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Former Highlands football star, UK assistant John Schlarman dead at age 45 after battle with cancer

By Susan Lax
University of Kentucky

John Schlarman, a native of Fort Thomas and an assistant coach for the University of Kentucky football team, died Thursday following a two-year battle with cancer. He was 45.

“I’m heartbroken to learn about the passing of my friend, John Schlarman,” said UK head coach Mark Stoops. “My prayers go out to LeeAnne and the kids, Joseph, Benjamin, Matthew and Evelyn, through this very difficult time.

“John was everything we all strive to be – honest, tough, fair, respected. Kentucky football won’t be the same without him but his legacy will never fade. He was a fighter and we will strive every day to honor his warrior spirit.”

John Schlarman

Schlarman originally came to UK from Highlands High School, where he was an all-state offensive lineman. He also starred in track and field and is a member of the Highlands Athletics Hall of Fame.

Schlarman enrolled at UK in 1993 and was a four-year starter from 1994-97, earning first-team All-Southeastern Conference offensive lineman honors as a senior. He also was a member of the SEC All-Freshman Team in 1994 and was chosen the team’s most outstanding offensive lineman.

Schlarman was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma in the summer of 2018. The determination he displayed as a Kentucky football player was reflected in his fight against the disease. He continued to coach through countless treatments – his tenacity an inspiration to UK players and everyone else around him – and did not miss a game until UK’s two most recent contests.

His final appearance on the sidelines was Oct. 17 at Tennessee, when Stoops awarded Schlarman the game ball following the Wildcats’ win.

“The UK Athletics family is in deep sorrow on the passing of John Schlarman,” said Mitch Barnhart, UK director of athletics. “Throughout the last two years, he has been an incredible inspiration. He taught people how to live and showed all of us what it means to be courageous.

John Schlarman was an original member of Mark Stoops’ staff in 2013, working tirelessly to help rebuild a football program that he loved dearly. (UK photo)

“John was a great husband and father, teacher and leader. He will be remembered for the love he had for his family, his dedication to his players and his excellence as a coach. Our prayers and heartfelt condolences are with his family and all who knew and loved him.”

Schlarman was an original member of Stoops’ staff in 2013, working tirelessly to help rebuild a football program that he loved dearly. A perfect fit for Stoops’ blue-collar approach, Schlarman’s offensive line played a key role in the process that culminated with four consecutive bowl appearances from 2016-19.

In 2018, UK went 10-3, the school’s first 10-win season in 41 years, topped by a win over Penn State in the VRBO Citrus Bowl. UK followed with a win over Virginia Tech in the 2019 Belk Bowl.

During the last four seasons, Kentucky broke numerous school records, including single-season records for most rushing yards, most rushing touchdowns and most rushing yards per attempt. In 2016 and ’19, Schlarman’s Cats were semifinalists for the Joe Moore Award given to the nation’s top offensive line.

Individually, guards Logan Stenberg and Bunchy Stallings earned All-America honors. Stenberg, Stallings, centers Jon Toth and Drake Jackson, and tackle Landon Young received All-SEC accolades. The linemen helped pave the way for a 1,000-yard rusher in each of the last four seasons, Stanley “Boom” Williams, Benny Snell Jr. and Lynn Bowden Jr. Snell reached the 1,000-yard mark three times and left UK as the school’s all-time leading rusher.

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