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Stoops: Kentucky has a “franchise quarterback” in Will Levis

“He wants to be great and loves putting in the time, so he has all the intangibles.”

Mark Stoops Dylan Ballard - Sea of Blue

Kentucky Wildcats football coach Mark Stoops knows he has a special player in returning quarterback Will Levis as the Pennsylvania native continues to turn heads in spring practice.

In fact, Stoops even gave the 32 NFL scouts in attendance at last week’s Pro Day “a little taste” of the Will Levis experience, as the 6-foot-3, 232 pounder threw some darts in front of a captive audience.

“He’s got everything they’re looking forward to be a high (NFL Draft) pick, to be a franchise quarterback so the sky’s the limit for him there,” said Stoops in regard to Levis’ rising NFL stock.

“But you can’t get ahead of yourself. He’s here to get better. He has aspirations to do great things, and he will. But it’s one day at a time and I really love what I’m seeing out of him, just trying to get better every day.”

As the Wildcats enter the last week of spring practice, Levis is still getting acclimated to his third offensive coordinator in as many years as former San Francisco 49ers quarterbacks coach Rich Scangarello has taken the reins for the departed Liam Coen.

Fortunately, an experienced offensive unit led by Levis and running back Chris Rodriguez has helped make for a seamless transition as Kentucky fans will get its first glimpse of the new-look offense when the annual Spring Game kicks off on Saturday at Kroger Field.

In addition to a few new wrinkles in the playbook, all eyes will be on an incoming group of wide receivers to replace last year’s trio of Wan’Dale Robinson, Josh Ali and Isaiah Epps who combined for 2,106 yards. Robinson set a school record with 104 catches.

This spring, Levis has already found comfort in throwing to new targets DeMarcus Harris, Chris Lewis and Virginia Tech transfer Tayvion Robinson. Incoming freshman Dane Key is also squarely in the mix for reps at the wide receiver position.

Robinson, a former four-star recruit, played three seasons at Virginia Tech, catching 113 passes for 1,555 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. He led the Hokies in receptions last season with 44 and was also the team’s top punt returner.

“A big part of the offense is finding what receivers we think are best at the routes that we’re going to run,” said Levis of his goals for spring practice. “We’ve found a couple of guys like Dane Key and Chris Lewis who are able to go down the field and make plays on either those deep balls or the daggers across the middle.

“DeMarcus (Harris) has been doing well at those too. We really like Tayvion (Robinson) on those choice routes in the slot. He has a really good feel for that and has a lot of experience with that at Virginia Tech. Those are just names of some guys we like at certain cuts and different routes.”

Levis had a breakout season in 2021, becoming only the seventh player in school history to reach 3,000 yards in a season. His 24 touchdown passes last season were the most since 2007, and he also became the first UK quarterback since 2014 to have three 350-yard passing games in one season as he was twice named FBS National Offensive Player of the Week after wins over LSU and Louisville.

After leading the Wildcats to a 10-3 record a year ago, Stoops says there’s little doubt who the team leader is heading into next season as Levis is projected once again to be named a team captain. The Wildcats will open the 2022 season on September 3rd at Kroger Field against Miami (Ohio).

“The leadership qualities that he has, people are attracted to him,” Stoops said of Levis. “He has a genuine leadership ability which is extremely important to be a franchise quarterback, but he’s also very intelligent. He’s intelligent in the classroom but also on the football field. And he works at it. He wants to be great and loves putting in the time, so he has all the intangibles.”

With another big season, Levis will have a chance to join Andre’ Woodson and Tim Couch as the only Kentucky quarterbacks to be drafted since 1987. Woodson was selected in the sixth round of the 2008 draft by the New York Giants, while the Cleveland Browns made Tim Couch the overall No. 1 pick in 1999.

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