How Kentucky QB Will Levis is standing out in college football and the 2023 NFL Draft class

Kentucky quarterback Will Levis is a different cat, no pun intended.

Even before his 24 passing touchdowns and 3,200 total yards in 2021, leading the Wildcats to their fourth double-digit win season in program history, Levis was leaving people in disbelief for slightly different reasons.

Such as aggressively showing the world he doesn’t fear an overripe banana.

@w.lev I don’t fear the brown spots on bananas. They fear me. #menacetosociety ♬ Blue Blood – Heinz Kiessling & Various Artists

If you thought that was too far, don’t Google “Will Levis mayo coffee.”

Whether it’s conquering questionable culinary choices or dropping a 55-yard dime over the LSU secondary, Levis embraces standing out. Such a trait is important for a player of his caliber, especially at his position, knowing what could be ahead of him. PFF lead draft analyst Mike Renner has Levis as the No. 4 quarterback in his early 2023 rankings. In his first 2023 mock draft, he had the Kentucky gunslinger going No. 8 overall to the Seattle Seahawks. And for as much as athletes like to tell people they don’t pay attention to that stuff,  Levis does — how could he not?

“I’m trying to take motivation in everything that I can, and I definitely can't ignore it,” Levis said in an interview with PFF. “I'm kind of messed up in the head, like I'll try to spin anything to give myself a little edge. If anything, when I see those things, I know that sometimes the media is just trying to get views or they're trying to do controversial things. It's easy to say other guys are going to be a first-round pick, but it's hard to say me because people are gonna get pissed off. That means that they don't necessarily believe in me at all, so now I'm going to try to prove them wrong.”

Now, the fifth-year senior will be looking to build on one of the better quarterback seasons in Kentucky football history. Among single-season stats, his 24 passing touchdowns tied for sixth-best, 2,826 passing yards ranked eighth-best and 33 total touchdowns placed fourth-best. And that was all after just one year in the program.

The former three-star recruit from Middletown, Connecticut, started his football career at Penn State, and had dreams of leading the Nittany Lions football program, but they never manifested. Levis sat behind the well-established Trace McSorley during his freshman season. The following year, he was in a heated quarterback battle with Sean Clifford. Levis lost the battle — a result he said was the right decision by the coaching staff because he wasn’t ready. But as time went on and Clifford continued to start, Levis had to face the reality that if he was going to make the most of his college career, it would have to be elsewhere.

“It was really, really tough,” Levis said. “I still love Penn State to this day. I'll always be a Penn Stater, a graduate and just with the connections I made there, it's always gonna be part of my life. I remember I asked to meet with coach Franklin one-on-one and I couldn't even get it out at first. I was really emotional like tearing up about it, kind of wondering if I'm making the right decision. He was very understanding and I think he got it and he was very supportive. … I do think that if I stayed at Penn State, I could have contributed and been a good quarterback for them, but I just felt like I needed a change of scenery.”

Throughout Levis’ football journey, not only has the scenery changed, but so has the terminology. Since arriving at Penn State back in 2018, he has played under three different coordinators, with a fourth coming in for 2022. Where changing voices in the headset does come with a natural lack of continuity, the now redshirt senior quarterback has used his experience with different coaches to truly home in on what it takes to pick up an offense — a trait that will be key when the NFL comes knocking.

“You get less reps in a system, obviously, if you were to play more than one year in a system, you get more comfortable in it, but that doesn't mean that you can't be successful in a new system, either,” Levis said. “For me, it's taught me and made me truly be a student of the game. Truly be someone who takes preparation — the classroom, the meeting room — onto the field and have that transition be more and more seamless and more and more mature as my years went on because of the need to really lock in whenever there's a new playbook involved and you really just need to cross your T’s and dot your I’s. It's made me a better leader, and I think every coach that has had me and has coached me will tell you the same thing. That's one of my strengths.”

Stat Number Rank vs. SEC
Passing Yards 2,826 7th
Passing TDs 24 6th
Turnover Worth Plays 11 4th
Big Time Throws 15 9th
Adj. Comp. % 72.90% 6th
Air Yard % 55% 4th

Levis has already played for one coach with NFL experience in Liam Coen, a former quarterbacks coach under Sean McVay with the Los Angeles Rams before taking the job as Kentucky’s offensive coordinator in 2021. The Rams hired Coen back this past offseason to be their offensive coordinator, which led the Wildcats to bring in another coach with NFL experience in Rich Scangarello, who was most recently a quarterbacks coach with the San Francisco 49ers under Kyle Shanahan.

“Coach Scangarello has worked with so many talented NFL quarterbacks in the same system and he's learned how comfortable guys can be with certain things versus others and how guys might need tweaks and might need different either footwork or timing mechanisms for certain types of throws depending on how they throw and how they see things,” Levis said. “And the same way as coach Coen. When we're watching a play and when we've watched the cut-ups of the Rams or the Niners or whoever doing that same play over and over and over again, it’s easy to remember and have that kind of in your Rolodex. Like coach Coen might be like, ‘Hey, remember when [Matthew] Stafford did this against the Niners in the third quarter on that drive and this is how he threw it? That's kind of what we're thinking about here.’”

Another gravitating trait of Levis is that he’s a man of the people. Aside from making others laugh constantly, he’s always striving to connect with anyone in and around the game of football. For proof, look no further than him being named a Kentucky team captain before he even took a snap in an SEC game. There are also tales of him challenging the offensive line to eating contests at Penn State — and not just holding his own, but coming out on top.

“Yeah, PJ Mustipher (former teammate) will tell you, it was tough to keep up with me for sure,” Levis said.

Outside of the locker room, he’s also embraced Kentucky’s storied fanbase, Big Blue Nation, as it has embraced him.

“This is really the first time in my life that I've been recognized regularly walking around town, people pulling me aside for pictures and stuff,” Levis said. “It's awesome. I always dreamed of being that someone that little kids can look up to and everything. The vastness of Big Blue Nation and our fan base is amazing.”

When asked if there were any Ricky Bobby “sign my baby” moments yet with Wildcats fans, Levis laughed and said not quite, but he did mention a specific story where he went to a signing in Harlan, Kentucky, up in the mountains, and a fan who worked as a coal miner wanted him to sign his work helmet. Knowing the hard work that helmet represented, it meant a lot to Levis.

This year, he planted his Kentucky roots even further by striking a name, image and likeness (NIL) deal with a local farm that had a racehorse named “War of Will.” It was a match made in heaven. Levis even posted on his Instagram, “You don't have to look far to see the similarities between a college quarterback and a thoroughbred stallion.”

That perfect match encapsulates Levis and his UK home. Though his journey didn’t begin in Lexington, he certainly looked in 2021 like a player who couldn’t be more confident where he’s at. As for 2022, Levis knows what’s ahead. He knows that another good year could mean another dream achieved. In his eyes, the area of his game that holds the key to that dream is getting even better at situational decision-making in his second year as a starter.

“I know I can make every single throw on the field and I have one of the most talented arms in the country. And just physically, I can do everything,” Levis said. “But just to make sure that the decision-making that I have is up to par. My accuracy is there. My completion percentage is really good, but the interceptions didn't really make any sense with how well I was throwing the ball. I think that just means taking a step back and realizing that you gotta take what they give you and sometimes, the best decision is to not throw the ball that was called, the deep ball, and just kind of bring it down and take it to the running back.”

A year ago at this time, Levis was an intriguing transfer player set to be a full-time starter for the first time in his career. Not many outside of Kentucky and Penn State knew much about him. It’s safe to say the secret is out, and all eyes — both in college football and the NFL — will be on Lexington and its one-of-a-kind quarterback.

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