There's no slowing down Bearcats' 'Iron Man'

CorrespondentDecember 27, 2013 

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Quarterback Brendon Kay #11 of the Cincinnati Bearcats passes against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights in the first quarter of a game at High Point Solutions Stadium on November 16, 2013 in Piscataway, New Jersey. Cincinnati defeated Rutgers 52-17.

RICH SCHULTZ — Getty Images

You’d never know it by watching him, but Cincinnati quarterback Brendon Kay has been playing hurt this season.

Yet that hasn’t slowed Kay, who leads the Bearcats into Saturday’s Belk Bowl at Bank of America Stadium against North Carolina with a shot at another 10-win season.

Kay, a senior, has accounted for nearly 3,300 yards of total offense and 28 touchdowns for Cincinnati (9-3) despite injuries to his shoulder, back, ribs and ankle.

“I’ve been dealing with this since about Week 3,” Kay said. “But the guys know I’ll be out there regardless of what happens, as long as I can go out there and compete. It’s just the way I am.”

It also earned Kay a nickname from first-year Bearcats coach Tommy Tuberville.

“I call him ‘Iron Man,’ ” Tuberville said. “I wouldn’t have played. I don’t know how he did it, I really don’t. And it’s not just one injury, it’s been several things that have nagged him all year.

“When you’re a quarterback and you’ve got to make decisions, you’re hurting and you’ve got to throw the ball … it usually takes away from your concentration. Not him, though.”

Tuberville got his first good look at Kay in action in last year’s Belk Bowl, where he threw for a bowl-record four touchdowns – including the game-winner with 44 seconds left in a 48-34 victory against Duke – and was named the game’s MVP.

The changes Tuberville – who took over as Cincinnati’s coach after last year’s bowl game – made on offense (moving from a pro-style attack to a spread) appealed to Kay, and he emerged as the clear-cut starter during spring drills.

However, it was during two-a-day practices in the fall that Kay began struggling with injuries. Shoulder and back injuries limited his reps during scrimmages, moving senior Munchie Legaux – the starter at the beginning of the 2012 season before he was replaced by Kay – up the depth chart.

Legaux started the first two games, but when he went down for the season with a knee injury, Kay – injuries and all – took over, leading the Bearcats to bowl eligibility with wins in eight of their next nine games.

The injuries have limited Kay’s availability during the week – according to Tuberville, he usually practices just one day, spending the rest of the time studying video of the next opponent – but come game day, he has produced.

Kay has thrown for four touchdowns in a game three times this season, and he had back-to-back 400-yard passing games against Rutgers (405 yards) and Houston (406 yards). His 3,121 passing yards made Kay just the fourth Cincinnati quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards in school history.

Yet it was the Bearcats’ regular-season finale against Louisville where Kay cemented his “Iron Man” reputation.

Knocked out of the game with a badly sprained ankle, Kay returned after backup Jordan Luallen suffered a separated shoulder several plays later. Kay went on to throw for 304 yards and add two short touchdown runs in a 31-24 overtime loss.

“He’s one of the most competitive quarterbacks I’ve ever been around,” said Cincinnati wide receiver Anthony McClung, the team leader in receptions (68) and receiving yards (908). “He’s been playing hurt, but when the game’s on the line, you expect him to make plays.”

That’s what Kay expects to do Saturday against North Carolina, especially now that he has had several weeks to recuperate.

“I’ve taken full advantage of this time off,” Kay said. “This is probably the best I’ve felt in two months. I’m excited to get out there and play some ball.

“Let’s throw the ball out there and go play and not stop until there’s zeros on the clock.”

Kiser on Twitter: @BKiser_CLTObs

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