John Clay

Someone you had to see to believe, Jared Lorenzen was one of a kind

Jared Lorenzen got a pat on the head from wide receiver Derek Abney after UK beat Ohio University on Homecoming in 2003.
Jared Lorenzen got a pat on the head from wide receiver Derek Abney after UK beat Ohio University on Homecoming in 2003. LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER

Jared Lorenzen captured the hearts of Kentucky football fans with the amazing things he did in games for a man his size, but the time to watch him was his first season, there on the practice field.

In 1999, his redshirt year, Lorenzen was the quarterback for the scout team that prepared the defense for Saturday’s opponent. In those pre-internet days, the media could attend practice. And no matter how diligently you tried to focus on the guys who were actually going to play on Saturday, you couldn’t help watch this 18-year-old, 300-plus-pound quarterback throwing the football as hard as he could all over the yard.

“I have a scar between my middle and third finger” to prove it, laughed Derek Abney on Wednesday.

Jared Lorenzen had a cannon for an arm. And those days, as a raw, untamed rookie, he used it, firing rockets off helmets, off shoulder pads, off defenders and receivers alike. And when he would hit one, when he would connect with a receiver, it was a sight to behold.

“He had so much talent,” said Abney, who caught 197 passes during his time (2000-03) as a receiver at UK and now lives in Charleston, South Carolina.

A look at beloved Kentucky quarterback Jared Lorenzen through the years. Lorenzen died at the age of 38 on July 3, 2019. Music:

Lorenzen also had his “internal demons” as Abney called them. And they played out for all to see. It’s hard to hide a weight problem. And, born 13 pounds, 3 ounces on Valentine’s Day 1981, Lorenzen battled that problem from Fort Thomas Highlands High School to UK to the NFL and beyond, right up until Wednesday when he passed away at the (much too young) age of 38.

On the football field, or the basketball court, he was a freak of nature, a man who had no business doing what he could do, much less do it well. If Charles Barkley was basketball’s “Round Mound of Rebound” then Lorenzen was “The Pillsbury Throwboy,” the “Hefty Lefty.”

“Jared was such a unique person in that he was so relatable to everybody,” said Abney, who roomed with Lorenzen his freshman year. “I think obviously that had to do with his size.”

And, boy, what he could do at that size. As a high school basketball player, Lorenzen helped Highlands to three consecutive (1997-99) Boys’ State Tournament appearances including the ’97 finals. Where other colleges told Lorenzen he’d have to shift to another position, Hal Mumme and his Air Raid welcomed him to Kentucky as a quarterback. A 6-foot-4, 285-pound (or better) quarterback.

Kentucky’s first play of Lorenzen’s first start, against archrival Louisville at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, UK’s new quarterback didn’t throw a deep ball, or a crossing pattern or even a bubble screen. To everyone’s astonishment, including that of the opposing Cardinals, the Hefty Lefty took off on a bootleg around end that gained 32 yards. A cult hero was born.

Alas, UK would lose 40-34 in overtime that rainy night. Such was the story of his college career. The wheels came off that season and soon Mumme was gone. Guy Morriss followed and Rich Brooks after that. By the time Lorenzen graduated he had played for three different head coaches in three different offenses and still became the school’s all-time leading passer with 10,354 yards and 78 touchdowns, compared to 41 interceptions.

Undrafted, he caught on with the NFL’s New York Giants, where he earned a Super Bowl ring as Eli Manning’s backup the 2007 season. When that ended, he bounced around, playing minor league and arena league football, continuing to struggle with his weight, taking the fight public for an ESPN documentary.

Just as you couldn’t take your eyes off of him as a quarterback, you couldn’t help rooting for him, right down to the end.

“Everybody knew, including Jared, it was not in his best interest to be as big as he was,” Abney said. “But he was such a nice person. He was special. And it’s so sad that someone that special was taken from us from something a lot of people battle. And Jared did, too.”

Someone UK fans will never forget.

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John Clay is a sports columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader. A native of Central Kentucky, he covered UK football from 1987 until being named sports columnist in 2000. He has covered 20 Final Fours and 37 consecutive Kentucky Derbys.
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