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'08 Kentucky Football: Quarterbacks


This is the final installment of a series of posts breaking down the '08 football 'Cats.  I hope you have found the overviews informative, and entertaining to read.  Today we break down the quarterbacks.

Kentucky football fans have been spoiled recently with great quarterback play, but with the matriculation of André Woodson to the NFL, it's time to welcome a new starter, and an intriguing group of back-ups.  Expectations for this group of quarterbacks varies, depending on who one talks to, but if one listens to Rich Brooks and Joker Phillips the impression given is one of anticipated excellence at the position.  Of course, time will tell us whether that anticipation is warranted, or if Brooks and Phillips are being exorbitant in their hope.

Actually, having high expectations is a crucial part of coaching.  Demanding a strong work ethic, and demanding results through ones coaching is the only way to build and develop greatness.  Although greatness may not be immediately apparent to the untrained eye, a coaches ability to recognize players who aspire to be extraordinary, and can back up their aspirations with talent, desire, and an unparalleled work ethic, is the key to building what Kentucky football fans have been waiting patiently on for decades; a consistent winner.  If the coaches don't expect greatness you can bet your season tickets the players won't either.

UK's quarterback coach Randy Sanders is about to find out why Kentucky is paying him so handsomely.  Sanders has received kudos from every direction for his work with Woodson, but he's about to find out that "the mail never stops."  He's been given the keys to more than a few fixer-uppers on Kentucky's roster this year, and his mechanic skills are being put through the paces.  Can he produce a Cadillac, can he demand a Cadillac?  The prospects are as follows:

The Presumptive Starter 

Mike Hartline 6'6", 204 lb sophomore --  Hartline has appeared in four games for UK, going 4 for 6, for 34 yards and one interception.  The Canton, Ohio native came to UK with an impressive resume'; his senior year in high school Hartline threw for 1,523 yards and six touchdowns, while rushing for 533 yards and 12 more touchdowns.  His junior year he threw for 2,405 yards and 16 touchdowns, while rushing for 353 yards and eight touchdowns.  He was named an All-America by PrepStar, and rated the #31 pro-style quarterback by Rivals.  He was also rated one of the top-40 prospects in the state of Ohio.  SuperPrep rated him one of the top-125 prospects in the six state Midwest area.  In his senior year Hartline participated in the state championship finals in the 300 meter hurdles, high jump, and 4x400 relay.  Hartline's brother, Brian, is a receiver at Ohio State ( we won't hold that against him ).

Hartline brings size, athleticism, and mobility to the quarterback position.  He also brings a terrific attitude about what is expected from him from a leadership standpoint:

"Personally trying to get one-on-one time with the guys and make it seem like more than football.  Creating friendships and making it comfortable for the new guys to come in.  For the older guys, making it seem like I want to be here and I want to be the guy who wants to run the show this year.  The older guys want to see confidence, and that is the one big thing that I'm trying to show.  I think I do have confidence.  I think I have a lot of it and I'm only going to continue to build on it.  Now I'm trying to build on trust, being on time, reliability, working with people and not being afraid to put in some extra time."

At this point Hartline's effectiveness at the collegiate level is a mystery.  He certainly has the physical tools to be a great college quarterback, but learning "on-the-job" is a difficult prospect, especially in the SEC.  His ability to mentally deal with setbacks will go a long way in determining his long-term success, but he certainly talks a good game, and he'll be given every opportunity to succeed.

Coach Brooks is optimistic about Hartline's development, so my optimism is also high for Hartline being successful:

"He's a tough guy.  He's mobile.  For the most part he makes really good decisions.  That hopefully will continue to improve with more reps.  I look forward to him to continue developing his accuracy, particularly on the deep ball."

The Back-ups

Will Fidler 6'4", 216 lb sophomore -- The Henderson County graduate played very well in the spring; he found the mark on a 52 yard touchdown pass to E.J. Adams in a spring scrimmage, and in the Blue-White game he found Dicky Lyons for a 57 yard touchdown.  He has played in one varsity game ( Kent St. ).  Fidler also came to UK a very heralded prospect; he was named an All-America by PrepStar.  He is a two-time winner ( junior and senior years ) of the Roy Kidd Award, which is given to the Class 4A Player of the Year in Kentucky.  He is fourth all-time in Kentucky high school history with 9,395 yards passing yards.  He also threw for 92 touchdowns in his illustrious high school career.  His senior year Fidler threw for 2,288 yards and 25 touchdowns.  American Football Monthly named him Kentucky's Player of the Year in his junior year after he threw for 4,050 yards and 45 touchdowns.  He was rated a top-25 pro-style quarterback by Rivals.  Rivals also rated him the #8 prospect in the state of Kentucky.  SuperPep rated him the #11 prospect in Kentucky.  Fidler's uncle, George Petitgout, played football at Penn St., and his cousin Luke Petitgout played at Notre Dame ( he currently plays in the NFL for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ).  His three brothers played football at Southern Illinois, with one of those brothers also playing at Alabama ( again, we won't hold that against him ).

Fidler has a strong arm, and as I stated above, he played well in the spring, but he hasn't come close to unseating Hartline as the starter.  It is good, though, to have a competent back-up who is physically able to perform the job.  I suspect he may see some action this year, especially in the early part of the season, which will serve as valuable experience as he goes forward.

Randall Cobb 5'11", 185 lb freshman -- Cobb was Tennessee's Class 2A Mr. Football.  He also won two consecutive state titles as quarterback of Alcoa High School.  As a senior he completed 89 of 139 passes ( 64% ) for 1,765 yards and 22 touchdowns ( he only threw two interceptions ), he also rushed for 793 yards and 13 touchdowns.  His junior year he threw for 1,893 yards and 25 touchdowns.  He was rated a top-11 prospect in Tennessee by the Orlando Sentinel, and a top-20 prospect by Rivals.  He competed in the 100 and 200 meters, as well as the 4x100 and 4x200 relays in high school.  He finished third in the state his senior year in the 100 meters ( 10.75 seconds ).  He's been clocked at 21.89 seconds in the 200 meters ( now that's sustained speed ).  Cobb was a high school teammate of UK receiver Kyrus Lanxter. 

Coming into fall practice Cobb was considered by most to be a sure bet to play receiver this year, but he won Brooks over early as a quarterback prospect.  After Cobb's first full gear practice the head coach had this to say about the superb athlete:

"He didn't look flustered; he stood in there and made the good throws, made a run or two ... He looked very good."

Since that time Cobb has spent 90% of his time practicing at the quarterback position, which can be looked at as being both good, and bad; considering how thin UK is at the receiver spot, having an athlete of his extreme talent would certainly bolster that position, but when ones performance dictates a look at the quarterback position, Brooks, Phillips, and Sanders have no choice.

The buzz is that Cobb is a once in a millennium type of player who will see lots of game action.  Where on the field will he line up?  At this point we don't know, but we do know that he is an extraordinary athlete who Brooks can't afford to let sit.  He has already been announced as the back-up return man ( to Dicky Lyons ), and Brooks has recently stated that Cobb would be a nice change of pace at the quarterback spot if Hartline isn't "moving the team".

Take that Phil!

The Other Freshman 

DeAunte Mason 6'3", 215 lbs -- Mason was Tennessee's Class 3A Mr. Football.  The Pearl-Cohn product passed for 2,375 yards and rushed for 1,052 more, scoring a combined 35 touchdowns.  As a junior he threw for almost 2,000 yards and 19 touchdowns, while rushing for 906 yards and 15 touchdowns.  He was the Nashville Metro Player of the Year.  He was rated a top-20 prospect in Tennessee by Rivals.  Mason is also a track star; he was part of the 4x200 relay team which won the state championship his junior year.

Another superb athlete.  If injuries become an issue at quarterback, Mason may see some playing time, if not, I would expect that he will redshirt this year.  A future position switch is also a possiblity.

Matt Roark 6'6", 190 lbs -- Roark was a two-time Cobb County ( GA ) Player of the Year.  He didn't begin playing quarterback until early in his junior year, but he immediately excelled at the position.  In his 18 career quarterback starts he ran and passed for a combined 54 touchdowns.  He senior year he completed 72.1% of his passes ( 98 - 136 ), for 1,552 yards and 15 touchdowns.  He rushed for 1,010 yards and 12 touchdowns.  Roark was born in Lexington, and his father Ray Gover played at UK from '85-'88. Puzzling fact: According to the UK Media Guide his last named is pronounced "RO - ark", but the Herald-Leader states that his name is pronounced "RORK". 

Roark continues the recent trend of recruiting dual-threat quarterbacks.  As with Mason, unless injuries become an issue, I would think that he will redshirt this year.  As with Mason, a position switch is possible ( even likely for Roark ), to receiver

Final Analysis

Only a month ago my hope was for the quarterback position to not hurt UK's chance at victory; don't turn the ball over, make accurate short passes, with the occasional deep ball to keep the defense honest.  With experience in short supply, expecting more would be expecting too much, or so I thought. 

When it was suggested to Joker Phillips by an unknowing reporter that Mike Hartline couldn't be expected to run the offense like André Woodson, Joker's response shook me into his world of "demanding greatness":

"I do expect him to run it like André.  We've got to put those expectations on him.  You don't say that a kid can't do something.  We're doing the exact same thing in practice that we were doing when André was here.  We haven't tweaked our offense because we've go a new quarterback.  We're running the same plays.  We expect him to make all the throws, and so far he's done it.  He's been as sharp as I've ever seen him the first few days of practice."

Joker imposing his will; that's how one coaches greatness into a player. 

Of course, effecting the ability of the quarterback to be his best are his receivers, and UK has a serious lack of experience at wide-out.  But, if Brooks and Phillip's attitude toward the quarterback growth arc is any indication, I expect that the receiving corps will be on the receiving end of high expectations also; no excuses, not even youth.  If a coach expects and demands greatness from one group of players, it only stands to reason that they will expect the same from another group cursed with the same affliction; inexperience.

Mike Hartline seems to be shrugging off youth, and embracing the challenge.  When asked about being ready for the Louisville game, he had this to say:

"I need to worry about myself getting mentally ready for this game and acting like I have been in this position before.  I need to make it seem like I'm not a rookie and never played, I need to get my mind right to where it is just natural."

He sounds like a young man who is buying what Brooks and the staff are selling.

Will demanding greatness, result in greatness?  I expect time needs to be given in order to accurately answer that query.  

My advice; continue to believe.

Trivia Question 

Which former UK quarterback holds the record for the most rushing yards in a single season by a quarterback?

Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats!