Thursday, September 4, 2014

Towles, Kentucky Aim for New Heights

Kentucky Athletics Photo. Kentucky redshirt sophomore quarterback Patrick Towles sets up in Saturday's non-conference game against Tennessee-Martin. Towles completed 20-of-29 passes for 377 yards and a touchdown in the win. The Wildcats play host to the Ohio University Bobcats on Saturday at 3:30 p.m.

By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter

For many falls, there has been a predominant thought around the Bluegrass State.

“I can’t wait until basketball season.”

The University of Kentucky Wildcat football program has mostly lingered in the shadows of the national powerhouse men’s basketball program. Glimmers of hope are often met with quick falls.

Coaching great Paul “Bear” Bryant finished 60-23-5 during his time in Lexington just after World War II ended from 1946 to 1953. No head coach has stayed there longer than nine years since then and none have posted a winning record with the exception to Blanton Collier’s run of 41-36-3 between 1954 and 1961.

The Wildcats have not won a Southeast Conference championship since 1977 and have not had a winning season since going 7-6 in 2009. Rich Brooks led Kentucky to four straight bowl games between 2006 and 2009 before Joker Phillips took the Wildcats to another in 2010. But Kentucky had gone 9-27 in the three seasons since then.

Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles, a 2012 Highlands graduate, and his teammates are hoping to develop a new tradition at Lexington. The university administrators just put in a lot of money to upgrade the football facilities.

Things got off to a great start Saturday for Towles and company. Towles finished 20-of-29 for 377 yards and a touchdown in Kentucky’s 59-14 win over the University of Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks at Commonwealth Stadium. Towles ran for another touchdown.

“I am used to (dominating performances) when I play,” Towles said. “We hope to keep doing that and get on a little run. Ohio (University) is really disciplined. We want to do the same thing to Ohio that we did (Saturday). We think we can do it.”

Towles worked his way into the starting quarterback role in the offseason. He beat out three others for the job including freshman and Conner alum Drew Barker.

“I think he has a tremendous amount of pride in his home state and anytime you have the opportunity to be the starting quarterback for the state university, it’s special,” said Neal Brown, Kentucky Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach. “He grew up a fan. I think he is really excited about that and really grateful about that and he knows this is a prime position to be in. He worked really hard and got better. He looked himself in the mirror and realized he wasn’t good enough and what he was doing wasn’t good enough. He got through that and changed things and changed his fundamentals. That was the biggest change. He also changed his personality about how he prepared.”

Towles said his rise to the job took a path with some similarities at Highlands. Towles did not start on the freshman team in 2008. But a year later, Towles relieved an injured Will Bardo and led the Bluebirds to a 12-7 win over Cincinnati St. Xavier on national television. Towles started every game at quarterback until graduation from that point. Towles said he worked on his drops in the offseason.

“My arm has always been strong,” Towles said. “My big thing was footwork. My coaches really drilled that. They said that had to get done or I wasn’t going to be successful.”

Towles is not used to losing. The Bluebirds lost one time in 2010 when he was the starting quarterback. He helped Highlands to three straight state championships.

But things changed quickly when he came to Lexington. The Wildcats have yet to win an SEC game since he stepped on campus going a dismal 0-16 in conference play dating back to a 10-7 win over the Tennessee Volunteers on Nov. 26, 2011. Mark Stoops is entering his second season as head coach.

“When the coaches came here (in 2013), they knew it was a rebuilding situation,” Towles said. “You have to come in and change the culture. It feels good. We’re definitely on our way there.”

Towles takes snaps out of the shotgun in Brown’s “Air Raid” offense. The Bluebirds ran a similar spread formation.

“I got used to the offense. In high school, I was comfortable with (the shotgun),” Towles said. “It was not a fairly hard transition. The first year (under Phillips), we ran a pro-style offense. But with this offense, it became easier.”

Most importantly, Towles is glad to have a leadership role at Kentucky. He therefore welcomes the tough challenges in the SEC. He said they will do much better than last year’s 2-10 record.

“We’re taking one game at a time,” Towles said. “We want to win every single game we play. It’s hard to lead when you’re not the guy. I’m gaining credibility now as the starting quarterback.”

Towles did not list his grade-point average. But the Political Science major did say he’s doing well academically.

“I’ve learned to be time-efficient,” Towles said. “Academics is not an issue. I know what works and what doesn’t work. I don’t usually waste my time. I’ve learned that doesn’t work.”

Saturday’s home game against Ohio starts at 3:30 p.m. Kentucky then travels to Florida for a 7:30 p.m. contest. The Wildcats have not beaten the Gators since 1986.

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