Former Kentucky football player Jared Lorenzen inspired more people off the football field than he did on it. Dominique Yates, Louisville Courier Journal, Louisville Courier Journal
Former Kentucky and New York Giants quarterback Jared Lorenzen died Wednesday at the age of 38.
The University of Kentucky confirmed Lorenzen’s death in a tweet Wednesday afternoon.
Anointed the “Hefty Lefty,” “Pillsbury Throwboy” and “Round Mound of Touchdown” by fans during his playing career due to his prodigious size and arm strength, Lorenzen had been hospitalized since Sunday with an infection, kidney and heart issues, according to statements from his family.
“It is with heavy hearts that the family of Jared Lorenzen, would like to extend our sincere thanks and appreciation for all of your support and prayers over the past 6 days,” read a family statement shared with Matt Jones, Lorenzen’s former employer with Kentucky Sports Radio.
“We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of Jared today, July 3, 2019. Again, we appreciate all of the warm wishes and prayers, but as a family, we would request your respect and privacy. We will offer arrangement and information in the coming days. Please keep Jared’s family and especially his children, in your thoughts and prayers.”
On Tuesday, the family said Lorenzen had been placed on dialysis but was gaining some traction in his treatments.
Lorenzen remains one of the most beloved players in Kentucky program history thanks to his record-breaking performances while playing quarterback in the Southeastern Conference at close to 300 pounds. He still holds the UK records for career total offense (10,637 yards), career passing yards (10,354), career pass attempts (1,514), career completions (862), single-season passing attempts (559) and single-game passing yards (528). He ranks second in program history in career passing touchdowns (78) and 300-yard passing games (15).
“If you want to joke, we can joke about my weight all day,” Lorenzen told the USA TODAY Network in 2007. “I get a kick out of it. You have to have a niche. That’s mine.”
He was named Kentucky Mr. Football in 1998 after leading Highlands High School to a perfect 15-0 season, highlighted by a 56-7 win over Waggener in the 3A state finals.
Lorenzen played for three different Kentucky coaches from 1999 to 2003: Hal Mumme, Guy Morris and Rich Brooks. After redshirting Lorenzen in his first year on campus, Mumme named Lorenzen UK’s starter before the 2000 season over incumbent Dusty Bonner, who had led the Wildcats to the 1999 Music City Bowl. Bonner transferred to Valdosta State, where he twice won the Harlon Hill Trophy as the top Division II player in the country, and Lorenzen ended up playing just one season in Mumme’s “Air Raid” offense before the coach resigned amid a NCAA recruiting scandal.
“He was a phenomenal athlete and a phenomenal person,” Mumme told the Courier Journal on Wednesday. “One of the most affable people I’ve ever been around. The linemen loved him because he looked like them. All of the other players loved him because he was such a great leader and such a great competitor.”
In his third season serving as UK’s starter, Lorenzen led Kentucky to a 7-5 record in 2002, but the Wildcats were ineligible for a bowl game due to probation resulting from the recruiting violations in the Mumme era. Brooks took over the program for Lorenzen’s senior season after Morris left UK for Baylor, and the Wildcats slid to a 4-8 record marred by near misses against Florida (24-21) and Arkansas (71-63 in seven overtimes).
Still, Lorenzen’s electric playing style characterized by deep throws and scrambles that defied logic endeared him to fans despite not playing in a bowl game at Kentucky. Lorenzen was known for using his size to fight through multiple would-be tacklers to save plays, though that gamesmanship occasionally backfired, like in 2003 when he threw an interception while trying to avoid a sack in the fourth quarter against Florida, helping the Wildcats blow a 14-3 halftime lead to extend the losing streak in the series to 17 games.
Lorenzen went on to sign with the New York Giants as an undrafted free agent in 2004. He played in four games for the Giants across two seasons in 2006 and 2007, winning a Super Bowl ring in 2007. After a brief training camp stint with the Indianapolis Colts, the rest of Lorenzen’s professional career came in various indoor football leagues, including stops with the Kentucky Horsemen, Northern Kentucky River Monsters and Owensboro Rage.
“He was unbelievable,” Brooks said. “For a guy of his size, he had almost ballerina feet. He could move around in the pocket and change direction. Athletically, he was almost a freak for his size. To be able to do the things he could do and throw the way he could throw the ball and the touch he had in the different passing game, it was incredible. He was an unbelievable competitor. He just believed to the very end he was going to do something to get the job done and win the game.
“… I venture to say there’s never been a quarterback that big that good. He was J-Lo, the Hefty Lefty, but he’s truly a Kentucky legend.”
After winning the Ultimate Indoor Football League MVP award for the River Monsters in 2011, Lorenzen was hired as commissioner of the league. He returned to the field in 2014 with the River Monsters, earning national attention when video of his debut went viral. In his second game though, Lorenzen broke his leg while being tackled, ending his career.
Playing quarterback at a size more common among offensive lineman had earned Lorenzen his fame — his birth at more than 13 pounds even warranted a television news story in 1981 — but with his playing career finished the novelty quickly became concerning.
Lorenzen later told ESPN’s E60 he had no idea how much he weighed at the time of his final professional games, but he was well on his way to checking in at 571 pounds in 2017. He then launched the “Jared Lorenzen Project” to chronicle his weight loss journey and help support others battling with obesity.
“At the weight I’m going right now, as scary as it is, I’ll die in five years,” Lorenzen said in the first episode of the web show that accompanied his weight loss campaign. “Right now, if I didn’t wake up tomorrow it wouldn’t be a shock to many people. … It’s to a point where something has got to give.”
In April 2018, Lorenzen told USA TODAY he had lost close to 100 pounds. That same month he hosted the Jared Lorenzen Challenge, which included a wellness bootcamp and public walk, at UK’s College of Public Health. Earlier this spring he hosted multiple health and wellness events at Kroger locations in Louisville and Lexington as part of the Now Let’s Get Fit campaign.
“One of the most impressive things was how open he was willing to be,” said Anthony Holt, marketing director for the Let’s Get Fit campaign and creator of the Jared Lorenzen Project. “This wasn’t something easy. He had to open up his life, his struggles, his vulnerabilities. Especially as an athlete and a man sometimes it’s hard to do. That’s what always impressed me, that no matter how bad it would get he would open up, he would share and he would keep fighting. He never would give up. … That’s what made it so tough even here today with all that was going on. You just always had a feeling he was going to be able to fight his way out of it.”
In recent years, Lorenzen returned to the Kentucky football realm as a commentator for Kentucky Sports Radio in podcasts and the pregame radio show. He co-founded Throwboy Tees, an apparel company specializing in shirts for UK fans.
Following the news of Lorenzen’s death, well wishes for his family began to pour in from former teammates and Kentucky fans.
“We are deeply saddened to learn of Jared Lorenzen’s passing,” UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart tweeted. “Jared was a uniquely gifted player who endeared himself to the Big Blue Nation with his passion for the game and his incredible talent. More importantly, he was a true Wildcat and a man whose love for UK was plain to see well after his playing days were over. That love was surpassed only by the love he had for his two children. We offer our condolences to them, as well as all Jared’s family and friends.”
Even with Lorenzen gone, Holt said the Let’s Get Fit campaign will continue in his honor.
“We’re partnering with Kroger and we’ve all talked today that we’re going to continue this bigger and better for Jared,” Holt said. “He basically laid his life out there, and these are the effects of what can happen. … His message and the way he impacted others and the ultimate ending that can be an realistic ending for people is going to be an inspiration.
“… Even though he couldn’t quite get the grasp on it himself — he tried and he tried, he fought and he fought — if he could help one person he always said that was big.”