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Front seven taking shape as opener approaches

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If the Wildcats are nervous as the final days pass before Kentucky's season opener against UT Martin, it isn't showing in practice.

It was another day of productive work for UK on Wednesday.

"We had a good practice today," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "Guys were into it, focused, getting better fundamentally and ready to play."

Ready to play and mostly healthy. Outside of wide receivers Jeff Badet (eye) and Alexander Montgomery (recovery from knee surgery), UK is expected to be at full strength at noon ET on Saturday.

"We're right where we thought we'd be," Eliot said. "Everybody's ready to go. Everybody's geared up and ready for the game and we won't miss a beat."

That includes star senior Bud Dupree, who made it through fall camp even though he was prevented from doing his favorite thing: hitting the quarterback.

"It's horrible having the quarterbacks in red jerseys and having to stop on a play, stop before you can get to them and stopping on offensive linemen sometimes," Dupree said. "Sometimes you want to go through the linemen and just hit them but you know you can't."

The Southeastern Conference's active sack leader only has to wait three more days before getting a shot at an opposing quarterback, and he'll do it both standing and with his hand in the dirt. Dupree will play defensive end opposite Za'Darius Smith in UK's 4-3 set and linebacker when the Cats go 3-4.

"The 3-4 is great for showing athleticism and keeping as many good guys on the field as you can, as well as having big edge setters too," Dupree said.

In the starting 3-4 look, UK will play with tackles Melvin Lewis and Mike Douglas and Smith along the line. Dupree and sophomore Jason Hatcher will play outside linebacker. Hatcher hasn't gotten the attention of some of his teammates in camp with Dupree and Smith returning, but the coaches know they have to find ways to get him on the field.

"He's had a great camp," Eliot said. "Jason's gotten better every day. There's always a big jump from Year 1 to Year 2 and we've seen it with him. He's a better athlete. He's a better player. He understands the game better. And we're very pleased with his progress."

Josh Forrest and another player will complete the front seven in the 3-4 at the two inside linebacker spots. As for who will start with Forrest, a decision has not been made between junior-college transfer Ryan Flannigan and Khalid Henderson. Henderson, a junior, has experience on his side, but Flannigan is competing.

"He's right where I expected him to be," Eliot said. "He has transitioned well. He's picking up the defense. He's physically right where he needs to be. He's right on track."

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The schedule calls for Mark Stoops to talk to the media on Mondays and Thursdays during game week, with UK's offensive and defensive coaches available on Tuesday and Wednesday. After his weekly media luncheon on Monday, Stoops was supposed to have a two-day break.

As he came off the field on Tuesday, Stoops was in a jovial mood, even stepping over to the podium for an unscheduled media opportunity.

"It was good," Stoops said of UK's Tuesday practice. "We had a lot of work. We got a lot of work done today. We needed to. Good hot day. Felt good about the energy. Guys are starting to lock in and execute well. So overall, it was a very good practice."

With the Wildcats just five days from its season lidlifter vs. UT Martin at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday at noon on the SEC Network, Stoops and offensive coordinator Neal Brown are continuing to get the offense working at the desired tempo and excelling on first down.

"We'll be much faster week one this year than we were at any point last year," Stoops said, referencing UK's 2013 season opener against WKU. "Like I said before, we've got to get some production on first down. That's a big key for us to move the football. We're not good enough on any side yet to go fast and not get first downs. So we have to move the ball, and even though you're going fast, you still have to chew up some clock by getting first downs and running plays. But I feel good. I feel like we're improved, and they're ready to go."

Brown echoed Stoops' assertion that a high-tempo offensive unit needs to excel on first down in order to run the desired offense.

"We did not play with very good tempo at Western," Brown said about the tempo of 2014 camp compared to 2013. "We tried to early and we just didn't do a very good job of it at all. We'll pick our spots in this game. I want to make sure that we're not playing so fast that we're hurting ourselves, you know? But we're in a position now, going into our second fall, that we're able to play really fast when we need to. And there's going to be some times in this game where we'll play at a really quick pace - faster than we ever executed last year."

With sophomore Patrick Towles earning the starting quarterback job entering the campaign, Stoops and Brown are focused on getting the 6-foot-5, 238-pounder and the offense off to a strong start.

"Yeah, I think it's important to get Patrick and everybody (off to a fast start)," Brown said. "Y'all looked at our depth chart. We've got a bunch of young guys in that two-deep, especially at the skill positions. So we've got to be simple. It's important to get Patrick off to a good start, but it's also important to get Kyle Meadows off to a good start. It's also important to get Stanley (Williams), when he gets in the game, off to a good start, all those freshmen wideouts that are going to play. So you've got to not only take Patrick into (account), but you've got to take everybody."

While Towles and the entire UK squad will be eager to get on the field and face a team not wearing blue and white, Stoops stressed the importance of keeping things as normal as possible.

"(Patrick) doesn't need to put any more undue pressure on himself," Stoops said. "The whole team needs to play well. I expect that he will be a little bit antsy. But he's just got to calm down and stay within himself and operate the offense. And that's where it is important to get off on a fast start and give him some things that he can manage early until he gets settled in."


At long last, UK's season opener is on the horizon.

After months of work in spring practice, summer conditioning and fall camp, the Wildcats are about to line up across from opponents in different color jerseys. Finally, Mark Stoops' offseason refrain about the progress of his team will be put to the test.

"As I said before throughout this summer, we've improved," Stoops said. "Be interesting to go out there and see how much."

For the first time since 2007, a home crowd will be able to see UK's offseason improvement firsthand in the season opener. The Wildcats will face UT Martin at noon ET on Saturday in Commonwealth Stadium.

"I know our fans are ready to go," Stoops said. "We need to do our part. I know we'll have great support. We need to go out there and start fast and play good football, play with great energy, play with great discipline, make it exciting for the fans."

Opening at home for the first time in seven years and following that with another game in Commonwealth in week two, the Cats have a chance to build some early-season momentum. It's an opportunity Stoops says they can't squander.

"I think it's real important, I do," Stoops said. "I think we need to start fast. We need to go out and play well."

In evaluating that, Stoops will be looking for an accumulation of routine plays, not highlights readymade for SportsCenter.

"We've got to go play well and be consistent," Stoops said. "We're not good enough to make simple mistakes and shoot ourselves in the foot, turn the ball over, things like that obviously."

That's a challenge given how much UK will rely on a number of players who have never been on the field at this level. Seventeen players listed on Kentucky's two-deep depth chart are first-year junior-college transfers or freshmen, including eight true freshmen.

All of them, to this point, have prepared as much as possible in practice and through UK's High Performance program, but there's only so much that can be done.

"Certainly with young guys, some guys are going to go out there for the first time and they're going to exceed our expectations, then some guys will probably have some rough spots here and there, have some mental mistakes, physical mistakes, things like that," Stoops said. "That's why you have to get out there and play. There's no substitution for experience."

As young as this Kentucky team may be, the Wildcats are still in a better spot than they were a year ago. That's why UK won't rely on newcomers quite as much as in 2013.

"We're getting better," Stoops said. "As we get better, it gets harder to beat out some guys for playing time. That's what you want in our program."

Dupree, Smith still drawing raves from Stoops

Stoops isn't normally one to think too far into the future, but he made an exception on Monday.

Asked where he expects senior defensive end/linebacker Bud Dupree to go in next spring's NFL Draft, the second-year UK coach didn't hesitate.

"I'd be very shocked if Bud was not a first-round draft pick," Stoops said.

Stoops went on to say that he can envision Dupree going early in the first round if he has the kind of season expected of him. Given Stoops' experience coaching NFL-level talent at Florida State, his opinion has some weight.

"Bud is special," Stoops said. "He has that ability to play standing up. Put his hand in the dirt. He's a pass rusher. He's got instincts. With everybody going to a lot of the 3-4 things, outside backers, versatility, he's a very good player."

Dupree is listed as a strong-side linebacker on the depth chart, but the versatility Stoops appreciates so much will allow him to play plenty at end as well. When he does, he'll line up opposite Za'Darius Smith, who has a professional future of his own.

He and Dupree bypassed the NFL Draft to return for their senior season. Stoops believes they'll improve their draft stock with their decisions, but he knows UK has already benefited from their presence.

"As I said a lot through the offseason, leadership is the first thing that jumps out at you," Stoops said. "But also confidence. Our players see those guys out there, they make plays, are consistent, they're always there. They're great to have."

UT Martin linebacker Bell has UK's attention

With an offseason for UT Martin head coach Jason Simpson to make changes, Stoops knows to expect the unexpected on Saturday.

"They might get out there and try to pressure the heck out of us, or drop," Stoops said. "They've shown both, where they've been conservative and drop eight guys into coverage a bunch, or they can blitz the house and come after you. I imagine we'll see a bit of everything. It will be good for us to see how we prepare and respond to that."

Whatever looks the Skyhawks show, Stoops knows to be on the lookout for Tony Bell. The senior linebacker returns to anchor the UT Martin defense after an All-American season in 2013 in which he tallied 10.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss.

"They have a great defensive player, No. 40, the linebacker, an exceptional player," Stoops said. "He's a really good football player. He can play anywhere in the country. Really like the way he plays."

Miller, Cunningham suspended for opener


UK announced on Monday that left tackle Darrian Miller and wide receiver Rashad Cunningham have been suspended for Saturday's season opener for an undisclosed violation of team rules. Both will return for week two.

In Miller's absence, regular right tackle Jordan Swindle will move to the left side and redshirt freshman Kyle Meadows will fill Swindle's spot.

Returning to the lineup after a two-game suspension to close 2013 will be Demarco Robinson. He is listed as a starter at one of four wide receiver spots along with Ryan Timmons, Javess Blue and Joey Herrick. Robinson will also share punt-returning duties with Timmons.

UK football depth chart -- Week 1

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Offense

Tight end
85 Steven Borden, 6-3, 246, Sr-1L
80 Ronnie Shields, 6-5, 254, Sr-3L

Left tackle

70 Jordan Swindle, 6-7, 306, Jr-2L
68 Nick Haynes, 6-5, 319, Fr-RS

Left guard
75 Zach West, 6-4, 318, Jr-2L
74 Cole Mosier, 6-6, 348, Fr-RS

Center
72 Jon Toth, 6-5, 301, So-1L
57 Zach Myers, 6-3, 287, So-Sq

Right guard
69 Ramsey Meyers, 6-5, 300, Fr-RS
64 Max Godby, 6-4, 298, Sr-1L

Right tackle
73 Kyle Meadows, 6-5, 294, Fr-RS
76 Teven Eatmon-Nared, 6-7, 339, Sr-3L

Wide receiver
9 Demarco Robinson, 5-10, 158, Sr-3L
6 Blake Bone, 6-5, 198, Fr-HS

Wide receiver
1 Ryan Timmons, 5-10, 195, So-1L
82 T.V. Williams, 5-10, 160, Fr-HS

Wide receiver
8 Javess Blue, 6-0, 191, Sr-1L
2 Dorian Baker, 6-3, 197, Fr-HS

Wide receiver
87 Joey Herrick, 6-1, 197, Jr-1L
19 Garrett Johnson, 5-11, 176, Fr-HS

Quarterback
14 Patrick Towles, 6-5, 238, So-1L
12 Reese Phillips, 6-2, 218, Fr-RS or 7 Drew Barker, 6-3, 216, Fr-HS

Fullback

39 D.J. Warren, 6-0, 251, Sr-3L
10 Jeff Witthuhn, 6-3, 246, So-Sq

Running back
5 Braylon Heard, 5-11, 189, Jr-Tr
3 Jojo Kemp, 5-10, 194, So-1L

Special teams

Long snapper
59 Kelly Mason, 6-3, 223, Jr-2L

Holder
13 Jared Leet, 6-3, 196, Jr-2L

Kicker
99 Austin McGinnis, 5-10, 168, Fr-RS

Punter
9 Landon Foster, 6-1, 198, Jr-2L

Kickoff returner

18 Stanley "Boom" Williams, 5-9, 200, Fr-HS
5 Braylon Heard, 5-11, 189, Jr-Tr

Punt returner
9 Demarco Robinson, 5-10, 158, Sr-3L
or 1 Ryan Timmons, 5-10, 195, So-1L

Defense

Defensive end
6 Jason Hatcher, 6-3, 242, So-1L
47 Jabari Johnson, 6-1, 276, Jr-1L

Defensive tackle
90 Melvin Lewis, 6-4, 320, Jr-JC
69 Matt Elam, 6-7, 375, Fr-HS

Defensive tackle

50 Mike Douglas, 6-4, 288, Sr-3L
67 Cory "C.J." Johnson, 6-3, 299, Jr-JC or 96 Regie Meant, 6-4, 286, Fr-RS

Defensive end
94 Za'Darius Smith, 6-6, 263, Sr-1L
91 Farrington Huguenin, 6-4, 275, Jr-2L

Strong-side linebacker
2 Alvin "Bud" Dupree, 6-4, 264, Sr-3L
41 TraVaughn Paschal, 6-4, 257, Sr-2L

Middle linebacker
45 Josh Forrest, 6-3, 236, Jr-2L
41 TraVaughn Paschal, 6-4, 257, Sr-2L

Weak-side linebacker
33 Ryan Flannigan, 6-2, 225, Jr-JC or 22 Khalid Henderson, 6-1, 228, Jr-2L

Nickelback
24 Blake McClain, 5-11, 194, So-1L
29 Kendall Randolph, 6-0, 168, Fr-HS

Cornerback
3 Fred Tiller, 6-0, 170, Jr-2L
11 J.D. Harmon, 6-2, 201, So-1L

Safety
5 Ashely Lowery, 6-1, 220, Sr-3L
15 Marcus McWilson, 6-0, 210, So-1L

Safety
1 A.J. Stamps, 6-0, 199, Jr-JC
28 Eric Dixon, 5-11, 193, Sr-3L

Cornerback
16 Cody Quinn, 5-10, 172, Jr-2L
21 Nate Willis, 6-0, 168, Sr-1L

UK moves to game prep with opener 8 days away

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The calendar read Friday, but the action on the field at the Nutter Training Facility said otherwise.

With fall camp nearing its conclusion and UK's season opener in barely a week, the Wildcats shifted their attention to preparing for UT Martin.

"We had a normal what would be a Tuesday of game week this week to get that ironed out, and it was good work," Mark Stoops said. "It was good to wrap it up. Players will be done for the rest of the day, get to relax a little bit and get their feet up underneath them."

A typical Tuesday practice includes some team work along with work for the offense and defense against the opposing scout team. According to UK's offensive coordinator, the Wildcats took well to the shift away from the grind they've become accustomed to this month.

"We had really our first day against the scout team look today and I thought we had really good energy for a hot, muggy day, which was encouraging," Neal Brown said. "I think guys are excited about getting into game prep. Had a kind of a little jog through yesterday, but our focus was good. Made some mistakes but overall thought it was a positive day."

Not only was the day positive, it was also full of news.

On the injury front, Stoops announced that Alex Montgomery (recovery from knee surgery) and Jeff Badet (eye) will miss UK's season opener. Badet is improving after injuring his eye in practice catching tennis balls, but will be out at least the first two weeks of the season. Outside of those two sophomore wide receivers, Stoops expects UK to be at full strength on Aug. 30.

Full strength for the Wildcats includes at least nine freshmen. Stoops said on Friday that defensive tackle Matt Elam, defensive back Kendall Randolph, wide receivers Blake Bone, Garrett Johnson, Dorian Baker, Thaddeus Snodgrass and T.V. Williams and running backs Stanley "Boom" Williams and Mikel Horton will all play week one.

Perhaps the biggest surprises in the group are the two running backs, as UK has veterans Braylon Heard, Jojo Kemp and Josh Clemons at their position. Brown, however, in detailing why he expects the Wildcat offense to improve this season, made it clear there will be ample carries to go around.

"The biggest difference is right now on offense, running back is our deepest position," Brown said. "My job is to get the ball to our best players, and right now, several of our top playmakers are at that running back position."

The plan for the remaining freshmen is to redshirt them if circumstances permit. But aware of how quickly things can change, they will all prepare to play, including quarterback Drew Barker.

"I think that would be in his best interest and our best interest," Stoops said of redshirting Barker. "We'll see how that goes. He will prepare to play in a backup role, and if we can save him through the season that's what we'd like to do."


2014 UK football game-day changes live chat

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At 11 a.m. ET on Friday, we'll host a live chat to to conclude our 2014 game-day education series. UK Senior Associate Athletics Director for Operations Kevin Saal will join us to walk through changes for this season due to ongoing construction and answer any questions you may have. Join in below.

Live Blog 2014 Commonwealth Stadium Game-Day Changes Live Chat
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ELIOT


At this stage in preseason camp, it is typical for young players to begin to hit the wall with physical and mental fatigue.

After Kentucky had a practice that left room for improvement on Tuesday evening, the coaching staff was eager to see how the team would react for Wednesday's practice.

"We had a good practice," UK defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "It was competitive, enthusiastic -- one of our most enthusiastic practices of training camp, which is good. The guys were flying around, playing fast, and it was encouraging.

"It was in response to yesterday. And sometimes that's the way it goes, you know? Guys have got to bounce back and they got to play better and they got to practice better and they did today."

Stoops echoed Eliot's assessment of the effort level in Wednesday's practice.

"Not bad work," UK head coach Mark Stoops said after coming off the practice field on a steaming Wednesday afternoon.  "We're getting to the point where guys are getting very beat up and wore down like you'd expect through two and a half weeks of camp. But we got some good situation work today."

After Stoops tabbed sophomore Patrick Towles the starting quarterback on Monday after a four-way competition for the spot, the announcement dominated the storylines over the last two days.

With Stoops, Eliot and UK's defensive players available to the media on Wednesday, the conversation shifted to the development of Eliot's squad. While Stoops has been dialed into the progress of the secondary, he emphasized that the linebackers were also ready to take that next step in their development.

"We have some (linebackers) that have done some nice things," Stoops said. "We need to be on point there. We can't be hit-and-miss and missing some responsibilities here and there. That's where, like I said earlier in the year, there's always that fine line. As you get into year two, as you get better and better, there's a balance between doing more things or being simpler. The better you are, the less you really have to do, to be honest with you. So, we'll see. We're working our way through that, but I think we have some guys to work with at linebacker. Josh (Forrest) has done a nice job. Ryan Flannigan has been a nice surprise. We've got to continue to get him a lot of reps and get him ready to go."

Kentucky's defensive unit is, as a whole, a more experienced group that will greatly benefit from being in the second year of Stoops and Eliot's system.

"They definitely do," Stoops said about the unit's increased understanding of what the defense is trying to accomplish. "That just comes from experience. Some of those guys are in year two. There are not as many newcomers. They had an offseason to look at things, what we did and did not do well. They had spring practice, so obviously they understand things better."

Over his career as a defensive coordinator, Stoops' teams have had notable improvement in his second year, something he is eager to see translate to his second-edition of the Wildcats.

"Yeah," Stoops said about the defense making a jump in year two. "I think you've always got to increase your talent level. You've got to make the players you have better. And I think we've done that. I think you've got to be able to execute the nuances of the defense. As you always talk about doing more or less, whatever it is, when you do it you got to be able to execute it right. You got to be more on point with what you're doing, and you've just got to play at a higher level. I think we're getting to that point. We're getting better. I don't know how much. We'll see how much of a jump we made. I know we've improved. I know we'll play better. To what extent, we'll see. We got to go prove it."

Just 10 days from the 2014 season lidlifter vs. UT Martin at noon ET on Aug. 30 at Commonwealth Stadium, Stoops is starting to get the squad geared towards preparation for the Skyhawks.

"We've got to get some guys healthy," Stoops said. "There's nothing major. A lot of lingering issues, bumps and bruises like you'd expect. But we've got to get some guys healthy and get them back out here, start our prep here for our first game here soon."

6633366.jpeg After Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops tabbed sophomore Patrick Towles his new starting quarterback after a four-way competition throughout the spring and preseason camp, Towles had one person he needed to tell first - dad.

Towles father, Terry, had lost his father when he was 18 years old and was a huge football fan. Towles sent his dad a quick text, "Papa Tommy is partying in heaven." It didn't take Terry long to realize his son was named the starting QB for the Wildcats.

Following Tuesday's practice, Towles had his first opportunity to meet with the media as the new signal caller for Kentucky.

"Relief," Towles said about his reaction to being named starter. "I'm super excited. It's a great opportunity. It's something that I've wanted for my entire life. To have this kind of opportunity is awesome."

Now having two practices under his belt as the starting quarterback, Towles can now focus on his duties without the distraction of a QB competition.

"Good. I felt like I can play free," Towles said about how practice has been the last two days. "During the competition I would make a bad throw, and I'd constantly be like, 'Gosh.' Every throw had to be perfect, but now it's a relief that I can go out and just let it all hang out and play. I felt like I was a senior in high school and I was just able to play and just make plays. And that's a good feeling."

Now the key cog in offensive coordinator Neal Brown's high-tempo offensive attack, Towles must take on a leadership role and set the standard for his unit's performance.

"He's talented enough to run any offense, really," Brown detailed. "He's got a strong arm. He's big. He's 6-4-plus. I think he's 240 pounds-plus. He hit like 19.8 miles per hour yesterday in practice, so he runs well. So our offense, any offense, he's capable of doing well."   

The former Kentucky High School Mr. Football out of Highlands in Ft. Thomas, Ky., Towles played in five games as a true freshman in 2012. He dazzled Commonwealth Stadium with a sparkling debut, completing 5-of-5 passes for 71 yards and a 32-yard touchdown strike in his first career series in 2012 vs. Mississippi State. Later in the game, Towles suffered an injury that hampered his chance to get on the field as a freshman.

"It's a whole maturation process," Towles said about his first two years on campus. "It goes through ups and downs. Like I said, when I got here, I was an 18-year-old kid. Playing in front of 65,000 people was nuts. It was crazy. Now I've been here for going on my third year in school, and it definitely feel like everything is a lot quicker, sharper and it's easier to make decisions."

Towles then battled with Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow in a preseason competition in 2013, with Smith and Whitlow sharing the position during the season.

"I guess around this time (last year), the race was between me, Jalen (Whitlow) and Maxwell (Smith)," Towles detailed. "(Coach Stoops) brought me in there and was like, 'Hey, you're doing a good job but there's still some stuff you need to work on before you can really make a run at this thing.' I said, 'All right, got it.' So this entire time I went out and fixed everything that he had said."

And go to work he did, dedicating his redshirt season to revamping his fundamentals.

"Just with everything, everything fundamentally," Towles said about his goals for improvement during 2013. "You have to be fundamentally almost perfect to play well in this league, consistently play well, especially against the people that we play against. My feet had to get better. My release had to change. I had to get my head on straight and really go after this thing. That's what I did."

Now the starting quarterback at his home-state school, it would be easy for Towles to bask in the glow of his accomplishment. That is not in his plans.

"This is just the beginning," Towles said. "Right now I'm focused on Tennessee Martin and next Saturday."
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TOTH

Football Practice Report: Towles named starting QB

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Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops has named sophomore Patrick Towles UK's starting quarterback. (Photo by Britney Howard, UK Athletics) Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops has named sophomore Patrick Towles UK's starting quarterback. (Photo by Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
Throughout the offseason, one narrative dominated talk about Kentucky football. Who would be the starting quarterback for the season lidlifter on Aug. 30 vs. UT Martin?

On Monday morning, Kentucky second-year head coach Mark Stoops put the question to bed, announcing on his twitter account that sophomore Patrick Towles had won the starting gig over freshmen Drew Barker and Reese Phillips, and junior Maxwell Smith.

"Patrick's done a very good job," Stoops said. "I have a lot of confidence in Patrick. He's worked extremely hard. I said it before that I was proud of his work ethic."

A 6-foot-5, 238-pound native of Ft. Thomas, Ky., Towles is coming off a well-utilized redshirt season in 2013, after seeing action in five games as a true freshman in 2012.

The former Gatorade Kentucky High School Player of the Year out of Highlands High School, Towles played as a true freshman in 2012 after injuries plagued the position. His first drive as a collegiate quarterback dazzled the fan base, going 5-for-5 for 71 yards against Mississippi State, capped by a 32-yard TD pass.

Later in the game vs. the Bulldogs, Towles suffered an injury, hampering what could have been a promising freshman season. He finished 2012 completing 19 of 40 passes for 232 yards, including his TD strike vs. MSU.

Following his freshman season, Towles saw Smith and Jalen Whitlow share the quarterback position in 2013 as UK learned a new, exciting offensive system under Stoops. Towles dedicated himself in the weight room, improving his fundamentals and to the mental side of the game, putting himself in position to compete for the 2014 starting job.

"A lot of people, a year ago when he was told that he was not going to be in the mix, could have put their head down," Stoops detailed on Towles mindset during his redshirt season. "They could have quit, they could have transferred. Or they face it and get improvement. And he worked. And I'm proud of that. I like the fact that he just went to work to get better. That sends a good message to the rest of the team."

"What he did is he really grew up, he matured, became more serious about football, started doing things right off the field," UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "And what I mean by that is -- he was always a good kid, I don't mean that -- he made football one of the top priorities in his life. After the givens, he made football a top priority. He went out and got a lot of drill work. We focused on fundamentals, which was really important to him. He went out and got some extra work, and he was productive."

Towles brings a dynamic skill set to the position in Brown's high-tempo offensive attack. As Mr. Football in Kentucky in 2011, Towles led his club to three consecutive state championships, compiling a three-year record of 44-1, including a 38-1 mark as the starting QB. As a senior, Towles completed 171 passes for 3,820 yards with 32 TDs and just one interception.

"Patrick has a big arm," Stoops said. "He's sneaky fast, too, as well. He's maybe not as fleet of foot as some other guys, but in the open field he's really got some pretty good speed. He's a big guy. He's strong. And he can make all the throws. He's improved on his release. He's much quicker getting rid of the ball, and that improves his decision making. That's the biggest area of improvement for him over a year."

After Stoops and the staff broke the news to Towles and the UK quarterbacks on Monday, they were pleased with the reaction of the four QBs in the ensuing practice.

"He was excited," Brown said. "He's worked hard for this. What I told him though: this is just the start. You've got the opportunity, let's see what you do with the opportunity."

"The truth is that he won the job," Stoops said. "He won the job. It was very close, but he ended up being the winner."

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