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Wildcats coach, Fort Thomas native John Schlarman dies of cancer at 45

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Posted at 7:49 PM, Nov 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-12 19:56:54-05

John Schlarman, the Kentucky offensive line coach who was an All-Southeastern Conference player for the Wildcats, has died of cancer. He was 45.

The Fort Thomas native was a four-year starter with the Wildcats from 1994-97 and earned first team All-SEC honors as a senior. Prior, he played football at Highlands High School, and he would go on to coach at Campbell County High School in Northern Kentucky.

The University of Kentucky announced Schlarman’s death Thursday after being notified by his wife.

Robert Reynolds, a friend who played football with Schlarman at Highlands, told WCPO Schlarman was one of the most selfless people he ever met.

"Just four months ago, I was falsely diagnosed with COVID for a couple hours. As I'm in the hospital, he's texting me, and just telling me to fight," an emotional Reynolds recalled.

Schlarman was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma, or bile duct cancer, in the summer of 2018 but continued to coach through treatments and had become an inspiration in the community.

He was most recently on the sideline for Kentucky’s 34-7 upset at then-No. 18 Tennessee on Oct. 17. Coach Mark Stoops awarded him a game ball after the emotional victory and said in the news release that he was heartbroken to learn of his friend’s passing.

After Thursday’s practice Stoops said, “One thing about John that everybody will tell you is that he was here with a strong, positive attitude every day. He essentially came in here and worked and coached until it was the bitter end for him.

“And the best way we can honor him is go out there and play the very best we can. I know I want to coach as if John was with me standing next to me.”

Added athletic director Mitch Barnhart: “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.”

Schlarman was an original member of Stoops’ staff in 2013 and helped build Kentucky into a program that has recorded four consecutive winning seasons with two bowl victories. Guards Logan Stenberg and Bunchy Stallings have become All-America selections during Schlarman’s guiding the offensive line.

Schlarman was also a three-year member of the SEC academic honor roll. He previously coached the offensive line at Troy University from 2007-12 and was also head coach at Bourbon County High School.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.