UK develops quarterback tree

In UK head football coach Joker Phillips’ time as a coordinator and head coach in the Bluegrass, he has watched as quarterbacks from Andre Woodson to Mike Hartline and now Morgan Newton develop at the position and grow as football players right before his eyes. But more special than their play on the field is the quarterback tree that has began to develop off of the field.

In 2007, Woodson quarterbacked the Cats to victories over No. 9 Louisville and then later over No. 1 and eventual national champion LSU. It was Woodson’s third year as the starting quarterback, and his play that season earned him a selection in the NFL draft that April.

While Woodson tried his hand at professional football, Hartline took over as the starting quarterback at UK for the next three seasons.

Now Newton takes over the offense in his junior year. With a handful of starts under his belt, including starts in each of UK’s last two bowl appearances, Newton is not a novice at the position. But as he prepares for his first season as the Cats’s outright starter at the position, he has received some help in the form of Woodson, this time as a coach.

Woodson returned to UK this spring to finish the degree he set aside in favor of professional football four years ago. But he is back as a special assistant on Phillips’ staff mentoring and tutoring Newton.

“He has just been helping me on a lot of things,” Newton said. “Drops and ball placement and stuff like that, and just having your eyes in the right place and just working on those things have helped.”

Behind Newton on the depth chart sits UK’s only other scholarship quarterback, grayshirt freshman Maxwell Smith. Just as Woodson has begun to tutor Newton at the quarterback position, Newton has begun to tutor Smith and prepare him to be the next leader of Phillips’ offense when Newton’s time at UK comes to an end.

“It’s great having Max, being able to help him,” Newton said. “When I came in, it was always a competition and sometimes you lost track of that everybody is trying to get better. So anything I can help Max with I want to help him out and it makes us both better players.”

The person benefiting the most from this mentoring chain is Newton, who has been given the ability to lead while still having coaches like Woodson and Phillips helping him along the way.

As Newton begins to make plays on the practice field as the leader of the offense, he has gained confidence and carried himself differently with the team. Meanwhile, Smith stands on the sideline trying to replicate every move Newton makes with the second-team.

“You’ve seen our quarterbacks grow up here and how they change,” Phillips said. “Morgan is playing with a lot more confidence, he has some swag to him, and he’s starting to feel good about his performance because he’s been making plays.

“And thats what happens, you begin making plays and you start feeling a little better about yourself and a little bit about the offense, you start studying the offense a little bit more. We just need Morgan to continue to grow in the position.”