The Kentucky Wildcats had mediocre quarterback play for the majority of Mark Stoops’ tenure until Will Levis, who was drafted at the beginning of the second round in the 2023 NFL Draft, finally changed that.
Of course, it helped to have Liam Coen as offensive coordinator, and we all witnessed the step back Levis took when Rich Scangarello took over play-calling duties, albeit behind one of the worst offensive lines in Power Five football.
Well, Coen is back, and he’s brought another big-time quarterback with him to Lexington, along with some reinforcements on the Big Blue Wall.
So, let’s get to know who he is and why I think he’ll be better than Levis while donning the blue and white.
- Position: Quarterback
- Class: Senior
- Measurements: 6-1, 217 lbs.
- Hometown: Sicklerville, New Jersey
- School: Timber Creek
- High School Recruit Rankings: No. 372 nationally, No. 16 pro-style quarterback via 247 Sports Composite Rankings; No. 240 nationally, No. 9 pro-style quarterback via Rivals
- Transfer Portal Recruit Rankings: No. 8 nationally, No. 2 quarterback via 247 Sports, No. 4 nationally via Rivals.
The former four-star recruit chose the North Carolina State Wolfpack out of high school. He also held offers from the Baylor Bears, Boston College Eagles, Indiana Hoosiers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Maryland Terrapins, Minnesota Golden Gophers, and Pittsburgh Panthers, among many others.
A dual-sport athlete (Leary also played baseball in high school), Leary helped lead his Timber Creek Chargers team to an impressive 46-5 record during his four seasons, including winning the 2016 and 2017 state championships. He finished his prep career as the state of New Jersey’s all-time leader in passing yards (9,672) and touchdown throws (117), which was good enough to earn him Gatorade Player of the Year honors in New Jersey as both a junior and senior.
Leary redshirted his freshman season at NC State before taking over the starting gig for the last half of his redshirt freshman season. He became the first redshirt freshman to start at quarterback for NC State since Russell Wilson in 2010. During that season, Leary played in eight games with five starts. He completed 101 of 210 passes with eight touchdowns.
As a sophomore, COVID and an injury derailed the start of a promising season. Leary appeared to be the starter heading into fall camp, but due to COVID-19 contact tracing, his development was delayed. He ended up seeing action in four games with three starts—all three of which the Wolfpack won. During that time, he was named the ACC quarterback of the week versus Pittsburgh after he became the first Wolfpack QB with 330+ passing yards, four passing touchdowns, and no interceptions in a game since Russell Wilson in 2009.
On the year, he completed 66 of 110 passes for 890 yards and eight scores, but he suffered a fractured fibula in the second half of a win over the Duke Blue Devils and underwent surgery the following day, ending his season.
As you may remember, the Cats played the Wolfpack in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl that season, but Leary did not play in UK’s win over NC State.
While Wolfpack fans were confident in Leary’s ability to perform at a high level, the injury really slowed the hype heading into his junior season. However, that didn't deter him as he threw for 3,433 yards, completing 283 of 431 passes for 35 passing touchdowns and just five interceptions in 12 games.
His performance in 2021 led to him being named to the Manning Award midseason list, the Davey O’Brien QB Class of 2021, and the Johnny Unitas finalist list. He set a new school single-season record with 35 passing touchdowns—breaking the previous mark of 34 held by Philip Rivers (2003).
This time around, the hype was there as Leary was named Preseason Player of the Year in the ACC ahead of his junior season. Through the first six games, Leary threw 118 passes on 193 attempts for 1,265 yards, 11 touchdowns, and four interceptions. NC State was 5-1 and ranked in the top 15 of both The Associated Press and Coaches’ Polls, but injury reared its ugly head again.
Leary suffered a season-ending shoulder injury versus the Florida State Seminoles, cutting his junior season short. While his numbers were down a bit—partially thanks to a change in offensive philosophy—the team was rolling, and Leary was headed towards stardom.
At season’s end, Leary entered the transfer portal after finishing his career 17-9 as a starter at NC State. Coincidentally, he finished his Wolfpack career with the same number of wins as Levis, who held a 17-7 mark as a starter at UK.
Around the time Leary entered the portal, rumors began swirling that current Los Angeles Rams offensive coordinator, Liam Coen, may be considering a return to Lexington. Just 15 days later, Leary was a Cat.
Many expect Leary to bounce back in a big way and be a force this year rocking the blue and white. The only real question mark at this point is health. Is Leary over his shoulder injury, and can he stay healthy throughout the entirety of the season?
The good news is Leary progressed much quicker than expected from the torn pectoral muscle as he participated in spring ball, which wasn't originally supposed to happen. The better news is Kentucky shored up its offensive line in a big way this offseason in an effort to protect its star quarterback.
And the hype train has already taken off.
Last week, the best college football QBs in the country gathered at the annual Manning Passing Academy hosted by Peyton, Eli, and Archie.— Adam Breneman (@AdamBreneman81) July 4, 2023
Here are my top standouts from the camp:
- Joe Milton, Tennessee
- Devin Leary, Kentucky
- Quinn Ewers, Texas
Boy does this get me excited… pic.twitter.com/DuukYhuKb2
Heck, he even threw out the first pitch at a Cincinnati Reds game.
In fact, many talking heads, including myself, expect Leary to exceed Levis’ production in Lexington.
While Leary isn't the NFL Draft prospect that Levis was and certainly doesn't have the same cannon attached to his arm, his ability to accurately place the ball and limit mistakes gives him a chance for a special season in 2023. He’s headed towards college stardom.
BBN, just sit back and enjoy the show.