Nicknamed “The Hefty Lefty,” former New York Giants quarterback Jared Lorenzen should be remembered for more than his unconventional playing weight.
Quarterbacks from Kentucky don’t reach 10,000 yards. Backup quarterbacks don’t come in for a mere third down. Quarterbacks aren’t supposed to weigh 300 pounds. Names aren’t normally made on the indoor football circuit. Losing 100 pounds in a year is most improbable.
Jared Lorenzen and his football endeavors were anything but ordinary.
The former New York Giants quarterback passed away on Wednesday, dead at the age of 38. He had been battling kidney and heart issues after being admitted to an intensive care unit last week.
Lorenzen’s final acts were engaged in a fight. Appropriate, as his legacy is one of defying football tropes and tackling obstacles. His lasting legacy may be his unconventional playing weight. He was listed at 285 pounds during his NFL tenure. Throughout his life, Lorenzen was affectionately referred to as “The Hefty Lefty” or “The Pillsbury Throwboy”. But his steady rise and subsequent fights cement his legacy far beyond the scale.
The Covington, Kentucky native entered public consciousness in 2000. A nationally-ranked high school quarterback, Lorenzen stuck with the local Wildcats of the University of Kentucky. Football in Lexington serves merely as a distraction until basketball practice begins. Football adversity was a common theme from the onset of Lorenzen’s quest. Kentucky went through three different head coaches during his four-year tenure. The last of those coaches, Rich Brooks, tried to briefly transform him into a receiver while preparing for the transition to Shane Boyd. They weren’t invited to a 2002-03 bowl game despite Lorenzen leading the Wildcats to one of two seven-win seasons between 1985 and 2005 in his junior year.
Yet, Lorenzen made the squad worth watching. Records formerly held by 1999’s top NFL draft pick, Tim Couch, now belong to Lorenzen. The Wildcats have since enjoyed a football resurrection to the tune of eight bowl appearances since 2006. But Lorenzen continues to be at, or near, the top of almost every major Lexington pass statistic.
At the time of his death, Lorenzen remained a well-known commodity of Kentucky football. He served as an analyst during football season on Kentucky Sports Radio.
Lorenzen’s career brought him to New York, where a new fight began. He was undrafted in the 2004 selection proceedings but was scooped up by the New York Giants shortly afterward. Eli Manning‘s monopoly on the starting quarterback position was just beginning. Thus, Lorenzen needed to fight to merely stay on the roster.
He would make his name as a summer mainstay, emerging on the playing field only during preseason games in the early going. But after two seasons of sitting being veteran Tim Hasselbeck, Lorenzen-mania hit its preseason peak in August 2006.
Lorenzen was engaged in his customary exhibition mop-up duties in the Giants’ preseason opener in Baltimore. He would complete the game with a flash of heroics, commandeering a 16-play drive that would end in a Jay Feely field goal to win the game. The quarterback converted three third downs on the drive with his own legs, including an eight-yard rush with seven to go near midfield.
He would go on to wrap up the Giants’ primary backup gig after taking a majority of snaps in the team’s victorious preseason finale in New England.
“Yeah, I’m a little bigger than everybody, but it doesn’t matter. I can still drop back there and I can still throw and still lead the team,” Lorenzen said during that summer, per John Branch of the New York Times. “I didn’t know what direction I was going (in 2004-05). I was confused. I was a lost little kid. I didn’t really know what was going on. I’m not saying I know exactly what I’m doing now, but I feel a lot more comfortable. I feel like I can go out there and direct a team.”
Despite Manning’s iron-like streak under center, Lorenzen managed to make a name for himself despite finding himself trapped in the spot below the top pick. He would come up clutch during two crucial games.
The Giants were fighting for their playoff lives in a Week 17 matchup in Washington. They were looking to turn a 2-6 mark at the midway point into an improbable postseason berth. They led the Redskins 17-7, but a prime opportunity to create separation presented itself prior to the halftime gun. Facing a single yard to go on third down, Lorenzen came in and punched his way to a first through two-yard sneak.
Lorenzen would go on to duplicate the feat during the Giants’ January 2007 playoff cameo in Philadelphia. In both instances, the Giants would score on the drives continued by Lorenzen’s pushes.
“Jared had a fun-loving, yet serious attitude. He was a good athlete, he had touch and versatility, and he was serious about trying to get his weight under control,” head coach Tom Coughlin said in statements on Giants.com. “Jared got along well with his teammates, and he contributed a lot in his hometown. He worked with young kids in teaching them the game of football…It’s sad to lose a kid who tried so hard to play again.”
Lorenzen left the Giants after the 2007 season. Eight NFL throws awaited him their season-opener in Dallas when a rare Manning injury forced him to finish the game. He did manage to earn a Super Bowl ring when the Giants shocked the Patriots in the 42nd edition and played an indirect role in the famous Manning-to-David Tyree exchange known better as “The Helmet Catch”. As documented by the NFL’s official Twitter account, Lorenzen helped mimic the relentless New England rush during the practices leading up to the upset.
It was part of a customary drill in which backup quarterbacks would “pressure” Manning and try to strip the ball away from him. According to Manning, “Lorenzen took it to the next level”.
Without Jared Lorenzen, the Helmet Catch might have never happened.
— NFL Throwback (@nflthrowback) July 4, 2019
“You have to move around, and the other quarterbacks try to strip the ball out,” Manning explained in the segment documented by NFL Films. “All the work I had with Jared Lorenzen, I think that was a big help in getting out of that pocket.”
Further personal NFL success wasn’t on the horizon. Lorenzen tried out for an opportunity to back up another Manning brother in Indianapolis. He was beaten out for the slot behind the elder Peyton by Jim Sorgi. Continuing his football trek would require another fight.
The battle continued, this one coming in the realm of arena football. It could’ve ended before it truly began. A return to Lexington as part of AF2’s Kentucky Horseman was spoiled by the league’s dissolution in 2009.
A new opportunity arrived two years later. Lorenzen joined the front office of the Ultimate Indoor Football League’s Northern Kentucky River Monsters before eschewing the general manager position to go back to the field. He would thrive in a rediscovered starring role, making a new name for himself in the world of uncertainty that is indoor football.
Before a broken tibia forced his exit in 2014, Lorenzen held the roles of quarterback, general manager, and commissioner between the UIFL and the Continental Indoor Football League. His highlights routinely wowed the internet.
Lorenzen’s greatest fight began after football ended. The weight that caused some to seek his name in the first place was threatening his life. It would exceed 500 pounds after his playing career ended. A feature from ESPN’s Tommy Tomlinson even remarked that his weight contributed to his divorce from wife Tamara (though the two remained on good terms otherwise).
As such, Lorenzen dedicated himself to shed himself of the literal and figurative weight that would plague him before, during, and after his football career. He became an inspiration to many through documenting his weight loss through the web series The Jared Lorenzen Project. One-hundred pounds were lost in the first year alone. All the while, Lorenzen remained upbeat and humorous toward his body image. When the NCAA approved new rules concerning unlimited snacks and meals for Division I student-athletes, Lorenzen joked “the NCAA really lucked out that I don’t have any eligibility left” on Twitter.
Lorenzen passed away this week, but his legacy of fighting will live on through Lexington, East Rutherford, and beyond.
“Jared was a great teammate and friend,” Eli Manning said in his statements. “I will always remember his competitive spirit and his good nature. Jared has left us all way too soon.”
His impact on not just football, but society in general, went beyond the playful monikers. That won’t be leaving.