By LARRY VAUGHT
LEXINGTON — Rather than move to wide receiver as he was asked to do by coach Mark Stoops and offensive coordinator Neal Brown, quarterback Jalen Whitlow has decided to transfer.
He started seven games as a true freshman n 2012 and started eight games last year in Stoops’ first season when UK went 2-10, the same record in had in 2012. He rushed for 663 yards and nine scores in two seasons and threw for 1,834 yards and 10 touchdowns.
“I’m never surprised. I know Jalen was disappointed. I was hopeful that he would give it a try, but I understand where he’s coming from,” said Brown after Wednesday’s practice. “He’s played quarterback most of his life. He feels like he is (one), so I understand and I’ll support him.”
Whitlow will finish the semester before transferring and having two years of eligibility remaining. Stoops said it would be between him and Whitlow what transfer restrictions, if any, are placed on the player.
“I appreciate the University of Kentucky and what the coaching staff and administration have done for me,” Whitlow said in a statement released by UK since he was not available to the media. “I also thank the community and the fan support I have received here. I wish the coaches and my teammates the best of luck.”
Stoops talked to Whitlow twice Tuesday about where UK was with the quarterback battle that includes sophomore Patrick Towles, redshirt freshman Reese Phillips and true freshman Drew Barker.
“He’s worked very hard for a long time, through high school and through college here, to help this university and be the best quarterback he can be. So I wish him the best of luck,” Stoops said. “We were in a situation where, once we told him where we’re working it out with quarterback, and asked him to play another position (and) if he’d be open to that, he decided that it’d be in his best interest to go somewhere else and play QB. That’s where his heart is. That’s what he wants to do. I understand that.”
Stoops said he had not asked Whitlow to change positions before discussing a possible move to receiver with him Tuesday.
“We’ve given him every opportunity to win the starting job. He deserved that right. He was in there. As you know, he played some good football for us at times last year,” Stoops said. “I’ve said this over and over again, it’s not all about the quarterback position. We needed to get better across the board. If Jalen was coming back here next year and being the quarterback and playing for us, we’d be a whole lot better than we were last year, just because the whole team should look better. It’s not just on him.”
Brown said he was “disappointed” Whitlow was leaving and called him a “great kid” on the team.
“Love the kid, appreciate everything he’s done for the program. I want to make sure that we understand that our lack of success last year, he only played a minor role in that,” Brown said. “We didn’t do enough as coaches and at other positions groups — I want to put that out there too, I want to make sure we’re clear on that.
“Respect his decision, understand, but again, disappointed. We had a couple different conversations yesterday. We made the suggestion about moving positions, and he wants to be a quarterback, which we definitely understand.”
Stoops said he knew moving to receiver would be a hard change for Whitlow.
“When you’re bundled up at the quarterback position, it’s a different position. Again, I don’t look at it like he’s throwing in the towel on us. I wish he was here,” Stoops said. “I wanted him to stay here and play for Kentucky in some position. But he wants to play quarterback, so we understand that.
“It’s hard, as you know. It’s hard to get four and five guys reps. Listen: I want to move on. I want there to be a clear-cut winner or a starter, or at least one and two, so we can start narrowing down reps. But one thing that I can be sure (of) is that I feel very fair that I gave Jalen a great shot to win that job.”
Both Stoops and Brown said the talk with Whitlow was not easy on anyone.
“It was tough. I have a lot of respect for Jalen. He’s a good kid. Worked extremely hard. He’s talented, and he does have the skill set to run the football, and throw it at times,” Stoops said. “He’s maybe not as consistent as we’d like to be in the pass game. But he’s a very good quarterback, and it is tough to have that conversation. I appreciate the work that he did.”
Brown said coaches know they have to make hard decisions as part of their job, but that doesn’t make it easier.
“It’s never fun. It’s not something I enjoy. It’s really one of the worst aspects. What I try to do … and what I did with Jalen … I told him I care about him, which I do. I want him to do what he thinks is best for him in regard to our team. But I also wanted to be up front and honest with him and I knew there would be a decision he had to make,” Brown said.
“I was hoping he’d make the decision to stay, but I do understand. And I appreciate his contributions. I really do. Last year was a tough year. It wouldn’t have mattered who played quarterback; it was going to be a difficult, difficult season. He weathered some things, some adversity, so I’m proud of him for that. But it is: it’s a difficult thing, for sure.”