UK Football

Brooks, Hartline say managing the game is priority

In his first month as Kentucky's starting quarterback, Mike Hartline has heard boos from the home crowd and been named Southeastern Conference Offensive Player of the Week.

Welcome to high risk/high reward world of a college quarterback.

"You don't ask too much of the fans besides show up and support," Hartline said on Tuesday. "If they want to boo, they can boo.

"It's just a crazy world we live in. I can't let the fans affect me. If I let the fans affect me, I'm not going anywhere."

Judging by comments from Hartline and UK Coach Rich Brooks, the fans don't fully appreciate how the new quarterback can win games for Kentucky.

Hartline might not make dazzling plays or sport a flashy nickname like Hefty Lefty. But that's not what Kentucky wants him to do. UK wants him to "manage the game," football parlance for contributing what he can to a team effort and not lose the game.

"When you talk of managing the game, you're talking of a guy who puts his offense in great situations (and) doesn't put them in any negative situations ... ," said Hartline, who suggested that it's a talent that grows more important as a quarterback advances to a higher level. "If you can't manage a game, you'll end up getting some big hits on you and you'll end up not producing.

"You can last (only) so long on athletic ability. Managing the game is more mental."

On the high school level for GlenOak High in Canton, Ohio, Hartline could let 'er rip. "Go out and play and try not to make many mistakes," he said.

His first pre-season training camp at Kentucky in 2006 represented his conception of football crashing down around him. He had to learn to hand off the ball correctly, read the defense, make the right steps.

"It was very frustrating," he said. "I was playing the worst football I ever played in my life. The biggest thing for me was learning the offensive protection, how they were going to block."

Kentucky coaches preached patience. Andre Woodson would be the starting quarterback the next two seasons. Use the time to learn.

Patience remains a part of Hartline's game. For instance, he's willing to throw away a pass rather than risk an interception by trying to force a pass to a receiver.

Hartline acknowledged that such patience can rile fans.

"A lot of fans just want to see a good game, want to see people make plays ... ," Hartline said. "You have to look at the whole picture. Coach stresses that the hardest thing about the quarterback position is knowing when to stop competing."

During his weekly news conference Monday, Brooks felt the need to remind everyone that Hartline had a 3-0 record as a starter, had not thrown an interception, had led a fourth-quarter comeback and played efficiently.

"Talk to me about how many other quarterbacks in their first year (as a starter) were 3-0 and done what he's done," Brooks said. "Not very many. Andre Woodson couldn't do it. Mike is on target, on progress, headed in the right direction. I think he's done very well.

"If we get better around him, his play will be much improved."

Wide receiver Dicky Lyons Jr. suggested that the SEC weekly award will give Hartline a boost of confidence. "Just to know of all the SEC players, you were the best player that week," said Lyons, who noted that Hartline had shown more confidence by checking to a more adventurous play.

Yet Hartline, who won the award after completing 28 of 47 passes for 254 yards and two touchdowns against Middle Tennessee, downplayed its significance.

"You have to give that to somebody every week," he said. "I thought I played well, but I didn't think I played outstanding."

Hartline protested to the point of all but saying the SEC made a mistake.

"If they want to give it to me, that's great for me," he said before adding, "It's not going to affect the way I practice."

As Hartline explained, for all of football's wham-bam crowd pleasing, the game also rewards a subtle concession and discretion as the better part of valor.

And the volume of preparation eludes all but the most knowledgeable of fans.

Fourth-and-a-yard. Late in a close game. "A lot of people would pee down their pants," Hartline said. "They'd get scared. Just that mental confidence in what we have to do, and keep our composure. I think a lot of people take that for granted.

"But that's hard to do."