By LARRY VAUGHT
Morgan Newton laughs when he thinks about this time last year when he would have been playing high school basketball and maybe finding time to watch a college football bowl game or two.
He even only watched the second half of KentuckyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s win over East Carolina in the Liberty Bowl.
Now heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s preparing to lead the Wildcats in the Dec. 27th matchup against Clemson in the Music City Bowl in Nashville after starting the final seven regular-season games following an injury to Mike Hartline.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Any practice is good for me. Anytime in the film room or meetings is good for me. I am learning a lot as we go. Things that happen in practice now, there is no way I could have done some of the same things at the beginning of the year,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Newton. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I am a better quarterback now than I was yesterday. That is the exciting thing. And hopefully I will be a better quarterback in the Music City Bowl than I was in any other game.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Even having Hartline trying to come back from his October knee injury and resuming practice has not been a distraction for Newton, who has already been named the bowl game starter by coach Rich Brooks.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“It is good having Mike back on the practice field. He has been around. I am not sure if it is a difference between when he is in the training room or out here because he always tries to help me,Ã¢â‚¬Â Newton said.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The big thing is I can learn from Mike every day. He has been around a long time along with Will (Fidler). Also spending time with coach (Joker) Phillips and coach (Randy) Sanders is very important for my development.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I try to think that I can push myself and am able to push myself and make myself better, but having guys like Mike and Will behind you that are going to push you as well and having a coach in your ear all practice, that helps you grow as a player.Ã¢â‚¬Â
DonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t worry about Newton, who is 62-for-112 passing for 608 yards and five scores, succumbing to the pressure of trying to lead UK to a historic fourth straight bowl win, either.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“To be honest, I do not really feel any pressure. There are a lot of people around here who have more pressure than what I do,Ã¢â‚¬Â Newton said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I watch a guy likeÃ‚Â (UK freshman basketball player) John Wall. If he doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t play the way he plays every day, then they are going to be on his back just like they are everybody else.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The pressure on me is not that bad. I feel more pressure with a big defensive linemen after me than what I put on myself.Ã¢â‚¬Â
He does acknowledge that the bowl game is once again a way for UK to jump start its 2010 season, but he also knows what the game means to KentuckyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s seniors.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“For the seniors, it is the end to a college career. Some will go on to NFL, but for a lot it is the end,Ã¢â‚¬Â Newton, who has rushed for two scores, said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“For freshmen and guys like myself, every day is the beginning for hopefully another brighter day. I think of this as being the last time to play with the seniors, but also getting ready and practicing with the guys I will play with the next couple of years.Ã¢â‚¬Â
NewtonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s season has had more ups and downs than a roller coaster at Kings Island. He thought he could start, then was on the verge of being redshirted. He led UK to big wins at Auburn and Georgia, but also lost home games to Mississippi State and Tennessee.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I figured it would be a matter of time before I would play and that is the way youÃ‚Â have to look at it or you will be surprised when you get the opportunity. I think I look back and there are a lot of small things that I would change to be in the position I am now,Ã¢â‚¬Â Newton said.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I have grown a lot as person and player the last couple of months. There are ups and downs, but thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s life. I just have to learn how to deal with it.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The main thing is making sure you take everything one play at a time and take advantage of every opportunity you are getting. That is what I have tried to do here. I just try to get better every day because thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s what I have to do to help us win this game.Ã¢â‚¬Â