Will Levis’ surprising path from backup QB and unnoticed switch to big-time NFL prospect

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Wealthy Scangarello was sitting within the San Francisco 49ers‘ staff lodge assembly room final season on the eve of their sport towards the Arizona Cardinals.

The LSU-Kentucky sport was on the big-screen TV within the room, and Scangarello and others from the 49ers’ group, together with common supervisor John Lynch and assistant GM Adam Peters, had been watching whereas ready for conferences to begin. Kentucky quarterback Will Levis was placing on a present, throwing for 3 touchdowns and operating for 2 extra in a 42-21 win.

Scangarello, then the 49ers’ quarterbacks coach, turned to Peters and mentioned, “Who is that this quarterback? He is fairly good. I would like to ensure he is on my radar going into the offseason.”

Little did Scangarello know the offseason would result in his hiring as Levis’ offensive coordinator at Kentucky, and it did not take Scangarello lengthy to determine what sort of expertise he was inheriting in Levis, who has gone from a backup at Penn State to one of many NFL’s hottest draft commodities seemingly in a flash.

On his Large Board for the 2023 draft, ESPN’s Mel Kiper has the 6-foot-3, 235-pound Levis rated because the No. 4 participant general and the No. 2 quarterback behind Ohio State‘s C.J. Stroud.

One NFL personnel director, who has scouted Levis extensively and seen him stay this season, instructed ESPN he sees numerous Josh Allen in Levis when it comes to arm energy, athletic means and bodily measurement.

“He simply must proceed to work on his pocket poise, his timing and his accuracy underneath strain, however he is one of many extra intriguing quarterback prospects on this class,” the personnel director mentioned. “Josh Allen had some inconsistencies with accuracy and timing as nicely, however we have seen how that has performed out.

“As [Levis] will get extra comfy and higher rhythm on this scheme, I really feel like he shall be enjoying even higher soccer on the finish of the season than what he is placing on tape proper now. He has all of the bodily traits and numerous upside.”

Scangarello is the fourth offensive coordinator Levis has performed underneath in as a few years, going again to his redshirt freshman season at Penn State in 2019. The methods have all been a bit totally different, even the one Levis performed in final season when Liam Coen was the Wildcats’ offensive coordinator. Coen left in February to grow to be the Los Angeles Rams‘ offensive coordinator.

“Will is as gifted as anybody I’ve evaluated the final 5 years. The one two guys I’d examine him to, the place you may see it clearly, can be Joe Burrow and Josh Allen,” mentioned Scangarello, who spent the earlier 5 seasons within the NFL and was the Denver Broncos‘ offensive coordinator in 2019.

“I feel he would be the first general decide within the draft.”

LEVIS’ ASCENT TO the highest of NFL draft boards might shock some, however not Levis. Even when he was relegated to being Penn State’s “operating” quarterback and enjoying second fiddle to Sean Clifford, Levis by no means doubted he was going to get his shot — someplace.

“I’ve at all times had confidence in myself. I at all times thought I used to be the most effective quarterback within the nation, and no person else was going to inform me in any other case,” mentioned Levis, who tried simply 102 passes in two seasons at Penn State. “I simply wanted the platform to show it. I wanted the chance to get comfy with enjoying the place at this stage, and I really feel like that is one thing I did not have at Penn State.”

Levis has discovered that platform at Kentucky, which has received 14 of its previous 17 video games with Levis at quarterback and vaulted to No. 7 this week in the AP ballot, the Wildcats’ highest rating since 1977. They journey to No. 14 Ole Miss on Saturday (midday ET, ESPN).

“A man like that makes everyone higher. He elevates your program,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops mentioned. “The assumption is there. The boldness is there each time he takes a snap, each time he drops again to throw. I get an opportunity to see him on daily basis. I stand behind him, and you know the way it may get right here [in Kentucky]. It could possibly be nasty, chilly, wet, windy, no matter, and it would not matter.

“This man simply completely rips the ball. I imply, he throws the s— out of it.”

Which begs the query: How did Levis go from the bench at Penn State to any individual who wasn’t closely pursued as a switch to a quarterback NFL scouts are displaying up in droves to look at play?

Even in highschool, Levis was neglected till Penn State misplaced out on Justin Fields and supplied Levis a scholarship. Up till that time, Mid-American Convention colleges had been displaying probably the most curiosity.

“We had been all annoyed and scratching our heads as a result of we thought one factor about him and had been saying, ‘Why would not anybody else see this? What are we lacking?'” mentioned Andy Guyon, who coached Levis at Xavier Excessive in Middletown, Connecticut.

“The spring earlier than his senior 12 months, we had tons of schools on campus checking him out, however he could not get a chew. Generally, there’s that stigma that gamers from the Northeast get, that we do not play soccer up right here the best way they do down South or in Texas or in California, and this man cannot be that good.

“Effectively, truly, he will be that good.”

Levis attended a camp at Florida State the summer season earlier than his senior 12 months of highschool and started to show heads after receiving a scholarship provide from then-FSU coach Jimbo Fisher. Levis attended a camp at Penn State quickly after that, and the Nittany Lions had been searching for a quarterback following Fields’ decommitment.

“He got here in there and was lights out, and it was not exhausting to see how gifted he was,” mentioned Previous Dominion coach Ricky Rahne, who was Penn State’s offensive coordinator in 2018 and 2019. “He did not miss a throw and was an unimaginable athlete.”

Rahne walked over to Joe Moorhead, who was then Penn State’s offensive coordinator, and mentioned, “Joe, we’re loopy if we do not provide this child,” to which Moorhead responded, “Yeah, I used to be considering the identical factor.”

Levis redshirted his first season at Penn State in 2018, and Moorhead left for the Mississippi State head job after the season, with Rahne promoted to offensive coordinator. He mentioned it was by no means a case of the Nittany Lions not believing in Levis, however quite that they had been profitable video games with Clifford and he was extra outfitted at the moment to be the starter.

“Everybody at all times asks what occurred and why Penn State did not begin Will over Sean,” Rahne mentioned. “After we first picked Sean, Will wasn’t prepared to begin but, after which it turned exhausting to exchange a man who had received 11 video games. Folks form of overlook that.”

Rahne’s solely query about Levis, whom Kentucky coaches and teammates readily admit performs with a linebacker’s mentality, was whether or not he may harness his intelligence, competitiveness and can to succeed so he may play with the stableness wanted for an elite quarterback.

“That was generally his biggest detriment,” Rahne mentioned. “He needed to be so profitable that he put a lot strain on himself that it made him play a bit tight generally. At Kentucky, he appears comfy in his pores and skin, they usually’ve performed a very nice job of letting him be himself and play free. I am completely satisfied to see it as a result of the expertise was at all times there, and he is an awesome child.”

After Rahne left for the ODU head job, Kirk Ciarrocca got here aboard as Penn State’s offensive coordinator in 2020, and nothing modified for Levis. Most of his enjoying time got here situationally as a runner from the quarterback place.

It appeared clear {that a} switch was going to be his solely likelihood to grow to be a starter, and having taken on an accelerated educational schedule, Levis earned a level in finance from Penn State in three years. He graduated magna cum laude with a 3.97 GPA.

Levis had personally knowledgeable Penn State coach James Franklin that he deliberate to switch, and Levis’ mother and father, Mike and Beth — who had been each athletes in school — met with Franklin to thank him for what he and the Penn State program had performed for his or her son. However much like the early phases of Levis’ highschool recruitment, colleges weren’t lining up for his providers out of the switch portal. Levis mentioned he heard from Rutgers, UConn, UMass and several other different smaller colleges.

“No person had seen me throw it. All they’d seen me do is run,” he defined.

However Kentucky was searching for a quarterback, and Stoops had simply employed Coen as his offensive coordinator. Coen was the assistant quarterbacks coach with the Rams, however he had seen Levis play in highschool when Coen was teaching at UMass after which Maine and was recruiting within the New England space.

Even with that familiarity, Stoops mentioned they needed to dig by means of Levis’ tape at Penn State to search out performs the place he was making totally different throws.

“We knew we needed to go get him, however due to the best way he was utilized at Penn State, you actually needed to seek for sure throws,” Stoops recounted. “There was the Nebraska sport from the 12 months earlier than, throws we watched and noticed and confirmed what we thought. It additionally helped that Liam knew him from highschool.”

Levis did not graduate from Penn State till Could 2021, so he did not benefit from going by means of spring apply his first 12 months at Kentucky.

“Will wager on himself. He took of venture and took an opportunity, and it is labored out extraordinarily nicely,” Mike Levis mentioned. “He needed to stroll into that locker room and achieve the respect and belief of his teammates and training employees in a comparatively brief time.”

Levis made an instantaneous impression. He was named one in every of eight staff captains and helped lead Kentucky to 10 wins for under the fourth time in class historical past. Prospering in Coen’s pro-style system, Levis gave the Wildcats a dimension at quarterback they hadn’t beforehand had underneath Stoops and completed with 3,202 yards in whole offense with 24 passing touchdowns and 9 speeding touchdowns. He additionally threw 13 interceptions.

“A number of instances with the interceptions, it was attempting to do an excessive amount of, attempting to suit it right into a window I did not have to attempt to match it in,” mentioned Levis, who has thrown 10 landing passes with 4 interceptions by means of 4 video games this season.

Levis has additionally taken a ton of hits and has been sacked 16 instances. He has two speeding touchdowns, however has been restricted to minus-37 speeding yards. That is after ending with 376 speeding yards a 12 months in the past.

“They’ve had hassle defending him and have not been in a position to run the ball, and that is harm him,” one NFL scout instructed ESPN. “However he is nonetheless discovered methods to unfold the ball round. Take a look at the explosive performs he is made.”

Levis is tied for second nationally with seven passes of 40 or extra yards, and freshman receivers Dane Key and Barion Brown are beginning to come on, together with Virginia Tech switch Tayvion Robinson.

Additionally, senior operating again Chris Rodriguez Jr. is ready to return towards Ole Miss after lacking the primary 4 video games this season. He has rushed for two,740 yards and 26 touchdowns in his profession and may assist stability out the Wildcats’ offense.

One of many changes Scangarello made with Levis this offseason was altering his footwork within the shotgun to obtain the snap along with his left foot ahead as a substitute of his proper foot ahead. Burrow made an identical adjustment when he was at LSU, Scangarello mentioned, to not point out Matt Ryan when he was with the Atlanta Falcons.



Will Levis airs it out for 70-yard landing

Earlier than Scangarello took the Kentucky job this offseason, he did a video name with Levis to speak to him about these plans and ensure he was onboard.

“It is what I do know and what I educate, and Will is so fast to choose up on each adjustment we make. He is so exact in all the pieces he does,” Scangarello mentioned. “He does issues that I have not seen many guys do. He has the most effective of Jimmy Garoppolo‘s means from 15 yards in, which Jimmy is likely one of the greatest on the planet with the brief, correct, quick-twitch throws. Will can do all that, however he may also throw the ball 65 yards on a dime.”

A number of scouts instructed ESPN they nonetheless wish to see Levis be extra in line with the “contact and finesse throws” and never be so assured in his arm energy that he is attempting to pressure throws when he may test down a go to a operating again. Scangarello has additionally reminded Levis repeatedly to not take pointless hits.

“He is gotten higher at a number of the layups and can maintain getting higher,” Stoops mentioned. “The dude is simply so amped in all the pieces he does, in school, on the soccer area, in conferences. However as he performs and will get extra reps, you simply see that rather more poise.”

TIM COUCH, KENTUCKY’S record-setting quarterback from 1996 to 1998 and the No. 1 general decide within the 1999 NFL draft, sees any individual who’s dedicated to his staff and to getting higher each time he steps onto the sector. Sofa spent a while with Levis this summer season. They performed golf collectively and nonetheless speak periodically.

“He is like an old-school participant on the market,” Sofa mentioned. “We have struggled to guard him at instances this 12 months and I’ve seen him take some large hits, however he pops proper again up, stands in there and slings it. He is acquired a Brett Favre-type of really feel to him, a gunslinger who’s not afraid to throw his physique round and sacrifice for the staff. He is enjoyable to look at.”

With regards to arm energy, mixed with the flexibility to get the ball out rapidly and achieve this with out a lot room to throw, Sofa thinks Levis is in a category by himself.

“I watched him up shut this summer season, and also you simply do not see that form of accuracy and velocity,” mentioned Sofa, who set 14 SEC information and 26 college information. “If there is a stronger arm in school soccer, I wish to see it. He’ll blow the scouts away. He is athletic, robust, an awesome chief and has all of the intangibles you search for in a quarterback.”

Kentucky’s hardest checks of the season stay. After the go to to Ole Miss this weekend, there are dates with top-10 groups Tennessee on the street Oct. 29 and defending nationwide champion Georgia at dwelling Nov. 19.

These are large phases for the Wildcats and massive phases for Levis, whose steely focus has remained firmly on what’s proper in entrance of him and never what lies forward.

“I am not going to cheat my teammates or myself,” Levis mentioned. “This season is what issues and serving to carry Kentucky to new heights, a staff that followers will bear in mind endlessly.”

On this planet of title, picture and likeness, Levis has cashed in handsomely. He has offers with steakhouses, vehicle dealerships, golf programs and has even been paired with a horse (Conflict of Will) to advertise Claiborne Farm’s breeding operation. He is additionally helped with reduction efforts in jap Kentucky after flooding ravaged that space this summer season and took part in a telethon final 12 months to assist elevate cash for these impacted by tornadoes that hit elements of western Kentucky.

“I’ve by no means been round any individual so pushed to do all the pieces the suitable means,” mentioned Guyon, Levis’ highschool coach. “He is a kind of folks in life who succeeds as a result of he is aware of what he must do, how he must do it and when he must do it.”

And but, Levis stays fueled by those that doubt him. This summer season, he was speaking to a Pac-12 assistant coach who instructed him there was early curiosity in bringing him in as a switch from Penn State.

“They had been searching for a quarterback,” Levis mentioned. “I will not say which college it was, however they had been like, ‘Nah, that child cannot play.’ My response was, ‘Man, that is superior,’ as a result of I could not wait to get out and show them and everyone else incorrect.”

The concentration is going to solely get brighter for Levis, particularly because the video games get greater. And because the NFL draft approaches, there’ll inevitably be one other spherical of doubters.

He would not have it every other means.

Kentucky competing for an SEC soccer title? An under-recruited former Penn State backup going No. 1 within the draft?

It sounds exhausting to consider, however for the child who did an eighth-grade solo of Corridor & Oates’ ‘You Make My Goals Come True,’ all of it is smart.

Levis has by no means stopped chasing his goals, even once they may need appeared extra like fantasy.

That’s, to everyone however Levis.

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