LEXINGTON — Whether he’s been waiting for his chance to play or evaluating how he did play when he got an opportunity, Kentucky junior quarterback Morgan Newton has always been able to count on his father, John Newton, for an honest appraisal of his situation.
“He was really important to me the last two years as I waited for my chance to play,” said Newton, who will be UK’s starting quarterback Thursday in Nashville, Tenn., when the Wildcats open the season against Western Kentucky. “When you come into the SEC and you are away from home and don’t play as much as you wish you could, sometimes you want to go home and talk to somebody to get a different opinion. He has been great about just being patient, taking your time and work on learning as much as you can learn. We were able to get through it.
“It is kind of his job to be brutally honest. There were times he was and that is one reason I¿am where I¿am today. I kind of listen to my dad and he knows what is best. That’s why I listen to him, and always have.”
John Newton, who played football at Grambling State, says there were difficult times for his son, a four-star recruit out of Indianapolis who went 5-3 in eight starts in 2009 after Mike Hartline was injured and also started UK’s bowl loss to Pittsburgh to end the 2010 season after Hartline was suspended.
“He is 20 now. Some things that have changed, but I still give my advice whether he wants to take it or not,” John Newton laughed and said. “That comes from my experience with my own dad. He is 85 and I never tell him to shut up. Dad calls him about every day, too
“With young folks you have to give them as much information as you can and they can figure it out from there. We talk just as much. Some things I¿am try to back off. Still there are times he will call and will have things going on and want know to what should I do. It is not always football related. It could be things going on as far as college life. He is doing fine. But I tell all my sons there will be times for them to lean on each other because I will not always be around. I just give as much advice as I can and hope it sticks.”
Something certainly seems to have stuck with the junior because he’s been praised by teammates and coaches for everything from offseason workouts to improved field study to better pocket presence to enhanced leadership.
“His confidence level is sky high. All his balls are on point. He’s throwing like a NFL guy. He really just has to come out here and proven he can play that way every day and he wants to prove that,” wide receiver LaRod King said. “He throws the ball more now than he runs. That’s a good thing. His confidence level is sky rocketed. It is like day and night.
“He has stepped up as a leader so quick. He led me. It’s like, ‘We are going to do this or that.’ There are no options. We came out and did them and got everybody on board. It’s like we are one. It’s not an individual thing. Everything is a team thing with Morgan now.”
Yet even now, his father still warns him not to forget the struggles of the past two years.
“You have got to be humble. Things can change on a dime. You just never know,” John Newton said. “I will peek at blogs and message boards and you certainly realized that is true then. Some people are just waiting for you to fail.”
That’s the kind of advice Morgan Newton says his father has always had — and probably always will.
“My dad has been there since before I¿remember telling me the truth. I have a brother (Langston) going through recruiting now (and has committed to UK) and another little brother that is also be a senior and I get to be a big brother to them,” Morgan Newton said. “My dad is letting me have a part in everything.
“He is always there to kind of give his insight. He said a little more in high school than he does now. He kind of lets me go about making decisions on my own and doing things on my own, which has been awesome. But he has always been there to lean on. He did a great job of raising me and really prepared me to live on my own. But sometimes there are just things that you don’t know that he does know. I will give him a call and say, ‘Hey, how would you handle this situation?’ He’s been great, and I¿don’t expect it to stop.”
That’s part of the maturation process Dr. Newton has seen in his son both on and off the field.
“When you go through a year where you are playing a lot and then a year not playing and you know the kind of player you are, that toughens you up. Not once did he ever mention about going some place else to play. He is there for the battle. He knows it will be that way at the next level, and that helped him to grow,” Newton’s father said.
“He is around a 3.4 GPA (grade-point average). He got into his books. He is really, really smart and has a memory that is unbelievable. He can read something once and he has got it. His grades have never faltered.
“He tells me he doesn’t drink (alcohol). He tells me he is where he is supposed to be doing the right things. When he goes out, he gets a Sprite to drink. He is a designated driver. Kids will call him, and did all last season, to bring them home. That is leading by example.
“Go to his condo where he lives. It is all clean and neat. His shoes are lined up just right. That gets into the meat of what he’s all about. Guys want to hang out, but he is not one to hang out until all hours of the night. I just hope and pray he does not change. He pledged a fraternity during spring practice and nobody even knew. There is a lot in there that folks have not seen yet. He has a quiet demeanor, but he has stepped it up on the leadership role a lot.”
He apparently has a big heart, too, for others less fortunate than him. His father tells about a visit to the Hope Center last year when his son asked residents what they could use that they did not have and they told him shower shoes or flip flops.