The Everlasting Legacy of Hefty Lefty

Jared Lorenzen was a highlight machine, Super Bowl champ and early prototype for QBs like Cam Newton and Patrick Mahomes before dying at 38 after a long battle with obesity and other issues
photo of Adam KramerAdam Kramer@kegsneggsNational College Football Lead WriterLEXINGTON, Ky.October 31, 2019

Since his son, Jared, died, Joe Lorenzen has avoided traveling as much as possible. His job as an applications engineer requires some nights on the road, so he can't entirely avoid it. But he knows just how empty a hotel room can be these days.

When he's out there, on his own, he can get lost in his own thoughts, thinking about Jared.

And when he thinks of him, it's not to replay the many touchdowns he scored at Kentucky or the night in February 2008 when his son lifted him off the University of Phoenix Stadium turf after winning the Super Bowl. It's the emptiness and regret and love and loss that consume him.

Joe plays golf to occupy his mind. Candy Crush, too. But there is little that can truly distract him from his grief.

It all still feels so vivid as he describes it on this day in mid-October, a bit more than three months since Jared's death and about five hours before the former Wildcat's life is to be celebrated at a Kentucky home game against Arkansas. Sitting on the back porch of his son's home, a few miles from the stadium, with a chill in the air as the wind knocks leaves off the trees, Joe wears blue jeans and a white long-sleeve shirt that is neatly pressed. As he speaks, his hands rarely leave his lap.

The resemblance between the father and his late son is uncanny, so much so that years ago they were regularly confused for brothers. The rosy red cheeks. The defined facial features. The belly. And the natural warmth that draws you closer without you even questioning why or how.

"I miss him so much," Joe says. "But I couldn't be any prouder of who he was. I'm proud of his athletic accomplishments, but I'm prouder of the person he was. For wanting people to be happy."

He misses their phone calls. Ten minutes to seven, every morning, usually when they were both on their way to work. Jared and Joe wouldn't talk for long. But each would get to hear the other's voice and start each other's days, and that was enough.

To us, he was the Hefty Lefty. The Pillsbury Throwboy. J-Load. The 300-pound quarterback who went viral before going viral was a thing. He was the first of his kind and the last of his kind. An athlete blessed with superhuman abilities who looked and talked like many of the people who cheer him. It's why he was so beloved.

To Joe, however, he was Jared. Son. Father. Brother. Lover of Christmas. Lover of people, especially his son and daughter. 

Lover of life, right up until the day his ended—July 3, 2019—when his heart and kidneys could no longer support his more than 500-pound body.

The people of Kentucky felt a connection to their quarterback that long outlasted his playing career. At tailgates after he'd retired, fathers would beg Jared to throw their sons footballs, just so they could tell that story for the rest of their lives. And no matter how much weight he had gained, even when it came to the point where he struggled to walk, Jared could always throw a football.

Those who were close to him—the many who are still hurting and angry and trying to process his absence—are left with one painful truth among the many stories and memories they've replayed in their minds since his death.

The same thing that made Jared one of the most beloved football players ever also cost him his life.


Hal Mumme first met his future quarterback as a shadow.

Mumme was watching film in a dimly lit room inside Kentucky's football complex with Wildcats quarterback Tim Couch, who would go on to be the NFL's No. 1 overall pick in 1999, and the light from the hallway seemed to flicker as footsteps approached.

In the doorway stood a massive teenager. Perhaps his future left tackle, Mumme thought, as he sized up the silhouette. Those first impressions were quickly dismissed.

"My name's Jared Lorenzen," the player told Mumme as the two shook hands. "And I want to be your quarterback someday."

At Highlands High School in Fort Thomas, Kentucky—about an hour-and-a-half drive from Lexington—Lorenzen starred in football, basketball and baseball. He was an athlete first, and close friends and teammates believe he could've starred in college in all three sports.

But football was his calling, even if many college coaches saw his future as being at positions other than quarterback. Even though he dominated at the position in high school, accounting for 60 touchdowns his senior season, some viewed him as an offensive lineman. Others a tight end. At 6'4" and nearly 250 pounds back then, Lorenzen carried projections that were were all over the map.

"He had such a quick release and such a strong arm, it was obvious to me," says Mumme, who after that meeting recruited Lorenzen and coached him his first two years at Kentucky. "Everything you could measure a quarterback by, he had. You just had to get past the fact that he looked like an offensive lineman."

Lorenzen wore No. 22, a number normally reserved for running backs. His throwing motion was akin to a starting pitcher's—long, deliberate and powerful. But the trait that defined him through football and life was his build.

LEXINGTON, KY - SEPTEMBER 27:  Quarterback Jared Lorenzen #22 of Kentucky looks for the open receiver against Florida on September 27, 2003 at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, Kentucky.  Florida won 24-21.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

"I was astounded at how big he was and what kind of ability he had for his size," says Rich Brooks, who coached Lorenzen as a senior at Kentucky. "His feet, his athletic ability. He could move and do things that most people that size can't do."

Lorenzen spent much of his college career hovering near or above 300 pounds. Mumme tasked a trainer with helping Lorenzen diet. "The trainer ended up gaining weight," Mumme recalls of the experiment.

Brooks took it a step further and joined Lorenzen on his dieting quest. The two would see who could stay in the sauna the longest. Brooks lost 15 pounds, and Lorenzen trimmed down to 260 pounds during the spring before his senior season. But come fall, when Lorenzen went home, he put most of the weight back on.

No matter his weight, though, Lorenzen put on a show. Even in losses—and there were many in Lorenzen's four seasons starting—he found a way to make Kentucky football games bigger than the outcomes.

Over his four years, Lorenzen threw for 10,354 passing yards, completed 862 passes—both school records—and accounted for 90 touchdowns. He threw for 528 yards and nearly led Kentucky to a massive upset over 12th-ranked Georgia in 2000, widely regarded as the best game he ever played. 

In 2001, he had 453 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions in a win over Vanderbilt. And in 2002, in an accomplishment that seemed most monumental, he led Kentucky to seven wins—tied for its most in a season since 1984.

"His stardom would've been colossal if social media existed when he played in college," says fellow Kentucky quarterback Shane Boyd. "When you look at his stature and what he could do on the field, it was amazing to watch. It would've even been that much bigger now."

It was the throws behind his shoulder as he was falling backward. The forward passes with his off hand. The long, shockingly smooth, graceful scrambles. The collisions with smaller defensive backs that made you feel bad for anyone who had the task of slowing him down.

"He was doing things a lot like Patrick Mahomes is doing now," Mumme says. "In a lot of ways, I think Jared broke the ground for a lot of big guys who wanted to be quarterback. Cam Newton and others like that.

"And everybody loved him for it," Mumme adds. "Especially the offensive linemen. It was like one of them finally got to play quarterback."


He won a Super Bowl in February 2008—almost four years after going undrafted.

The Giants had seen enough in Lorenzen to sign him as an undrafted free agent in 2004. He became Eli Manning's primary backup in 2006 but only appeared a few times for sneaks that year and then a few series while Manning battled injuries in 2007. In the summer after the Super Bowl, Lorenzen was cut and signed with the Colts. He was cut again before the 2008 season began and never played in the NFL after.

Gene Puskar/Associated Press

In all, he completed four passes in his NFL career.

In the years that followed, Lorenzen latched on to a number of new teams in new leagues—the Kentucky Horsemen, the Northern Kentucky River Monsters, the Owensboro Rage and eventually the River Monsters once more. As the crowds grew smaller, he grew larger.

His ultimate viral moment arrived in February 2014. He was the largest player on the field for the River Monsters, dazzling in front of mostly empty stadiums. But he could still throw and move, and his highlights spread like wildfire.

The rebirth of interest offered a moment of nostalgia. To some, it was an introduction.

The following game, however, Lorenzen broke his tibia and damaged ankle ligaments when a defensive player dove at his legs. In an instant, his football career ended.

Around the time football was taken from him, Lorenzen and his wife, Tamara, who he began dating in high school, divorced. They had two children. Taylar, Lorenzen's daughter, was born during his junior year at Kentucky. His son, Tayden, was born in 2009.

"He was a great father," Joe says of his son. "He knew what was important after the divorce. Unfortunately, his health was not as big a priority as it should've been. But he was really involved in his kids' lives, and they will have good memories of that."

During the day, he settled into his new job as a regional manager at Donnellon McCarthy, an office supplies company. Lorenzen also was a guest radio host for Kentucky Sports Radio.

Each year after football left his life, he grew bigger. Because size was always part of his persona, he was comfortable being The Hefty Lefty in the open. He would joke about his weight and had a smile. The next diet was always a few weeks away. But in private, with family and friends, Lorenzen rarely discussed his size.

"I don't believe that there's anybody that loves being called fat," says Derek Smith, Lorenzen's childhood friend, whom he played football with at Kentucky. "I don't think there's anybody that loves being overweight. But if there was a person that could take it for the greater good, it was Jared."

After the NFL, Lorenzen didn't step on a scale for nearly a decade. That was until he launched The Jared Lorenzen Project, a documentary that chronicled the quarterback's journey—the goal being to lose as much weight as he could.

"The way I'm going right now, as scary as it is, I'll die in five years," Lorenzen said in the first episode of the documentary that aired earlier this year. He first weighed in at over 500 pounds. "Right now, if I didn't wake up tomorrow, it wouldn't be a shock to many people. ... It's to a point where something has got to give."


On the morning of June 28, Joe called his son at 8 a.m.

The call awoke Jared, who seemed disoriented. His words were jumbled. His eyes were swollen almost completely shut. He told his father he would try to sleep it off and call him later.

Five minutes went by, and Joe's phone rang. The pain and discomfort were too much for Jared to handle. Joe told him he would come by to pick him up, but Jared told him to call an ambulance instead.

An infection was the root cause of Jared's death. But this is more the straw that broke the camel's back than what cost him his life.

When he arrived at the hospital, Jared was intubated because his oxygen levels were too low. The right side of his heart was enlarged. His kidneys weren't functioning properly, which prompted dialysis. Doctors estimate that Jared lost over 100 pounds of water weight as they tried to treat him.

Over the first few days, Jared showed signs of recovery. But when the doctors attempted to shift his body—move him slightly after days of immobility—his body simply could not adjust.

"It was that fragile," Joe says.

The chain reaction that followed—the strain on his internal organs from the excess weight he carried around during his adult life—led to his death on July 3. He was 38 years old.

Courtesy of Joe Lorenzen

"I don't think he had any idea he was as sick as he was," Joe says. "Everything was such a gradual progression. I knew what kind of pain he was in, but I don't think he had any idea that things were dire. As a parent, you lose sleep over that. For the rest of my life, I will have to wish I would've done something more."

Two weeks before he died, Jared called both his father and mother, who divorced when he was in high school. Not in the morning, like he normally did. But at night.

He was not in a good place emotionally, and he was seeking treatment. The call caught Joe off guard, largely because the two rarely spoke about it. As part of the treatment, Jared wanted his mother and father to know he might not call them every day like normal.

"I believe he had an addiction and depression," Joe says. "Inwardly, he had to be miserable, because he felt like he was letting everyone down and he couldn't make himself happy.

"So, he made everyone else happy around him instead."


Ryan Lemond first became familiar with Lorenzen as a member of the media. For 12 years, he was the sports reporter of WLEX 18 in Lexington. Like those in the stands, Lemond had a fascination with the quarterback and his ability.

That fascination soon spread to his adopted son, Michael, who was enamored with what Lorenzen was capable of on the football field. Ryan took his son to many of the Kentucky Horsemen's games, all so Michael could see Lorenzen.

At the time, however, Michael was struggling. He had issues with school and making friends—issues that Ryan and his wife, Amanda, attributed to his maturation and even his adoption.

Knowing just how much his son loved Lorenzen, Ryan reached out to see if the quarterback would attend Michael's birthday party. Lorenzen happily obliged.

At the party, Lorenzen was more like the children than the adults. He passed his Super Bowl ring around to the kids, who gazed at it in amazement and spun it around their tiny fingers. He was the center of attention, as one might expect. Not because of his name or the sport he played, but because he had a knack for drawing people close to him.

"That was the day that Michael went from being this kid that was shy and tentative to who he is today," Amanda says. "I literally saw a change in him that day. He developed friendships afterwards, and I credit Jared for that."

Courtesy of Ryan Lemond

Over the years, Michael and Lorenzen developed a relationship. When Ryan and Lorenzen eventually teamed up at Kentucky Sports Radio, Michael would go and lie on the floor while the two did radio just to be in Lorenzen's presence.

When he had issues with school, it was Lorenzen who would call him to talk through it. When he struggled to lose weight, Lorenzen was blunt about what could happen next—using himself and his age as an example of what not to become.

Now 17 years old, Michael is hurting like so many others who were touched by Lorenzen.

"He always made everybody feel important," Jared's mother, Janet, says. "Everybody felt like they knew him and they were his friends. I would love to take credit for that, but I don't know where he got it. I just think maybe God just picks certain people."

Even The Jared Lorenzen Project at its core was far more than a documentary about a beloved figure in Kentucky.

It was a way for him to reach people who were in a similar situation. It was honest, painful and deeply personal. But it was not simply about him, and it was done with a single intention in mind.

"He wanted to help fight obesity in the community here in Kentucky," Derek says. "Most people would try to fix their own problems before they try to fix someone else's problems. But this was not who Jared was. He was selfless."


As kickoff nears, the sky is a vibrant aqua blue as the sun sets at Kroger Field, the home of Kentucky football.

A few dozen of Lorenzen's friends, family and former teammates gather near the end zone farthest from the video board. There is Joe, wearing a blue vest over his white shirt as the temperatures fall. There is Janet in a blue windbreaker. There are friends and family, all of whom look a combination of proud and anxious.

The university did not declare October 12 "Jared Lorenzen Day" by chance. In 2003, against Arkansas, Lorenzen had what many consider to be his signature football moment. With Kentucky down in the second half at home, fans began to exit the stadium. The sight was unsettling to the quarterback, who wasn't shy from the sideline.

"Where the hell are y'all going?" he yelled to the stands. "Y'all gonna miss one hell of a game."

Kentucky stormed back to tie Arkansas. The two teams then went on to play seven overtimes. Arkansas ultimately won one of the longest games in college football history 71-63, but Lorenzen's legacy grew in the defeat.

On this October night, 57,060 fans, many of whom are outfitted in blue-and-white No. 22 jerseys, have gathered to celebrate Lorenzen before the same opponent.

"He was larger in life in the way he played the game," the PA announcer says as the ceremony before the game begins. "And the way he loved life."

As a highlight of Lorenzen plays over the videoboard, "My Old Kentucky Home" bellows through the stadium speakers. The crowd grows quiet as nearly 60,000 people consume highlights that many have seen countless times.

Even now, nearly two decades later, all eyes are fixated on the board as a stadium quietly sings and hums along.

As the song finishes and the highlights end, the crowd erupts. But the celebration is not complete as the applause winds down.

Rather than honor Lorenzen's life with a moment of silence, Kentucky asks for 22 seconds of noise—an appropriate tribute for a player and human being who was different in every way.

As the video board counts down from 22 to zero, "Sandstorm" is blasted into the stadium. The fans erupt, waving white towels with the No. 22 etched in blue.

22…21…20…19…18…

The players on the field can't help but join them—jumping up and down as kickoff nears. As the countdown continues, the crowd grows louder.

14…13….12…11…10…

Suddenly, it feels more like a party than a funeral. A celebration of life—a life gone too soon but one that touched so many.

5…4…3…2…1…

The pain and the wounds subside, at least momentarily, for joy. And in that moment, the legacy and impact of Jared Lorenzen has never felt more alive.

       

Adam Kramer covers college football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @KegnsEggs.

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