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University of Kentucky quarterback Jared Lorenzen looks down his offensive line as he calls a play during a game at the University of Louisville on Sept. 1, 2002. Lorenzen died Wednesday.

The advertisement for the weight-loss product ran on radio stations around this town in the mid-1980s.

"Fat never tastes as good as thin feels" was its tagline.

I never embraced that mindset the way I should have back then, the way all of us should every day, pounding those words into our brains as if our lives depended on it, because they just might.

Instead, whenever something went wrong in my life — be it small, medium or super-sized — I reached for the Breyers Natural Vanilla Ice Cream. Or an eight-piece Original Recipe box at KFC. Or I'd drop by Ryan's, Golden Corral or a Shoney's breakfast bar at some odd hour or location where I hoped I wouldn't see anyone I knew.

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Mark Wiedmer
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Jared Lorenzen spins a football while waiting to have his picture taken during the University of Kentucky football team's media day before the 2000 season.

And no matter how ashamed I was of my weight, I couldn't or wouldn't break the cycle. What's the phrase? Rinse and repeat. Over and over and over again.

It cost me respect, possibly a marriage, certainly some health concerns that may stick with me the rest of my days, but boy did that third bowl of Breyers taste good when things were going bad.

Then one late afternoon a little more than 20 years ago, as I was gorging myself at a local buffet, a man I never had seen before and never have seen since walked over to my booth and said, "If you keep eating like that, you're going to kill yourself."

Did I stop right then? No. Did it begin to haunt me? Absolutely. And while I'm still not as thin as I need to be, while I still occasionally embrace a buffet, I'm at least 50 pounds lighter than my top weight. I quit drinking soft drinks. I try to avoid bread and limit the ice cream as much as possible. I check the sugar grams on everything I buy.

And over the past few days, as more and more tributes pour into multiple national media outlets regarding the tragic death of former University of Kentucky quarterback Jared Lorenzen, I so wish someone could have shocked him into curbing his eating habits before he ballooned to more than 560 pounds, dying at the shocking age of 38 on July 3 due to heart and kidney failure.

"I've literally been big my whole life," said the man sometimes referred to as the "Hefty Lefty," "Pillsbury Throwboy" and "Round Mound of Touchdown" during a documentary released last year. "Always the tallest, always the biggest, always the guy who had his birth certificate checked which makes you feel a little out of place."

No one seemed more out of place at quarterback — the matinee idol position of football — than Lorenzen until that cannon left arm of his unleashed a laser of a pass.

A single story from his UK days: His first coach with Big Blue, Hal Mumme, was having a college quarterbacks camp on campus. Lorenzen wasn't a part of it, but he stopped by to watch for a few minutes.

"All of these big-name quarterbacks were doing this," Mumme told the Louisville Courier-Journal. "They were all throwing it right around 48 to 52 miles an hour. He's got his penny loafers on and his little button-down shirt, and he throws it 68 miles an hour. It just blew everybody away."

Indeed, to say Lorenzen was unique is like saying the Beatles were unique or Mona Lisa's smile is unique. Lorenzen left unique in the dust when he weighed 13 pounds at birth. Lorenzen was one of a kind. Period.

After all, Lorenzen didn't just start for four years at a Southeastern Conference school despite often weighing north of 300 pounds. Lorenzen starred. At a school that produced the NFL's overall No. 1 draft pick in 1999, Tim Couch, it is Lorenzen who holds the record for most career passing yards (10,354), which also ranks eighth in SEC history. His 78 career touchdown passes rank ninth in SEC history. His 528 passing yards against Georgia in 2000 are another UK record.

His weight probably kept him from being drafted, but Lorenzen's talent was respected enough to have him wind up being Eli Manning's backup with the New York Giants for two years, including the Giants' 2007 Super Bowl season.

Yet football alone wasn't what made him special.

As ESPN's Jeremy Schaap said upon Lorenzen's death: "He was a kind of everyman who happened to have extraordinary skills."

Observed longtime Lexington, Kentucky, television personality Mary Jo Perino in a tribute show to Lorenzen late last week, speaking more of his personality than his pounds: "Larger than life was (Lorenzen). That saying was meant for him."

Noted Kentucky Sports Radio's Matt Jones, a longtime friend of Lorenzen's, on that same show: "Jared was one of the kindest souls I've ever met. He was the epitome of the kind of grace we so rarely see in public figures. Even with fans who would be cruel and tease him about his weight, he would respond back to them with kindness."

In so many ways he was that oversized teddy bear, or as Lorenzen stated on Twitter: "I'm always gonna have fun and laugh."

Obesity is no laughing matter in these United States, however. Among the world's most highly industrialized countries, we are the fattest nation on earth. Two-thirds of our population is overweight. One-third is considered obese. More than five million Americans are, much as Lorenzen was, morbidly obese.

And while we all have our demons, our shortcomings, our weaknesses, only a few of them play out in full view of the public the way obesity does.

So as he began his Jared Lorenzen Project over the internet last year, which he hoped would document him shedding a good number of those 560 pounds, the Hefty Lefty's goal was simple.

"To know that I could be that person who got so-and-so off his meds," he said. "That's all you could ask for."

If only someone could have been that person to get Lorenzen to embrace the notion that fat never tastes as good as thin feels.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

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