This shouldn’t be happening. Not now. Not today.
Jared Lorenzen was only 38. His daughter Taylar and son Tayden will say goodbye to him one last time at funeral services Wednesday in northern Kentucky. No kid should be robbed of a parent at those tender ages. And his mom and dad are suffering the indescribable pain of having to bury a child.
Family, fans and friends – including, no doubt, scores of former teammates – will gather around him one last time. Those same people watched him build a legacy that will last as long as they play football at the University of Kentucky.
The numbers have flashed by these past few days as obituaries poured forth from so many who witnessed his incredible athletic feats. Maybe the stats will last forever; maybe they won’t but you know this: They’re meaningless.
The number that mattered the most is what took charge of his life. In a cruel bit of irony, Jared’s weight, combined with the yardage and touchdowns he piled up as a Wildcat, is what made him unique. And it’s what conspired to take him, far too soon.
It’s a battle he seemed to be winning, having dropped nearly 100 pounds over the past few months as he gave himself over to a different lifestyle, one being documented on camera.
Most people would rather wage that war in private. Not Jared. He was the center of attention wherever he went and he always seemed comfortable with that. It’s part of what came with being blessed with phenomenal athletic ability… and cursed with an appetite he just couldn’t control, until it was too late.
Athletes are often betrayed by their bodies. A knee, an ankle, a shoulder, an elbow – they give out, sending the player to the training room and rehabilitation. Jared’s body gave him so much and then took it away.
Football, basketball, baseball – no matter what the sport, no matter what level, he was always the biggest and usually the best, although on his own Highlands High School basketball team he was second fiddle to teammate Derek Smith. Still, he was good enough to be named second-team All-State his senior year.
At UK, he played for three different head coaches and only Hal Mumme didn’t seem to mind (at least, not publicly) that his quarterback was bigger than some of his offensive linemen. Guy Morriss and Rich Brooks both demanded greater personal discipline from Lorenzen. Ultimately, his incredible talent kept him atop the depth chart.
It’s not as though he skated. The Wildcats in 2002 won their first four games, including a road upset of then-nationally ranked Louisville in the season opener. After they had climbed to 4-0, I asked Jared about the difference between the QB of the ’01 team, which had won a scant two games, and the guy calling signals for the undefeated UK team.
“Well, for one thing,” he said, “I know the plays.”
“Yeah. Last year, I didn’t know the plays.”
Meaning, he had thrown for nearly 2,200 yards and 19 TDs with only a general sense of where all of his receivers would be on a given play. Incredible.
While the deep ball came easily to him, deep studying was not part of his lifestyle. In 2000, Mumme had anointed Dusty Bonner the starter after the spring game, only to backtrack a few weeks later and name Lorenzen his starter for the fall. According to one source, Mumme wasn’t certain at the end of the spring semester if Jared was going to make his grades.
Tutors come in handy but he needed some extra motivation when it came to making those sessions as well. Morriss once told me of his efforts to get his quarterback just to show up for the extra study periods, paid for by the athletics department.
“I told him, ‘Jared, I don’t care if you make it to a single tutoring session from now on,’ “ Morriss later told me. “But I said, ‘If you miss another scheduled session, we’re paying for it out of your meal money.’ “ Problem solved.
For whatever headaches Lorenzen may have caused him, Morriss planted himself squarely between his QB and the critics during that 2001 season, which ended 2-9. “If people want to vent,” he told The Cats’ Pause, “ you can bark at me all day. But it’s like biting into shoe leather. I’ve been there. But it’s not fair to pick on Jared every time we lose a game.”
No, it wasn’t. But he could handle it. After the losses, you could see it hurt him, that he would have traded every passing yard for a W. For all his celebrity, he was still a teammate, even though he was different than any player dressed in blue and white.
I would see that firsthand at midfield, covering the pre-game coin toss for the UK radio network. That’s when game captains are so dialed-in, so keen to get started, they often forget the instructions they just received on the sidelines.
On one Saturday, the referee went through the official coin-flip protocol, including an explanation of why that day’s coin happened to be special. When he had finished signaling which team had won the toss and which team was defending which goal, he handed the coin to Lorenzen.
Referee: “Here. You get to keep that.”
He loved every minute of it. And today, the people who loved him will say goodbye. Way, way too soon.