Most of our readers know John Schlarman the coach. What many of our younger readers may not know is that John Schlarman the player was just as great as the anchor of Kentucky’s offensive line in the mid-90s.
An all-state performer at Ft. Thomas Highlands (and now a member of the Highlands Hall of Fame), he signed to play football for Bill Curry in 1993. After redshirting in his first fall on campus, he immediately earned a starting role, a spot he would not relinquish over the next four years.
Schlarman’s first start at right guard was a significant moment in the history of football in the state of Kentucky. The Wildcats and the Louisville Cardinals had not met on the football field in 70 years. A back and forth affair, Donte Key recovered a late fumble to give the Wildcats one more shot at a game-winning touchdown. Facing third and goal to go, Schlarman opened up a hole wide enough to drive a car through, leaving quarterback Antonio O’Ferral untouched to score the final touchdown.
Key picked off a pass on the final Louisville drive to secure a 20-14 UK victory in the inaugural Governor’s Cup.
In Schlarman’s final season there was a changing of the guard. Kentucky shifted from Curry’s triple option attack to Hal Mumme’s Air Raid. Instead of mauling, Schlarman became a pass protector, helping Tim Couch throw for 398 yards and four touchdowns in Mumme’s Commonwealth Stadium debut.
At the conclusion of Schlarman’s senior season he was a first team All-SEC selection. He made the SEC Academic Honor roll three times, earned a spot on the SEC’s All-Freshman Team and was chosen for the “Unsung Hero All-America Team” by the College Football Chronicle in 1996.
Wildcats celebrated @UKFootball victory over the U of L Cardinals 38-24 in Commonwealth Stadium on Aug 30, 1997. Cats and Cards go at it again today at noon at Kroger Field. pic.twitter.com/QLQ8fpM3Dj
— KY Photo Archive (@KYPhotoArchive) November 25, 2017
Schlarman spent a few years as a GA on Kentucky’s coaching staff from 2000-02, serving as the tight ends coach for the Wildcats’ 7-5 2002 season, before entering the high school ranks. He returned to the University of Kentucky with Neal Brown as an original member of Mark Stoops’ coaching staff.
In his seven-plus years at Kentucky, he helped the Wildcats win three Governor’s Cups, including the memorable 2016 upset over Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson. While that game likely brings up the fondest memories for Kentucky fans, few performances have been more dominant than the last time Schlarman coached against the Cards.
With Lynn Bowden under center in a downpour, Louisville knew Kentucky was not going to throw the ball and the Wildcats still did whatever they wanted. Bowden set rivalry records with 284 rushing yards and four touchdowns. Kentucky broke a single-game school record for rushing yards for the second straight game, racking up 517 yards on the ground to smother the Cardinals into submission with a 45-13 victory.