By LARRY VAUGHT
He was projected not only as a potential starting quarterback, but also the possible key to Kentucky having a fourth straight winning season.
Morgan Newton, IndianaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Mr. Football last year, surprised many last year when he picked Kentucky over numerous other big-time football schools. However, many are also surprised that not only is Newton not playing, but also could be redshirted.
Yet if Newton is perturbed, he certainly doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t show it.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Life is treating me pretty well. I am still here, still out working, still picking up things and learning as much as I can,Ã¢â‚¬Â the Kentucky freshman said.
Newton says thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s no pressure to succeed bothering him.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I am still waking up in the morning and feeling good and playing football. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s pretty awesome. I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t feel much pressure. I am in my first year. I have only been here a couple of months. I am still picking up things and learning as much as I can and enjoying the process,Ã¢â‚¬Â Newton said.
Senior linebacker Micah Johnson says that is what Newton should be doing Ã¢â‚¬â€ and he should know. Johnson was Kentucky coach Rich BrooksÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ first high-profile recruit four years ago, and he struggled with the hype and expectations when he wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t an instant star.
Johnson says his advice to Newton is simple.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Just to keep all in context. You are coming from high school to college and the Southeastern Conference. Keep your confidence. Give yourself time to grow or it will be very frustrating to yourself,Ã¢â‚¬Â Johnson said.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“It got very frustrating to me when things didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t pan out the way I expected, but I continued to improve and tried to be the best. It will pan out for him the same way because heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a great player or he would not have been in the position he was coming out of high school.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Of course, Johnson knows it is easier to take that advice than it is to follow it.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“It is definitely easier said than done. It can get frustrating. I can say that. He can always talk to me, or I have a brother (senior offensive lineman Christian Johnson) he can talk to. I can make it easier for him because, believe me, I know what he is going through,Ã¢â‚¬Â Johnson said.
Newton admits it has been harder to pick up all the nuances of KentuckyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s offense than he originally thought it might be.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t necessarily know if it is struggling to learn. A lot of things come with experience and actually being out there and doing it. Day after day you just pick up as much as you can and learn as much as you can,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“It definitely is not easy. Being out here with these guys, everybody is good and thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a lot to learn. But I am getting better every day.
What about the possibility of being redshirted?
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Right now I am just thinking about competing as much as I can. If the redshirt thing comes, then we will work with that. Right now I am thinking about competing for No. 2 spot and trying to keep learning,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said.
Newton says he knows what he must do to unseat Will Fidler as the backup to Mike Hartline.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“It is just consistency. Coming in every day and making sure you are consistent. In time, that wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be too tough to do. For now, I just have be more consistent daily and be a leader,Ã¢â‚¬Â Newton said.
He hasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t been surprised by HartlineÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s play.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Watching last year, you could tell he was a great player and solid leader. Coming here, you just gain more respect for the things he does on the field,Ã¢â‚¬Â Newton said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“You can learn from everybody, but especially Mike because he has been in this offense a few years. You try to pick up as much.Ã¢â‚¬Â
HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s also been encouraged the overall talent in his recruiting class.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“You can see a lot of people that are already contributing even in the first game. There are a lot of redshirt guys who will help the team, too, but it is really a good freshman class. A lot of guys want to work hard and a lot of good things will come out of what our class can do,Ã¢â‚¬Â Newton said.
ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s another reason heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s remained upbeat.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“There are positives and negatives to about everything. There are ups and downs, highs and lows. You have to manage all of it. I am feeling pretty good. I love being out here, going to class and enjoying football season. I am having a great time every day,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said.