Will Levis once had to beg college coaches to look at him, now he’s set to be early first-round draft pick

Published 11:01 am Monday, April 24, 2023

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The journey to becoming an NFL first-round draft pick this week has been a challenging one for Kentucky quarterback Will Levis.

“Connecticut is not the most recruited place in the country. It’s tough to get taken seriously out of high school when you play in Connecticut,” Levis said. “When I realized I wanted to get recruited, I knew I had to look at every possibility. It was tough.”

“I started my sophomore year (in high school). I got a couple of FCS offers, a few from the Ivy League. I kept working to get bigger opportunities, but they were not coming. I was frustrated. I would go to camps and outperform kids and not get the respect I thought I deserved.”

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Levis emailed college coaches. He said he was a “madman” on Twitter reaching out to coaches.

“Essentially, I had to beg to get coaches to look at me. I didn’t give up. I committed the same summer after my junior year to Penn State, which was about five hours away. I was the lowest-rated kid in my recruiting class. I was just the guy they threw in that recruiting class that nobody thought had any real chance to play,” Levis said.

“I was fifth on the depth chart (at Penn State) and still thought I was the best quarterback. (Trace) McSorley was one of my best friends, but I told him I was there to take his job and why I gained his respect. I knew it was a long shot, but I also knew you better be your biggest advocate. You have to have a twisted sense of confidence in yourself. If you don’t have that, you are putting yourself at a disadvantage.”

Levis is now in a position to be one of the first four quarterbacks picked in Thursday’s NFL draft and one of the top 10 players overall (Kentucky has not had a top-five pick since Dewayne Robertson in 20023 and has not had a quarterback go in the first round since Tim Couch in 1999). He could go as high as No. 2 according to some mock drafts but he has been a consensus top 10 pick in the mock drafts for weeks. He had 43 touchdown passes at Kentucky and 5,233 passing yards and was the only quarterback in school history to beat rivals Louisville and Florida in back-to-back seasons.

He rose to No. 2 on the Penn State depth chart his redshirt freshman year but was not happy with how he was being treated despite limited playing time.

“I knew I could be a leader and felt I was not getting a fair shot to show what I was able to do,” Levis said. “On third and short, they would put me in to run into a linebacker and then get me off the field. I knew I could do more. No one else saw that in me. I knew I could be the best if I kept working.”

Transferring to Kentucky gave him that opportunity for the last two seasons, including a 10-win season in 2021. He always remembered the advice his grandfather gave him when he was 15 or 16 to “never give up” and he has a tattoo reminding him of that saying that keeps him connected with his grandfather.

He finished his undergraduate work in three years at Penn State — he earned his Master’s degree in finance at UK — and transferred to Kentucky with “no guarantees” of what his role might be

“I just knew I would get a shot to start if I worked my ass off,” Levis said. “I had to prove I was the guy for the job, so I put all my energy into doing just that. Being named starting quarterback was one of the best days of my life. Transferring felt like I was going against my belief in not giving up, but I could not control my circumstances at Penn State, so I just bet on myself.”

Levis has visited with Atlanta, Carolina, Houston, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Minnesota, New England, Seattle, Tampa Bay, Tennessee and New England. Six of those teams have top 10 picks in Thursday’s draft and the Patriots pick 14th.

“I have aspirations for myself that are unthinkable. You always want to set higher goals,” Levis said. “I want to do things that have never been done in football. I know as long as you don’t give up and stay confident in yourself and not worry about what anyone says about you, then you can set your own journey.”