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By ASHLEY SCOBY
Jalen Whitlow is not your average Joe.
At least that’s what he – and fans – have come to believe after spring practice concluded with the Blue-White scrimmage Saturday. Whitlow completed 17 of 28 passes for 182 yards and 2 touchdowns to show the coaching staff and fans that he is right in the thick of the three-man quarterback race.
After a freshman campaign in which he started seven games and contributed 1,007 yards and 6 touchdowns (passing and rushing), Whitlow has a gained a quiet self-confidence.
“You’ve got to carry yourself with confidence,” he said. “Players carry themselves with confidence. You would never see Peyton Manning carrying himself like a regular Joe.”
The biggest difference between last season and the beginning of spring practice for Whitlow has been “maturity.” Nearing the completion of his second semester of college, he thinks he has grown up a lot, which has, in turn, helped him on the football field.
“Last fall I was an 18-year-old pretty much trying to grasp everything,” Whitlow said. “Everything’s moving so fast but now the college life is not a big thing anymore. Just coming in here and just focusing on football and school and just being grounded is the biggest thing.”
Offensive coordinator Neal Brown thought Whitlow has used his freshman year experience to turn into the solid quarterback that has emerged during the spring.
“I think he’s learning how to prepare,” Brown said. “Getting thrown to the fire, it does one of two things for you. It really damages you or you find out what it takes and you come back stronger than ever and I think that’s what happened.”
All of that maturity and experience helped Whitlow turn in a solid spring game performance, especially compared to the other quarterbacks. Max Smith, the original starter last season before going down with an injury, was 11-18 for 108 yards and a touchdown, while Whitlow’s classmate Patrick Towles went 6-14 for 65 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
Whitlow also rushed for 49 yards Saturday, showing that his speed and ability to get out of the pocket will also be factors in the quarterback race.
Running, however, isn’t something Whitlow particularly wants to do.
“I don’t like running,” he said. “I like passing plays. I want to throw the ball.”
Brown said Whitlow has “come along” as a passer so far in the spring, but that his athleticism is something the coaches will look at, if Whitlow were to be named the starter.
“At Troy…when we had a kid that was athletic, we ran the ball with the quarterback,” he said. “We’ve got to figure out who we are. What are our pieces to the puzzle? And then we’ll form a package around them.”
Forming that package is something that might be far away, but head coach Mark Stoops knows what Whitlow could potentially bring to the table.
“Jalen did a nice job,” he said. “He has that dimension to run the football and pull it down when something’s not there and create… I was impressed with the way Jalen played.”
Even if Whitlow is not named the starter come fall camp, UK knows it doesn’t just have an average Joe athlete wearing number 13.