UK Football

Kentucky freshman QB Whitlow adapting quickly to college game

Jalen Whitlow's two appearances at quarterback for the Cats this season haven't produced much, but coaches and players like his poise in the pocket.
Jalen Whitlow's two appearances at quarterback for the Cats this season haven't produced much, but coaches and players like his poise in the pocket. Herald-Leader

Jamey DuBose doesn't know Patrick Towles.

The high school football coach out of Alabama doesn't know about the Kentucky Mr. Football's awards and accolades or his ranking last season as one of the nation's top high school quarterbacks.

But DuBose knows Jalen Whitlow.

And if you'd told DuBose that Whitlow would have to beat out Superman to become Kentucky's backup quarterback, he would've believed the freshman quarterback had a fighting chance.

"Jalen comes out of Alabama, and Alabama football is strong," said DuBose, Whitlow's coach at Prattville High School last season. "I don't mean to be cocky when I say that."

Whitlow has emerged as Kentucky's No. 2 quarterback behind Maxwell Smith. Fellow true freshman Towles appears headed for a redshirt season.

"Knowing the competitor that Jalen is, it doesn't surprise me at all that he's playing right now," DuBose said. "It wouldn't surprise me at all if he was a starter. Jalen is that kind of kid. You tell him he can't do something and he'll find a way to do it."

Alabama high school football is impressive, and Whitlow won a Class 6A state title there last season, but it's not the Southeastern Conference.Whitlow is still a freshman who is trying to find his way through Kentucky's cumbersome playbook.

"It's a lot to learn," Whitlow said Wednesday after he ran UK's first team in preparation for Saturday's game against No. 6 South Carolina.

All indications are that Smith and his injured shoulder will be healed enough to lead UK, but Whitlow is the likely backup against a South Carolina defensive front that is fifth in the nation in sacks.

"Learning the playbook, keeping up with the playbook and knowing what you're supposed to do and everything," Whitlow said. "That's been the toughest thing so far."

If anyone is capable of learning a complex playbook and bringing it to life in a short time it's Whitlow, DuBose said.

"Jalen not only works on the field, but he works in the film room," said DuBose, who won four state titles in his eight years at Prattville, including two as a head coach. He has coached a number of quarterbacks who went on to play for Division I teams, including Larry Smith of Vanderbilt, Justin Thomas of Georgia Tech and Casey Weston of Northern Illinois. "You just keep looking at where he's been and what he's done in his high school career and he's prepared himself to be in big ball games, the big moments."

Whitlow's numbers haven't screamed spectacular. In mop-up duty against Kent State, he had one run for 2 yards. Coming in late in the game at Florida last weekend, he completed one of six passes for 12 yards and ran one time for 3 yards.

As he trotted onto the field at The Swamp, Whitlow looked down and swallowed hard. He saw his foot was in UK's own end zone.

"That wasn't really good," he said. "I was just trying to get the ball out of the end zone. It was a pretty good experience, though. It helped me out a lot as far as confidence."

When asked how Whitlow did in practice on Wednesday, UK Coach Joker Phillips had a rather ho-hum response.

"It was practice," Phillips said. "He wasn't god-awful. He made some throws."

But Whitlow has shown signs of being special.

Coaches liked the way he performed in the two fall scrimmages.

"He moved the team and he scored," Phillips said. "He can move around a little bit better in the pocket and has more ability to escape — and you better be able to escape against the guys we're playing."

While his elusiveness is one of his best qualities, DuBose said some overlook Whitlow's ability to pass.

"He's a big, tall, strong kid who stays in the pocket," DuBose said. "He doesn't like to give up the pocket and run around. He's got a very strong arm. ... He throws an exceptional ball, a very catchable ball."

Some of his UK teammates have seen glimmers in Whitlow, who also starred at receiver for Prattville.

"I like his confidence," offensive lineman Larry Warford said. "He's really poised in the pocket. He doesn't panic much. He'll stay in the pocket and look for his receivers and when he has to move, he'll move. He's real fast, real quick laterally. I really like that about him."

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