LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Andre Woodson says it wasn't until eighth grade that he could throw a football farther than his mother.
``She could throw that ball probably a good 30 yards,'' the Kentucky quarterback said. ``It was pretty tough, Mom always letting me have it.''
Although Robin Woodson says her son is just being modest and that she recalls him heaving long passes since his first youth game, she acknowledges his ascent from good passer to Heisman Trophy contender came fast and furious.
The last two weeks, Woodson has set an NCAA record for passes without an interception, led the 14th-ranked Wildcats to fourth-quarter comeback victories over Louisville and Arkansas and put himself arguably atop some NFL teams' wish list.
``It seems so surreal,'' Robin Woodson said. ``Pinch me. I might wake up.''
Kentucky (4-0) hosts Florida Atlantic on Saturday before facing some of the titans of the Southeastern Conference - South Carolina, Louisiana State and Florida.
Woodson's path to stardom wasn't anything like that of another SEC quarterback, Peyton Manning, who followed closely in the footsteps of his father Archie to the NFL and whose brother Eli who did the same.
Although Woodson has the right size - 6-foot-5, 230 pounds - he didn't have those bloodlines, or even a dad around to play catch with. Instead, he had his mom.
Before he turned 2, Woodson's parents divorced. Woodson hopped with his mother to various military bases during her 20-year Army career - from Washington to Germany to Pennsylvania to Hawaii, finally ending up at Fort Knox, Ky.
Although Robin was always a fanatic about the Pittsburgh Steelers and practically forced Andre to be the same, she says she didn't know how to coach him. Still, Woodson gives her all the credit.
``She went to the backyard and threw the football with me,'' he said. ``She attended all the youth camps, all my games, did all my constructive criticism. She was basically the mom, the father and the best friend for me.''
Four different quarterbacks coaches had their crack at him in high school, but most of Woodson's prep career was spent in a run-heavy Wishbone offense. Although he was still hotly recruited by colleges, both in football and basketball, Joe Washington, Woodson's high school football coach, said he had one concern about his game translating to the next level.
``He would hold the ball too long,'' said Washington, the coach at North Hardin High in Radcliff, Ky. ``He'd want the receiver to be wide open before he wanted to throw it. In high school, you can get away with it.''
He indeed chose Kentucky over schools such as Louisville and Penn State, but success certainly wasn't instant. Woodson redshirted his first year, served as a backup his second and struggled his third. During spring drills before last season, he even temporarily lost his job to Curtis Pulley, sparking a rare football-related pep talk from Mom.
``I said, 'Andre, this is it,''' Robin Woodson said. ``'This is your last chance. How are you going to feel when your peers are running out on the field and you're standing on the sideline holding a clipboard?'''
He called that the low point of his career.
But in came quarterbacks coach Randy Sanders, who also worked with Manning while at Tennessee. Sanders stressed what Washington saw - a need to release the ball quicker. Together, Woodson and Sanders shaved a full second off his release time, and the results were stunning.
``My switch finally turned on, and I got it going,'' Woodson said.
It hasn't stopped.
Last year, he threw 31 touchdown passes - joining Tim Couch in the Kentucky record books - and led the Wildcats to a victory over Clemson in the Music City Bowl, their first bowl win in 22 years.
``The progress he's made and the way he's developed as a quarterback in a year's time, it's really pleasing to see,'' Sanders said. ``There's no question he's an NFL quarterback the way he's playing for us.''
Two weeks ago, Woodson used a perfectly placed 57-yard strike to Steve Johnson with 28 seconds left to beat Louisville and, for the first time, Brian Brohm - a rival dating to high school.
Last week against Arkansas the heroics came with 4 minutes left - a 32-yard touchdown to favorite target Keenan Burton, also a possible first-round NFL draft pick.
``He's not hesitant at all,'' Burton said. ``He'll just throw the ball up there and he expects us to make a play on it.''
Long the doormat of the SEC, Kentucky seems assured of consecutive bowl appearances although the players have far loftier goals of reaching the conference title game, maybe even winning it.
The Wildcats' program was plagued by probation when Woodson arrived, and now that the scholarship count is back up and the offense is putting on a weekly show, the future couldn't be brighter.
Woodson always deflects questions about his own accolades, referring only to team goals. Still, he acknowledges he plays the right position to turn around a program.
``A quarterback can do a lot,'' he said. ``Kids recognize that from high school. They see that. It makes them excited to go to the program because they know, 'That can be me one day.'''

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