Former Kentucky QB remembers Jared Lorenzen as hero, mentor, and friend
“All the records and stuff are awesome, all the nicknames are great, but I pray that the legacy he leaves is that the people … know what kind of man he was, what kind of joy he carried himself with, how positive he was, how he never allowed people to have a bad day. I hope that’s how people remember him, because that’s how I will remember him.”
Wednesday afternoon, when the news broke that Jared Lorenzen had passed away, way too soon at age 38, I thought back to the last time I talked to him. We talked about Patrick Towles.
Towles was Kentucky’s starting quarterback in the fall of 2015, and if the old adage is true that the favorite player for any team is the backup quarterback, then the starter can sometimes be one of the least popular.
Lorenzen was co-hosting a pregame radio show and had basically told Towles’ vociferous critics to calm down. I had heard the comments driving into the stadium and when I saw Lorenzen a couple hours later, I mentioned to Jared that I thought his points were well taken.
He looked at me thoughtfully for a minute and said, “You know what one of the biggest problems quarterbacks have is?”
I was intrigued. “What’s that?” I asked.
“Madden,” he said.
No, the video games named for the legendary commentator. Jared continued, “There are a ton of fans out there saying, ‘Hey, I throw for 500 yards and 10 touchdowns a game on Madden. It’s not that hard.’”
I nodded, possibly calculating my own career QB rating in video game world as I did so.
“It’s pretty hard,” Jared said.
Kind of like it’s pretty hard to say goodbye to a legend — particularly if you knew him not just as a star, but as a coach, and a friend.
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Like most Kentucky kids from the early 2000s, Patrick Towles grew up delighting in the mass of football possibilities that was Jared Lorenzen. “He carried himself with a certain aura,“ Towles remembered of Lorenzen. “He walked onto the field and you were like, ‘Here we go.’”
Of course, Towles wasn’t like most of those kids in the stands. The grandson of Baseball Hall of Famer Jim Bunning, Towles was always a talented athlete. Which meant that in Lorenzen’s game, sometimes it wasn’t the rifle-shot touchdown pass that caught Towles’s eye.
When asked for a couple of favorite plays from Lorenzen, Towles recalled the 32-yard scramble to open Lorenzen’s first game at UK in 2000. “He runs over a defensive back and throws his hands up to the Kentucky faithful …. You could always tell he had no fear.”
Thanks for the memories, J Lo. #22 pic.twitter.com/5gmEe3Bq4p
— Kentucky Football (@UKFootball) July 3, 2019
He also remembered a simple running play in an NFL preseason game in which Lorenzen didn’t even have the ball. Lorenzen executed the handoff, and when the back strung the play out wide, the fun started. Towles remembers, “Jared sprints 30 to 40 yards, trying to get a lead block …. You’re talking about a guy playing in the NFL, who has every reason NOT to do that …. He wanted to put his body on the line and try to get his guy an extra 4 to 5 yards.”
Towles contemplated a moment, “I think that’s kind of how he lived his life. I think his kids would tell you that. I think guys who played under him (as a coach) will tell you that. And guys who played with him would tell you that.”
From that kid watching the NFL game on television, Towles would gain first-person experience into Lorenzen’s character very soon.
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A few years later, instead of watching game on television, Towles was the starting quarterback as a sophomore at Fort Thomas Highlands High, where Lorenzen had starred just over a decade before. After a game that season, he saw a familiar figure approach. “Of course, I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s Jared Lorenzen.’” Lorenzen handed him a note and walked off. The note, still kept by Towles more than a decade later, offered encouragement and support — along with Lorenzen’s phone number. “I think I texted him that night,” Towles recently recalled on Twitter.
This is a note that Jared handed me after a high school game my sophomore year of high school. He didn’t say anything, just put it in my hand. Safe to say I called him, I think that night. What a man. Eternally grateful. pic.twitter.com/KL28bYfbE6
— Patrick Towles (@patty_ice_8) July 4, 2019
Their relationship took another step beyond occasional text messages after Highlands’s QB coach left the school after that season, and Towles suggested that Lorenzen might be available as a QB coach. Highland coach Dale Mueller thought the suggestion had merit and soon, Lorenzen was on the staff. Towles then played high school football with a coaching staff that included Lorenzen and NFL legend Cris Collinsworth.
Towles remembers Lorenzen’s overriding sense of fun, saying that everybody enjoyed him. A bevy of receivers, and even Towles’ younger brother, all enjoyed the joy de vivre that Lorenzen brought to the team daily. “He had a ton of fun with us,” Towles said. “People come out of the woodwork who maybe you don’t know they had a relationship with Jared, but he was just that kind of guy.”
But perhaps most of all, Towles remembers the game film sessions. “I would say 90% of players who watch film don’t know how to watch film,” he said. “They watch it like they watch a football game. Jared taught me to watch film like a coach and look for tendencies.”
Towles explains, “For Jared to sit with me and say, ‘Hey, look how this guy is angled, this is what he’s going to do,” I kind of got a head start. It definitely helped me in college.”
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Early in that time in college, Towles took over as Kentucky’s starting quarterback. Lorenzen’s days in pro football ended, but the relationship continued. Towles cites the friendship of Kentucky’s string of quarterbacks, noting how he keeps up with players from Shane Boyd to Maxwell Smith to current Wildcat Terry Wilson, who has suggested he might wear 22 in the 2019 opener as a tribute to Lorenzen.
“That was started by somebody,” Towles said. He made it clear who he believes that somebody was. “He really did a great job of keeping us all together …. Jared was kind of the spear-head of saying, this is a group of guys who have done what a lot of people haven’t done, and we can come together and support each other.”
Towles and Lorenzen stayed friends through the good times and the bad. Whether Towles was playing lights out on national television against then top-ranked Mississippi State or struggling against Florida, he knew Lorenzen was in his corner.
“When you play at that level, you keep your circle tight,” Towles said. “There are people who just tell you what you want to hear. But there are people you can trust. He was one of those guys. I didn’t have a lot of them — my family, a couple of teammates, and Jared.”
When Towles struggled and the calls came for his starting job, he acknowledges, “It would have been easy (to be critical), but he never did that.”
Towles graduated from Kentucky and ultimately transferred to Boston College for his senior season. Kentucky QB Stephen Johnson led the Wildcats to their first bowl since 2010 in that 2016 season, and Towles led BC to a 7-win season, including the school’s first bowl win since 2007.
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After the cheering fades, whether for Lorenzen or Towles, it was the relationships that remained.
Towles now hopes to hook on in the new XFL, having recently attended a combine in New Jersey. That failing, he would likely pursue coaching. Wherever he goes, those Kentucky ties and memories will go along.
In the fall of 2018, Towles was a campus missionary at LSU when Kentucky toppled Florida in The Swamp. Watching the game in a local pizzeria, when Kentucky won he began crying, thinking perhaps of his own two heartbreaking close losses to Florida, or maybe of Lorenzen’s lost pair of down-to-the-wire chances to end UK’s losing streak.
It isn’t easy, as Lorenzen told me back in 2015. Fortunately, friendship and mentoring are easier than quarterbacking in the SEC. It’s why Lorenzen’s zero bowl games and zero wins against Florida aren’t what people are talking about in the wake of his untimely death.
Assessing his former hero, then coach, then friend, Towles said, “All the records and stuff are awesome, all the nicknames are great, but I pray that the legacy he leaves is that the people … know what kind of man he was, what kind of joy he carried himself with, how positive he was, how he never allowed people to have a bad day. I hope that’s how people remember him, because that’s how I will remember him.”
Cover photo of Jared Lorenzen and Patrick Towles via @patty_ice_8