Kentucky fans have spent the week mourning the premature death of our beloved former quarterback, Jared Lorenzen. We can never compare suffering and tragedy, but it’s safe to say, in terms of the collective sadness of a university’s fanbase, this is about as bad as it gets. We lost one of our own, and it hurts.
But why are so many are mourning the loss of one who so few of us knew personally? The first conversation I’ve had with every UK fan I’ve seen this week has been about Jared, but barely any of us ever had the chance to meet him. How can it be that his death has had such a far-reaching impact?
Put simply, the loss of Jared hurts because Jared was one of us. Communities are comprised of people and places, and Jared was one of our people, who lived in our place. We lost one of us, and it’s right for us to mourn.
We all belong to communities. It’s true that no man, or woman, is an island. We are all formed by, and we all form, the people around us and the places in which we live, move, and have our being.
I was born in 1993 in Lexington, Kentucky. One of the most formative communities in my life has been the community of Kentucky football fans. Every Saturday in the fall brought the rituals of putting on blue, driving to Commonwealth Stadium, helping set up our family’s tent in the green lot, eating too much food, sweating in September, freezing in November, making the climb to section 216, shaking hands with Tommy, our usher, and screaming my head off for three-and-a-half hours, usually only to walk out disappointed. Despite the disappointment, we went back every week for more. Why? Because it’s not really about winning and losing; it’s about community—people and places.
The place was one: Commonwealth Stadium. The people were many: my mom and dad, my sister, uncles and aunts, cousins, Tommy, who I mentioned above, Evan, who I threw football with before and after the game, Ian, who stood waiting to celebrate with me on the 50-yard line after more than one upset. But perhaps no one epitomizes the community of Kentucky football for any of us more than the Hefty Lefty.
For most sports fans, the preteen years are the height of fandom—you’re knowledgeable enough to know what’s going on, old enough to stay engaged for the entire game, and optimistic enough to think you’re going to pull off every upset. This means the height of my fandom came in the Jared Lorenzen era at Kentucky. And boy did it ever.
I was at Jared’s first game as a starter against Louisville in Papa John’s Stadium. I was there when he threw for a million yards against Georgia later the same year, and when he threw for a million yards again against Eli Manning and Ole Miss a year later. I was there (for the first half) in 2001 when we had Tennessee beat, only to lose a nailbiter. I was there for our 4–0 start in 2002, and watched in agony as we blew a lead against Florida in the Swamp. I was there the next fall when we blew another lead against Florida and lost at home. And I was there, ten years old, for all seven overtimes against Arkansas in another heartbreaking defeat in 2003.
Most of those games may have been losses, but I remember them. And I remember watching most of them in a blue 22 jersey, the sleeves cut just below the numbers, like Jared’s. I wore that same jersey for years, and rushed the field in it in ’06 against Georgia, ’07 against Louisville, and ’07 against LSU. Why? Because Jared was part of our community. Even though I never met him, he was part of my community. And he was one of our favorite parts of our community.
The reason I wore that 22 jersey for years in the height of my UK fandom is the same reason so many in BBN have shed tears this week: because Jared was not only one of us, he was one of the best of us.
Jared Lorenzen was born and raised in Northern Kentucky. He was a KHSAA Mr. Football. He was a four-year starter who broke all kinds of school, conference, and national records. And after a short stint in the NFL, he came back home to his community—his people, in his place.
It just felt right when, a few years ago, Jared began leading the crowd in cheering on the Cats at the beginning of each fourth quarter. Who better to do so? Who better to represent our team and fans? Disappointments, upsets, losses—our team’s history, and Jared’s life, unfortunately, have plenty. But at the end of the day, it’s not about that. It’s people and places that matter. And still, even in his death, there’s no one that 10-year-old me or 26-year-old me would rather see representing the Blue and White.
So thanks Jared. Thanks for being a part of our community, and for letting us be a part of yours. We love you. We’ll miss you. And you’ll always be one of us.