Quarterback Jalen Whitlow will transfer from Kentucky after finishing this semester, a decision precipitated by UK's coaching staff recently asking him to consider moving to wide receiver.
"He decided that it'd be in his best interest to go somewhere else and play quarterback," coach Mark Stoops said Wednesday. "That's where his heart is. That's what he wants to do. I understand that."
Stoops had a conversation with Whitlow Tuesday afternoon asking him if he would "be open" to a position change, a request made in conjunction with offensive coordinator Neal Brown. Whitlow met with Stoops against Tuesday night to inform Stoops he would be leaving.
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Most players found out about his decision when coaches announced it at the conclusion of Wednesday's practice.
"Silent," offensive tackle Darrian Miller said of the reaction. "We lost a brother."
Whitlow was vying for the starting quarterback job for a second straight year. He played in 12 games last season, throwing for 1,033 yards and rushing for 457 more.
Stoops said publicly last week that Whitlow would start a game if one had to be played at that time.
Saturday's scrimmage, however, "played a role" in changing that equation, Brown said, noting "the other guys probably did some better things" than Whitlow. That spoke to an overall trend.
"Jalen made strides," Brown said. "He was better this spring than he was in the fall, but the other three guys who are competing are better, too. And maybe they made bigger strides, OK?"
That improvement in Kentucky's other quarterbacks in the battle -- freshman Drew Barker, redshirt freshman Reese Phillips and redshirt sophomore Patrick Towles -- made Stoops and Brown comfortable enough with asking Whitlow to drop out of the quarterback race and move positions based on "what we think Jalen's best skill set was for Kentucky," Stoops said.
Stoops said he had not approached Whitlow before about moving positions, and gave Whitlow "every opportunity" to win the job outright this spring. His lack of consistency throwing the ball is "what it came down to," Brown said, because UK ultimately wants to be a pass-oriented offense.
Now, Stoops and Brown are ready to "move on" with the process of getting more practice reps in for those in consideration for the starting job.
"That's why we made the decision," Brown said. "We've got to get it down to a manageable number."
Brown said he would have liked Whitlow to try his hand at wide receiver, but acknowledged Whitlow's decision was based on his best interest. Those around him said the same.
"He's a grown man," Miller said. "He's doing what's best for him. That's all right."
Miller, tight end Steven Borden and wide receiver Thaddeus Snodgrass all said Whitlow was a great teammate and friend.
"It's a bummer to see him go," Borden said. "Everybody here loves Jalen."
Tight ends coach Vince Marrow also said he talks more about Whitlow's "off-the-field" attributes than anything else, saying that some team "is going to get a good young man."
But ultimately, the decisions were oriented around Whitlow's play and the team's needs at quarterback. Those didn't mesh with Whitlow's own desires.
"I don't look at it like he's throwing in the towel on us," Stoops said. "I wish he was here. I wanted him to stay here and play for Kentucky in some position. But he wants to play quarterback, so we understand that."