New offensive coordinator Liam Coen opened the first day of Kentucky’s spring football practice with a bang, announcing that the competition for the starting quarterback job won’t officially begin until Penn State transfer Will Levis arrives later this summer.
Coen is in the early stages of introducing a new offense and one of three players - Levis or current quarterbacks Joey Gatewood or Beau Allen - will take over for Terry Wilson, who transferred out of the program after leading the Wildcats to two bowl game victories.
At Penn State, Levis played in 15 games over two seasons, starting one and completing 61 of 102 passes for 644 yards. He also had 473 career rushing yards, good for 10th all-time by a Penn State quarterback.
“Will Levis has still got to come into the program at some point (and) when he gets in, that’s when we’ll truly have an evaluation and competition once he gets in here,” said Coen, who will have just 15 practices to get his feet wet minus the annual spring game that has been cancelled due to COVID. “I’ve got to believe as we go throughout spring practice, we’ll have an idea of somewhat where we’re at in terms of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and who Will will be competing with for the job ultimately, but I think that’s something we’ll have an idea of after spring practice for sure.”
Levis announced his commitment to the UK program on January 28th and is already very familiar with Coen, who recruited the standout quarterback during a prolific high school career at Xavier High School in Connecticut.
“He’s a big, strong kid that can really throw the football,” said Coen. “It’s one of those things that he can throw the football and the one thing he can also do is run. You know, he’s had some ability to run the football at Penn State and it’s more so for him about putting it all together and becoming that true dynamic quarterback in all three phases for him - run the football, operationally and throwing it - so I think he’s going to come in and give it a go just like if he was at Penn State or anywhere else.”
For now, Coen will have to wait patiently for Levis to arrive on campus, instead turning his focus to “process over competition” as the key to the new offense will be consistent quarterback play regardless of who’s under center.
“It’s really about sinking my teeth into these guys and trying to help them get better,” said Coen. “I mean I don’t even care who’s in the huddle, I’m just trying to evaluate the position and trying to get these guys: ‘Hey, everybody’s on the same footwork, everybody’s on the same drop, everybody’s cadence is the same’ because we need to have that sameness for the rest of the unit to be able to operate.”
This spring, all eyes will be on Gatewod and Allen who each bring something different to the position. Gatewood, a former sprinter in high school, is known as a run-first quarterback while Allen is more of a pocket passer who can spread the field with deep throws.
Gateway, an Auburn transfer, saw action in seven games last season, including a start in a home loss to Georgia. The Florida native threw for 15-of-25 for 91 yards in the absence of Wilson, who was injured and returned the following week.
Allen was a four-year standout at Lexington Catholic High School, throwing for 11,439 yards ad 127 touchdowns, both of which rank 5th all-time in state history. He made his collegiate debut against Vanderbilt this season and also saw action on the road at Alabama.
Coen said that everyone in the quarterback room is “hungry” and each has displayed a solid work ethic by watching film, spending extra time with the coaching staff and trying to get a grip on new concepts and terminology.
“For us, right now, this is more so an installation, fundamentals, technique phase. It’s not so much a competition phase with each other, it’s more how can we operate at the highest level,” said Coen.