart now.”

The team responded in his first start under center; whether Bowden is the main man moving forward or if last Saturday was a one-time, all-time performance that goes down in the annals of UK lore, the No. 1 voice in the room belongs to a man wearing the No. 1 jersey.

“I’m a ball player,” Bowden told reporters Tuesday. “I’m ready to do whatever Coach needs me to do. I’m an athlete. I’ll go out there and punt the ball if I need to.”

Knowing Bowden, he’d figure out a way to take the Powerade from Max Duffy.

Saturday

Kentucky at No. 10 Georgia

When: 6 p.m.

TV: ESPN

Records: Kentucky 3-3 (1-3 SEC), Georgia 5-1 (2-1)

Josh Moore is in his first year covering the University of Kentucky football team and in his fifth year reporting for the Lexington Herald-Leader, where he’s been employed since 2009. Moore, a Martin County native, graduated from UK with a B.A. in Integrated Strategic Communication and English in 2013. He’s a huge fan of the NBA, Power Rangers and country music.
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