LEXINGTON — Patrick Towles didn’t try to play it cool after he was told by UK head coach Mark Stoops and offensive coordinator Neal Brown Monday morning that he’s won the quarterback job for the Kentucky Wildcats.
“Relief, relief...I’m super excited,” Towles said Tuesday in his first public comments after winning the QB job from junior Maxwell Smith, redshirt freshman Reese Phillips and true freshman Drew Barker. “It’s something I’ve wanted my entire life. To have this opportunity is awesome.”
Most UK followers know at least superficially the long road the 6-foot-4, 240-pound Towles has traveled since signing with Kentucky out of Fort Thomas Highlands in 2012.
Twice, in the fall of 2012, and again in 2013, Towles competed for and did not get the No. 1 QB position for the Wildcats, leaving many to speculate that he might transfer.
But if Towles ever considered that option, he isn’t admitting so.
“I’ve been Kentucky through and through my entire life,” Towles said.
“Last year around this time the race was between me, Jalen (Whitlow) and Maxwell (Smith), and he (Stoops) brought me in and said, ‘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.’ “And I said, ‘Ok, I get it.’”
Towles impatiently sat through a redshirt season a year ago — “Sulking wasn’t going to help anything,” Towles said — and then he took matters into his own hands in the offseason, enlisting the help of former Franklin County coach Donny Walker, who has become a highly successful tutor and marketer of the spread offense.
“I went out and fixed everything,” Towles said, referring to fundamental flaws in his mechanics, from footwork to a ball release that was too elongated and slow. “You have to be fundamentally almost perfect to play well in this league (Southeastern Conference), especially against the people that we play.
“My feet had to get better, my release had to change, and I had to get my head on straight and really go after this thing. And that’s what I did.”
Towles said he gives “an unbelievable amount” of credit to Walker, who he met with Sunday night, just hours before Stoops and Brown let him know he won the job.
“I would not be sitting here talking to you today if that did not happen,” Towles said of the work with Walker. “Coach Brown talked about what I needed to improve, but because of NCAA rules, he can only work with me so much in the offseason. So I took it upon myself, and said, ‘Hey, these are the things I need to get done in order for us to be a better team and for me to make a run at this thing.’”
Walker tried to help Towles feel peace about it in their conversation Sunday night.
“He told me the hay is in the barn,” Towles said. “He said, ‘Everything you could possibly have done, you’ve done, and it’s not in your hands anymore.’ I knew that, and I just had to find peace with that.”
Towles must now show he deserves the job, of course, starting Aug. 30 when Kentucky opens the season here vs. UT-Martin at noon.
“I think Patrick has a good understanding that this is just the start,’’ Brown said. “I think he has a realistic expectation now that he’s been named the starter, and now he has to go play well.”
Brown doesn’t sound worried about whether Towles can execute the spread offense at a high level.
“I think he’s talented enough to run any offense, really,” Brown said. “He’s got a strong arm, he’s big and he runs well.”
“I’m happy for Pat,” said sophomore wide receiver Ryan Timmons, expected to be one of Towles’ key targets. “We all trust him. He’s doing a great job.”
Towles said the decision clearly lifts a load off of his shoulders.
“I feel like I’m a senior in high school again, when I was able to play and make plays,” he said. “That’s a good feeling.”