Patience is a virtue Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles is quite familiar with.
It's not easy for college quarterbacks to have these days, as the trend of winner-starts-loser-transfers seems to grow across the country. Since only one can play the position at a time, waiting your turn can be difficult, especially if you were a highly-regarded recruit out of high school.
Towles, however, bleeds Kentucky blue and he's now reaping the rewards of his patience as one of the feel-good stories of this SEC season and a catalyst in Kentucky's marked on-field improvement in 2014. Being able to start -- and star -- for the school he grew up loving in his home state is a joy for the redshirt sophomore signal-caller.
"My entire life I wanted to play quarterback here," Towles said. "I've worked my entire life to get to this point where I am now. I've had a lot of breaks, a lot of balls fall my way, I guess you could say. It's great to just finally start to see the fruits of your labor."
Much labor led to Towles' 2014 success, where he is directing one of the most improved teams in the conference this season and recently went toe-to-toe with the No. 1 team in the nation, as he did Saturday in the Wildcats' loss to Mississippi State.
A class of 2012 recruit, Towles had the type of credentials coaches look for in their quarterback of the future. A four-star prospect, Towles was the No. 1-ranked player in the state of Kentucky, a high school All-American, Gatorade Player of the Year and the state's "Mr. Football" who led Highlands High School to three consecutive state championships while compiling a 44-1 record as a starter.
When Mark Stoops and his new coaching staff arrived in 2013, Towles was again buried on the depth chart and ended up redshirting the season. He could have transferred but decided to stay the course and work on improving enough to win the starting quarterback job.
"I did not [think about transferring]," Towles said. "If I would have felt like I was getting a raw deal or maybe I deserved the job and didn't get it, then maybe I would have started to think about that. But I was treated fairly from the jump, since I've gotten here. A lot of quarterbacks they don't win the job or they're told they're not going to play, they get up and leave and go somewhere else. I want to be here, I wanted to be here and I plan on being here for a little bit.”
So Towles continued to work with Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown and when away from school, Towles hired a private quarterback coach to continue development. By the time spring football arrived this year, Towles' progress was evident. Meanwhile, Whitlow transferred out of the program in April and Smith missed spring practice because of shoulder surgery.
Plenty of competition still awaited Towles, though. The arrival of true freshman Drew Barker, an ESPN 300 prospect and the No. 1 player in the state of Kentucky in the 2014 class, was much anticipated. Reese Phillips, who redshirted in 2013 like Towles, was in the mix, too. And by preseason training camp this August, Smith returned to practice. Still, Towles did enough to win the starting job.
Brown said Towles' fundamentals, among other things, greatly improved.
"He changed his release, he made it much shorter," Brown said. "His preparation is at a much higher level. He did all those things and really competed hard and won the job and once we got into the game action he's really stepped up and done a nice job, not only with his arm but with his legs."
His hard work shows on Saturdays. Against the No. 1 Bulldogs he threw for a career-high 390 yards and ran for a career-high 76 yards with two rushing touchdowns and two passing touchdowns. He kept the Wildcats in the game until the final minutes when Mississippi State returned an onside kick attempt for a touchdown.
He is third in the SEC in passing yards (2,077) and has a solid 12-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He is fifth among SEC quarterbacks in rushing yards (204) and has four rushing scores also.
Most importantly, having good quarterback play has gone a long way in the Wildcats being 5-3 after winning only two total in 2013.
"I think it's very big," Stoops said. "I think you have very little chance with the teams we're competing against without a player there, without a quarterback."
Teammates cite Towles as a leader.
"A lot of guys can learn from him," running back Jojo Kemp said. "He doesn't hang his head. He's very positive all the time on and off the field. He's going to do whatever it takes to win."
He isn't alone -- Kentucky's increased talent level thanks to some veterans, as well as recruiting success under Stoops, has given him quality weapons to work with. A backfield of Kemp, Braylon Heard and Stanley "Boom" Williams complemented by receivers such as Ryan Timmons, Demarco Robinson, Javess Blue, Garrett Johnson and Blake Bone have made Towles' job easier. Working with a creative coach like Brown, who has Air Raid roots but has no problems trying different things like the Wildcat formation which has had success for Kentucky this season, has also been huge for Towles.
There's still much left to do, but Towles & Co. have things looking up in Lexington.
"We're not done yet," Towles said. "We just got started."