Mark Story

Derek Smith on glory days he shared with Jared Lorenzen: ‘We had something special’

In its history, Kentucky high school sports has had few more lethal duos than the late-1990s pairing of Jared Lorenzen and Derek Smith at Fort Thomas Highlands.

With multi-sports stars Lorenzen and Smith, the Bluebirds won two Class 3A state football crowns and played in three straight basketball Sweet Sixteens.

“People don’t remember it, but Jared and I had something special going in baseball, too,” Smith said Wednesday over the phone. “But after two years (of high school), we gave that up to concentrate on the other two (sports).”

Lorenzen, 38, the former University of Kentucky and New York Giants quarterback who had long battled excess weight, died Wednesday after dealing with heart and kidney problems plus an infection.

Before Lorenzen became a UK folk hero as the “Hefty Lefty” and “The Round Mound of Touchdown,” he and Smith were the cornerstones of an epic sports era at Highlands.

Lorenzen Smith football.JPG
Before each came to the University of Kentucky on football scholarships, Derek Smith, left, and Jared Lorenzen helped Fort Thomas Highlands win Class 3A state championships in 1996 and 1998. JAHI CHIKWENDIU LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER

Smith says the duo first played together as fifth graders in junior pro basketball. “We started out playing against each other,” Smith recalls. “Then they combined us to sort of form a ‘super team.’”

Once they got to high school, the fun really got rolling. Smith started at tight end on Highlands’ 1996 and ‘98 football state champs. As a senior, he made First Team All-State.

The backup QB on the 1996 state championship squad, Lorenzen produced one of the great individual seasons ever by a Kentucky high school quarterback in 1998 as the Bluebirds’ starter.

Lorenzen threw for 3,392 yards and 45 touchdowns while completing 62.6 percent of his passes; ran for 904 yards and 15 TDs; and earned Mr. Football honors after leading Highlands (15-0) to an undefeated state crown.

Blessed with a bazooka where his left arm was supposed to be, Lorenzen was capable of jaw-dropping throws. In the 1998 3A state title game vs. Waggener, he unleashed a missile that screamed 65 yards on a dead-straight line into the end zone.

It missed going for a touchdown pass by inches and fell incomplete. It nevertheless remains one of the most impressive throws I’ve seen made by a quarterback at any level of football.

“Whatever people saw from Jared during games, they have no idea the things we saw him do just goofing around in practices,” Smith said. “He’d get down on one knee and make crazy throws. The guy was an amazing athlete.”

In basketball, the 6-foot-6, 235-pound Smith and 6-foot-4, 240-pound Lorenzen helped Highlands become the first team in more than two decades (Holmes 1976-78) to win three straight 9th Region titles.

As sophomores in 1997, they led the Bluebirds on an unanticipated run to the state finals, ousting defending state champion Paintsville in the semifinals. One victory from the state championship, Highlands fell to Eastern 71-59.

In 1998, eventual state champion Scott County eliminated Lorenzen, Smith and Highlands in the state tournament quarterfinals.

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Derek Smith (35) went up for a shot while his Fort Thomas Highlands' teammate Jared Lorenzen (34) looked on during the Bluebirds' 62-60 loss to Henderson County in the opening round of the 1999 Boys' Sweet Sixteen at Rupp Arena. FRANK ANDERS0N LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER

As seniors, Lorenzen and Smith got Highlands back to Rupp Arena one more time, but the Bluebirds fell to Henderson County by two points in the opening round.

In their final high school game, Smith went for 31 points and 13 rebounds, Lorenzen for 17 points and 13 boards.

Afterward, Lorenzen told the media that he and Smith would still be lamenting the loss to Eastern in the 1997 state finals when they were both 50 years old.

This will sound strange to say about the University of Kentucky’s all-time career passing leader (10,354 yards) and a quarterback with a Super Bowl ring from his time as Eli Manning’s backup, but if you did not see Lorenzen in high school — when his weight was below 250 — you did not see him at his most athletic.

“He was strong, he had great feet, and the strength in his arm spoke for itself,” says John Messmer, who coached Lorenzen and Smith in basketball at Highlands.

As a basketball player, Messmer says Lorenzen was content to let Smith (2,299 career points) carry the scoring load while he concentrated on doing the less noticed things that helped produce victories.

“Jared was a great rebounder and a really, really good passer,” Messmer says. “He’d take the ball out of the net, and ‘fire a bomb’ down court, often to Smith, to score. Those same two kids connected in the same way on the football field a whole lot of times, too.”

Both Lorenzen and Smith signed football scholarships with Hal Mumme at Kentucky.

After redshirting in 1999, Lorenzen was UK’s starting quarterback for three-and-a-half seasons. In Lorenzen’s first year as Kentucky’s starter, 2000, Smith was UK’s leading receiver (50 catches for 716 yards and five touchdowns).

Ultimately, Smith completed his college eligibility playing basketball, his true love, at Northern Kentucky University. Lorenzen’s most successful UK team was in 2002, when the Wildcats went 7-5 under Guy Morriss.

“We were together so long in sports,” Smith says. “But my best memories of Jared are always going to be off the field. He cared about other people.”

A few months back, Smith, 38, says he, Lorenzen and other teammates from their glory days at Highlands congregated at a northern Kentucky eatery for a reunion that included former Highlands football coach Dale Mueller.

“We had no idea then that it would be our last chance all to be together,” Smith said, his voice cracking. “Jared really enjoyed that. I’m so glad we did that.”

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Mark Story has worked in the Lexington Herald-Leader sports department since Aug. 27, 1990, and has been a Herald-Leader sports columnist since 2001. I have covered every Kentucky-Louisville football game since 1994, every UK-U of L basketball game but three since 1996-97 and every Kentucky Derby since 1994.
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