For Jared Lorenzen, think of possibilities and plays (and not just Hefty Lefty nickname)
When word broke late Friday that former Kentucky QB Jared Lorenzen was hospitalized with a significant illness, the reaction was sadness, but not surprise. Those who followed Lorenzen’s numbers couldn’t be too surprised.
Start with the numbers he accrued in 4 seasons as a starter in Lexington: 10,354 passing yards, 78 touchdowns (with 12 more rushing scores for good measure), 528 yards in a single game, leading Kentucky to its first 7-win season in 18 years back in 2002.
But there was another number: 275, which was Lorenzen’s listed weight as a senior QB. And it was probably grossly underestimated.
The story with Lorenzen, 38, was always a mixture of his superb abilities — massive cannon of a throwing arm, surprisingly nimble feet, and a competitive will that would not stop — and his heft. He was the Hefty Lefty, after all.
Lorenzen was born on Valentine’s Day in 1981 at 13 pounds, 3 ounces, and he never seemed to tumble from the top of those child height/weight percentile charts. An immediately gifted athlete and the child of divorced parents, Lorenzen took to fast food and carb-heavy snacks like Little Debbie cakes with the same zeal that he took to throwing long passes and running over defensive backs.
Jared Lorenzen arrived at Kentucky as a highly touted quarterback from northern Kentucky power Fort Thomas Highlands who looked more like an offensive lineman. He was sometimes listed at 300 pounds, but he probably weighed even more. He did lose some weight on occasions, but the weight would always come back.
Lorenzen himself spoke candidly about his issues with food. After his time at Kentucky, a brief cameo with the New York Giants that included a Super Bowl ring, and several efforts to play in football’s various minor leagues, Lorenzen tipped the scales at over 500 pounds. ESPN chronicled his loss of approximately 100 pounds last year, filing stories that talked about him being “in a battle for his life.”
But Lorenzen is owed at least this much — remember his heft and his battle with food addiction, but remember him for more than pounds. That big, heavy quarterback was one hell of a quarterback.
Anointed UK’s starter as a redshirt freshman by coach Hal Mumme in 2000, Lorenzen’s first offensive play from scrimmage had him bootlegging and taking off on an outside run of 32 yards, running by a few defenders and over a couple others. Yes, he was huge, but he was nimble, hopping around like a newer Babe Ruth on some impossibly undersized ankles and feet. Later that season, he passed for 528 yards against Georgia, at one point taking on the pass rush and flipping a blind, behind the back completion to running back Derek Homer.
At his best, Lorenzen represented possibility. Sure, he was huge, but those skills overcame the fact that he didn’t exactly look like a quarterback. There was a path to being a quarterback that didn’t require a body from central casting. There’s no count on how many grade school offensive linemen across Kentucky and the rest of the SEC watched him play and then went into the backyard, throwing tight spirals and dreaming of passing instead of blocking. A total of those dreamers Lorenzen inspired would also be a big number worth remembering.
At Kentucky, Lorenzen’s starting era was sandwiched between those of Tim Couch and Andre Woodson, and he had a stronger arm than either. His left-handed darts probably busted a rib or two on his receivers. He led Kentucky to a 7-win season in 2002, but even his moments of triumph, like leading UK down the field for a defining victory against LSU that season, could disappear in smoke, or in a horrendously defended Hail Mary that ended in LSU victory. He never played in a bowl game, as that lone winning season was compromised with NCAA sanctions for cheating under the regime of former coach Mumme.
But the competitive spirit of Lorenzen was astounding. In his senior season of 2003, playing for his third UK head coach, ESPN’s cameras caught Lorenzen telling UK fans who were leaving early when the Wildcats trailed Arkansas, “Y’all are gonna miss a hell of a game.”
He was right. He led UK back to tie Arkansas with a pair of second-half TD tosses. The game went to overtime, and as the overtimes continued, players slowed and cramped up and just wore out. But not Lorenzen. The biggest man on the field amassed a rushing touchdown in the 4th overtime. And the 5th. And the 6th. In the 7th overtime, on Kentucky’s final play, there was Lorenzen, diving, lunging for the goal line, trying to pull out one final miracle before the Arkansas defense turned him away.
Jared Lorenzen is remembered by many fans as a “What might have been?” His inability to control his battle with food doubtlessly hurt his brief NFL career, and as he has not hesitated to make clear, has impacted all areas of his life. But as Lorenzen battles for his life, do him the favor of remembering more than the pounds. Remember the plays and the spirit of the player, and the possibility he represented for anybody who didn’t fit in the 6-4, 210-pound prototype of quarterbacks.
Or else, you’re missing a hell of a career and a life.