LEXINGTON, Ky. — Stephen Johnson is the latest in the line of Kentucky quarterbacks, but not many of his ‘Cats compatriots had as much initial success in the past 10 years.
SEC Country decided to take a look at the quarterbacks in Kentucky’s past 10 signing classes to see which had solid careers — and which didn’t pan out.
2006: Mike Hartline, Will Fidler
Hartline won the starting job as a sophomore. He threw for nine touchdowns opposite eight interceptions that 2008 season with 151.5 passing yards per game.
An MCL tear limited him to six games in his junior season but Hartline’s career was capped with a spectacular senior season. He passed for more than 3,000 yards and threw for 23 TDs. Kentucky suspended Hartline from the 2010 BBVA Compass Bowl after his arrest on charges of public intoxication and disorderly conduct.
Fidler appeared in nine games for Kentucky in the 2008 and ’09 seasons, with a total of 45 pass attempts. He decided to forgo his senior season after graduating.
2007: Matt Lentz
Lentz was recruited as a dual-threat quarterback but never played the position for Kentucky. Lentz spent two seasons as a defensive back before his career came to a premature end because of concussions. He was able to switch sports and later signed a rookie contract with the Cincinnati Reds in 2011. An outfielder, he played two minor league seasons.
2009: Morgan Newton, Ryan Mossakowski
Newton became the Wildcats’ starting QB as a true freshman when Hartline tore his left MCL. Newton passed for 706 yards and six touchdowns, and he rushed for two scores in that 2009 season. He appeared in just 5 games as Hartline regained the job in 2010.
Newton took back the starting job as a junior before losing it to freshman Maxwell Smith during 2011’s last 3 games. Newton threw for 8 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. Smith held onto the job in 2012 as Newton fell to fourth on the team in pass attempts as a senior.
Mossakowski, a 4-star prospect from Texas, left the team in January 2011 after redshirting his freshman year and making limited appearances without throwing a pass in 2010. He transferred to Northwest Mississippi Community College and later enrolled at Lamar University.
2011: Maxwell Smith
Smith earned the starting role over Newton at the end of his freshman season and then to begin his sophomore year in 2012. Smith played 4 games as a sophomore because a torn ankle ligament derailed his season. He was granted a medical hardship and was again listed as a sophomore the following season.
Smith played in nine games, starting four, and threw for 9 touchdowns against one interception in 2013. He had shoulder surgery after the season. A California native, Smith opted to transfer to San Diego State as a graduate. He started for the Aztecs in 2015 but his career ended with a torn ACL in the regular-season finale.
2012: Patrick Towles, Jalen Whitlow
Towles was the top-ranked commitment in the 2012 class. He appeared in five games his freshman season and redshirted the next. He became full-time starter as a sophomore in 2014 and led the ‘Cats to a 5-7 record. Towles passed for 2,718 yards to go with 14 touchdowns and 9 interceptions.
Towles’ touchdown/interception numbers flip-flopped the next season — 9 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions. He lost the starting job to Drew Barker and transferred to Boston College after the 2015 season. Towles led Boston College to a victory in the Quick Lane Bowl in 2016.
Whitlow started 15 games over the course of two seasons at Kentucky. He started seven games as a true freshman and eight as a sophomore in coach Mark Stoops’ first year with the Wildcats. He passed for more than 1,800 yards and rushed for more than 650 yards in his Kentucky career with 17 total touchdowns.
Whitlow decided to transfer in April 2014 and later enrolled at Eastern Illinois.
2013: Reese Phillips
A Tennessee native, Phillips had a short stint with the Wildcats. He appeared in three games with nine pass attempts as a redshirt freshman in 2014. He announced in December 2015 that he was transferring to Montana.
2014: Drew Barker
Barker came to Kentucky as the No. 6 pro-style quarterback prospect in his class. Barker redshirted his freshman year and beat out Towles to start the final 2 games of his sophomore season.
A Kentucky native, Barker was the undisputed starter heading into 2016. But after an 0-2 start, Barker was injured on the Wildcats’ first offensive possession in Week 3 against New Mexico State. He missed the remainder of the season and had back surgery in November. His final sophomore stat line was 334 passing yards, 4 touchdowns and 5 interceptions.
Johnson is almost certain to retain the starting job regardless of whether Barker can return to full health.
2016: Stephen Johnson, Gunnar Hoak
Johnson took a roundabout path to Kentucky via Grambling State and College of the Desert near his hometown in Southern California. On Kentucky’s second possession in Week 3 he became the Cats’ starting quarterback.
Johnson led Kentucky to seven wins and the program’s first bowl bid since 2010. He passed for 2,037 yards and 13 touchdowns against 6 interceptions. Johnson improved significantly as the season progressed.
His defining moment came in the season finale against Louisville. He passed for 338 yards and 3 touchdowns, outplaying Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson.
Johnson looks poised to remain the starter in 2017.
Hoak redshirted his first season and will look to compete for the second-team spot in 2017.