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By LARRY VAUGHT
If the adversity he encountered on the field last year has bothered Kentucky senior quarterback Morgan Newton, he has not let it show.
“I think he has handled it pretty well. I know it is tough when you have an injury like that and it takes you out of what you want to do and gives you a setback. He has handled it maturely and professionally,” said senior center Matt Smith. “He is not going around complaining about anything or saying this or that about the team or taking down anybody else.”
Newton started eight games in 2009 after starter Mike Hartline was hurt and went 5-3. He was Hartline’s backup in 2010 and got a chance to start the BBVA Compass Bowl against Pittsburgh after Hartline was suspended. Kentucky lost that game and then last season Newton was part of UK’s ineffective offense until he hurt both his shoulder and foot late in the season and was replaced by sophomore Maxwell Smith.
In his career, he’s thrown for 1,764 yards and 14 touchdowns by completing 183 of 352 passes. He’s also rushed for 452 yards and four scores. But last season he was only 83 of 174 passing for 793 yards with seven interceptions and eight touchdowns. He ranked ninth in the Southeastern Conference completion percentage (47.7), passing yards per attempt (4.6) and passing efficiency rating (93.1).
“Him and Maxwell are good friends and the competition is going to be great (to see who starts). He has worked hard this summer to get back to where he can be and throw the ball,” Smith said. “He is not trying to push anything because he knows how important this season will be to him. But Morgan is a great guy and definitely takes an approach to this game that we need.”
Kentucky coach Joker Phillips continues to insist that Smith goes into preseason camp that starts Aug. 3 as the starter but that Newton along with freshmen Patrick Towles and Jalen Whitlow will have a chance to compete for the starting job.
“Physically, he looks as good as he has ever looked. He has trimmed down some. I know in May I was coming in about 6 o’clock and Morgan was waiting at the door for somebody to let him in,” Phillips said. “He is out there working with our trainers and doing all those things. I think that has helped him mentally.
“He has been to the Manning Academy working with those guys again. I think that helps him being around those guys and other college and NFL quarterbacks. Just understanding how to be a leader. I think Morgan is a leader, but sometimes I don’t know if he knows how to be a leader and take charge of things. That is one of the things he needs to be better this year to compete for this job.”
Newton has been nominated for the American Football Coaches Association Good Works Team® that recognizes a select group of college football players committed to making a difference in their communities.
He has over 50 volunteer hours in activities such as “Read Across America” where he read books to children at a local mall and serving as a volunteer reader for Black History Month at a local book store. He participated in Christian Appalachian Pike County Project by loading furniture on to moving trucks to help flood victims in Pikeville.
He has spoke at elementary schools about bullying and volunteered at Lexington’s George Privett Center, a recovery center for men addicted to drugs and alcohol. He has been a celebrity guest for UK’s largest student-run philanthropy, Dance Blue. He has volunteered for Big Blue U and helped UK freshmen move into their dorm. Newton has also delivered food for God’s Pantry BackPack Program.
The senior quarterback is only one course short — it was not offered during the summer — of graduating and plans to eventually enroll in law school.
“I don’t know worry about Morgan. He is a mentally tough kid. He gets it. He is a smart kid. He is one of those guys on our team that made a 4.0 (grade-point average last semester),” Phillips said. “He understands the game. His dad played college football. He has been around great players his dad played with. All that helps him understand how to deal with these type situations.”