Lexington, Ky. – Jared Lorenzen, the former University of Kentucky quarterback whose oversized body, outsized talent and good-old-boy charm endeared him to UK fans and foes alike, died Wednesday at the age of 38 after years of health problems related to his weight, his family said.
Jeremy Schapp, the ESPN personality who interviewed Lorenzen for his “E:60” series last year, confirmed the death on Twitter, citing a text to his producer from Lorenzen’s mother Janet: “Lorenzen’s mother Janet confirmed that Jared died today. He was only 38. Janet said, ‘I lost my sweet boy today after a long hard fight.’”
Moments later, Matt Jones of KentuckySportsRadio.com, who was also a personal friend who broke the news of Lorenzen’s hospitalization last week, released a statement from the 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,” the statement read. “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 information in the coming days. Please keep Jared’s family and especially his children, in your thoughts and prayers.”
Lorenzen, 38, was admitted to a hospital Friday due to a number of ailments and as recently as Tuesday was reportedly holding “his ground” despite being hooked to a dialysis machine, suffering from both renal and heart issues.
As the news broke on the internet on Wednesday afternoon, a swell of appreciation and sadness began to be expressed on social media.
Since his playing days ended, Lorenzen’s weight on his 6-foot-4 frame topped 500 pounds, an issue he knew he had to address and tried to with a public declaration in 2017 that he would begin working toward a healthier lifestyle and helping others do the same. His “Jared Lorenzen Project” became a health and wellness tour as well as the subject of a documentary by noted filmmaker Anthony Holt and a segment on ESPN’s “E:60” series.
Though he had a large support group and more than 33,000 followers to his Facebook page that he took with him on many parts of his journey, Lorenzen struggled to keep up his nutrition and fitness regimen. But through it all he remained honest with his fans and continued to encourage those trying to follow his example.
“I told you going into this, you’re going to see some good, some bad and some ugly. … This is a every day constant struggle for me,” Lorenzen posted in a Facebook Live video on April 12, just a few days after the sixth episode of the documentary was published on YouTube.
Born in Covington, Lorenzen played football, basketball and baseball for Highlands High School, earning Mr. Football honors his senior year as he led Highlands to a 15-0 record and the Class 3A state title in 1998. He finished his senior season with 168 completions on 271 pass attempts for 3,393 yards, an average of 20.2 yards per completion with 45 touchdowns and six interceptions. He also rushed for 904 yards, averaging 8.4 yards a carry, and an additional 15 touchdowns.
In high school Lorenzen’s size at 6-4, 240 proved difficult for opponents to handle.
“I’m just a bigger guy than everybody else. I can take the hits. I’m not saying I like them, but I can take them,” he said.
Lorenzen was also part of the Bluebirds’ three straight runs to the Boys’ Sweet Sixteen from 1997 to 1999 as 9th Region champions with his Highlands and future UK teammate Derek Smith also pulling two-sport star status.
“What great athletes they are,” said Bluebirds basketball coach John Messmer ahead of their final run to state. “To do what they’ve done in football and basketball has just been tremendous.”
At Kentucky, coach Hal Mumme picked his redshirt freshman Lorenzen over returning starter Dusty Bonner ahead of the 2000 season.
Affectionately dubbed the “Hefty Lefty” and the “Pillsbury Throwboy,” Lorenzen broke school and NCAA freshman records that season, passing for 3,687 yards with 19 touchdowns and 21 interceptions, but the Wildcats became embroiled in an academic scandal that cost Mumme his job.
The next season under new head coach Guy Morriss, Lorenzen was benched after a poor start to his sophomore campaign in favor of Shane Boyd. Rumors swirled that Lorenzen would transfer that October. He immediately dismissed them.
“There’s no reason to leave,” Lorenzen said at the time. “I love this place. This is the only place I’ve ever wanted to go, and there’s no reason to be leaving here.”
In his junior year, Lorenzen led the Wildcats to a 7-5 record, including a 22-17 victory at No. 17 Louisville to start the 2002 season. The Wildcats, however, could not attend a bowl due to penalties incurred under Mumme.
Kentucky struggled Lorenzen’s senior year in 2003 as the Cats adjusted to yet another new head coach in Rich Brooks, going 4-8 and 1-7 in the SEC. One of the losses was a seven-overtime 71-63 loss to Arkansas at then Commonwealth Stadium.
Despite all the upheaval during his college career, Lorenzen put up eye-popping statistics, especially for someone who played a skill position at the same weight or heavier than some of his offensive linemen. Lorenzen holds UK career records for total yards, completions, and passing yards. His record of 10,637 total yards eclipses the next-closest player by nearly 2,000.
Signing as an undrafted free agent in 2004, Lorenzen backed up Eli Manning for three seasons with the New York Giants, including their 2008 Super Bowl victory. Attempts to get back into the game after getting cut by the Indianapolis Colts in 2008 finally ended when he broke his leg while playing for the Northern Kentucky River Monsters, a small arena league team, in 2013.
After his playing days were done, Lorenzen began to struggle with his weight. He went through a divorce and he admitted to ignoring the problem for years. In 2017 he said before he began his project that he hadn’t stepped on a scale since being cut by the Colts in 2008.
During his attempt to get healthier, Lorenzen said losing a specific number of pounds would never be the goal. He wanted to get healthier, whatever that looked like. But his six-episode documentary revealed he suffered a number of setbacks over the course of the project that had him nearly at his original weight after reportedly dropping more than 100 pounds in 2018. He had thyroid issues and problems with the leg he broke in his final game. He also tried testosterone pellet injections to try to boost his energy levels.
This year, Lorenzen had been taking part in a Kroger Health and Wellness tour and made an appearance with it and his mobile gym in Lexington at the Richmond Road Kroger on May 19. At that event, Lorenzen said he was “down and out right now with a busted leg.” Throughout the project, Lorenzen made public appearances often with his mobile gym and spoken to children about nutrition.