LEXINGTON, Ky. - University of Kentucky football head coach Joker Phillips announced Monday that sophomore Maxwell Smith would be the starting quarterback for the Wildcats when they meet in-state foe Louisville on Sept. 2 at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
"The first thing I would like to say is how proud I am of Max and Morgan (Newton) and how they have handled this," Phillips said. "They have both done a great job of preparing and both done a great job of competing. When I was asked about this position (head coach), and the difference going from one chair to another, was the difference is having to make the tough decisions and be accountable for them. This is one of the tougher decisions I have had to make. We have two quarterbacks that we feel like we can win with, but the guy that gives us the best chance to win at this point (gets the job.)
"A lot of things go into making this decision. There are a lot of different ingredients. We have to think about leadership and both of them are great leaders. Both of them have great knowledge of our offense. I think consistency and who can get the ball into the endzone and who can continue to lead this offense. Max Smith, we feel, gives us the best chance to win at this point and he will be our starting quarterback versus Louisville."
Smith played in eight games as a true freshman last season, including three starts. The native of Granada Hills, Calif., completed 84-of-153 passes for 819 yards in 2011, including four touchdowns and four interceptions. In his three games as a starter, Smith completed 51-of-101 passes for 595 yards and four touchdowns. For his efforts, Smith was named Freshman All-Southeastern Conference by SEC Coaches and Rivals.com. He was also the SEC Freshman of the Week after winning his first collegiate game as a starter against Ole Miss.
"This is what I have been working for since I was a little kid to get a chance to start for an SEC team," Smith said. "I am glad to be where I am and I am looking forward to having a good season ... I was just wanting to go out and work as hard as I could and that is what it was all about."
Senior Morgan Newton gives the Wildcats additional experience, having played in 23 career games with 17 starts. The native of Carmel, Ind., has completed over 51 percent of his passes in three seasons with 14 touchdowns. Newton led Kentucky last season with eight touchdown passes in 10 games.
"It wasn't obvious, it was tough," Phillips said. "Again, a lot of factors are involved. I think Max had an upper hand by getting all those reps in the spring too. That had a lot to do with it. You saw him getting more comfortable with every snap he got and you can see a little bit more of it in this fall camp."
Smith received all first-team reps during spring practice after Newton was limited in action due to recovering from shoulder surgery.
Phillips said the UK coaching staff made the decision to name Smith the starter Sunday night and told the team of the decision Monday morning. Phillips said Newton would be the second-string quarterback but there was no decision made on who the third- or fourth-string quarterbacks are.
"I think by the way they practiced it was evident that Max was probably a little more productive at this point," offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said. "They both have done a good job. I am excited about having both of them on the team and what they can do for us."
Kentucky will conclude its final practice before fall semester begins Tuesday. UK will have Wednesday off from football activities due to the start of classes.