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Former starting QB Newton learning to play H-back

Associated Press Modified: September 13, 2012 at 3:20 pm •  Published: September 13, 2012

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Morgan Newton has always played quarterback — until recently.

He arrived at Kentucky four years ago with a locker full of trophies and accolades, from being Indiana's 'Mr. Football' to placing on at least six national prep All-American squads. Newton was ranked as one of the nation's top 10 QB recruits by several major scouting services.

The senior and onetime Kentucky starter is changing positions — at least part-time — just to get playing time. Since sophomore Maxwell Smith beat out Morgan this fall to be the Wildcats' signal caller, the 6-foot-4, 240-pound former Southeastern Conference All-Freshman selection began taking snaps at H-back.

Newton isn't bitter. In fact, he's eager to help Kentucky beat Western Kentucky on Saturday night and possibly reach a sixth bowl game in seven years.

"I think it would be tough if you thought you were supposed to be playing quarterback, but Max is playing well and he has won some games," said Newton, who's still listed as Smith's backup. "He's playing quarterback pretty good so that works and it's the best thing for the team. I just try to help out the best I can."

Newton's career has witnessed more spikes and dips than the stock market. Forced into action as a freshman in 2009 after Mike Hartline was injured, Newton started eight games, threw for eight touchdowns and played a significant role in Kentucky's first win at Auburn since 1961 and first at Georgia since 1977.

The momentum didn't last. Hartline beat Newton out for the starting job in 2010, which led to Newton attempting just 43 passes on the season.

Hartline graduated and Newton rose to the top of the depth chart, but he had a disastrous 2011 opener against Western Kentucky (7 of 18 for 97 yards, three interceptions) and was mostly ineffective until a shoulder injury forced him to the sidelines in late October.

When Smith won the starting job in training camp this season, Newton and the Kentucky coaching staff began searching for ways to get him on the field.

"We don't have many guys with his size and speed," Kentucky offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said. "You don't have enough guys like that and I told him last spring if he wasn't the starting quarterback he wasn't going to stand by me, he was going to do something. He's had a great attitude about it."

Newton lined up at H-back several times in Kentucky's 47-14 victory over Kent State and is expected to see more snaps there Saturday night against Western Kentucky and as the season moves along.

Newton is taking it all in stride.

"I think you just kind of have to," Newton said. "I've seen a lot of good times and bad times, been a part of a lot of good things and had some success. I've been in the background and been able to watch the young guys do some good things. I'm just enjoying being out here.

"He gives me a lot or credit, probably more than I deserve, but I'm not going to say, 'No Randy, you're wrong. It's good they think I can help because I think I can help too."

Newton's unselfishness has caught attention of teammates and coaches.

"That's the thing about him, he's always had a good attitude about him," Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said. "The guy is willing. He is the guy that came to us and said he'd really like to get on the field in some capacity. We had mentioned it to him a few times but he came to us. With us being down a few bodies at tight end, it's a natural for him."

The move hasn't come without adjustment, most notably in understanding his days as a quarterback are likely over. Newton said he threw a block in the Kent State game for the first time since playing Pop Warner ball when he was 'too big to run the football,' but he's embracing his new football reality.

Even if that means re-inventing himself.


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