When the decision was made six weeks ago to start a true freshman quarterback against Auburn, there was a segment of fans (including yours truly), who questioned the sanity of the UK coaching staff. Why in the world would you throw the kid to the wolves?
Morgan Newton got the call at Auburn, after starter Mike Hartline went down with a knee injury against South Carolina, and led the Cats to their first win against the Tigers in 15 tries.
Fast forward to Saturday’s season finale against Tennessee, and as usual, it appears Rich Brooks has made the right decision with Newton. The Cats are winners in five of their last six games, all games in which the freshman from Carmel, Ind. has been the starter.
One guy who isn’t surprised by Newton’s success is former Washington Redskins quarterback Doug Williams. Williams, the MVP of Super Bowl XXII, is a longtime friend of the Newton family, having played at Grambling with Morgan’s dad, Dr. John Newton.
Now the Director of Pro Personnel with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Williams has been a sounding board for the Newtons. Williams began working with the younger Newton when it became clear Morgan had the ability to play quarterback in college.
“I call him Uncle Doug,” Morgan Newton said. “He’s somebody I can talk to every once in a while and he gives me pointers on different things.”
These days, it’s UK quarterbacks coach Randy Sanders who handles all the hands-on instruction, but that doesn’t stop Newton from seeking the advice of someone still involved in the NFL.
“The last couple of years, I’ve had the opportunity to sit down and just go over some stuff with Morgan,” Williams said, appearing on SportsFirst Online at wkyt.com.
“As a matter of fact, I took his tape back out the other night and just realized how mature he was in high school, watching him make decisions, as far as whether or not to pull the ball down and run, and watching the routes and how he progressed from one receiver to another.”
The younger Newton welcomes the feedback.
“Just certain things. Like, how the quarterback is supposed to lead the huddle. How the quarterback is supposed to be a leader out there on the field,” Newton said. “He was the Super Bowl MVP, so he definitely knows some things on how to lead a team to wins.”
Which is something Newton has grown accustomed to. With seven wins, the Wildcats will be playing in a bowl somewhere. If the Cats can get a win over the Vols on senior day, UK could have its pick of the bowl litter. Newton likely will find himself playing on one of UK’s biggest stages.
“I know it’s a little tougher at the next level, but to be 5-1 as a true freshman, I think that speaks volumes of what kind of quarterback the University of Kentucky has,” Williams said.
“I feel a lot more confident. I’m getting into the routine and getting used to what a starting quarterback does every week,” Newton said last week, before leading UK to its first win at Georgia since 1977.
While he’s still only a first-year player, Williams says he’s most impressed by Newton’s poise.
“Number one, he has what it takes to be a quarterback: he has poise. You watch him in the pocket, he has pocket awareness,” Williams said. “His size is something you can’t teach. His athletic ability is something you can’t teach. For a young guy, to have that kind of poise, you know for the next three and a half years, with spring practice and all the other things that he’s going to do with his coach, he’s going to get a lot smoother in his delivery, his decision making will be a lot better and you can’t see anything but this guy going up.”
Williams says the decision to play in the SEC gives Newton a competitive advantage. Playing in the country’s best football conference, Williams said, will only enable Newton to grow as a quarterback.
As for advice, Williams said he’d tell Newton to believe in his coaches and the system in which he plays.
“And, as a quarterback, you have to believe in yourself, that no matter the situation, you’re going to get it done,” Williams said.
Standing 6-foot-4, and wearing number 12, Newton reminds some of former UK great Derrick Ramsey. For the former Grambling quarterback, Newton plays a bit like Titans quarterback Vince Young.
“I don’t think he wants to be that quarterback that says we’re going to run, but I think if you give him the pro style game to handle, he’ll run to do whatever he has to do,” Williams said.
“I relate the two, Vince Young and Morgan. That’s what he’s going to bring and that’s what he does for the offense at Kentucky. He gives them that second option where defenses have to play you honest now.”