One of the top-ranked quarterbacks in the transfer portal is headed to Kentucky as the likely successor to Will Levis.
Former North Carolina State quarterback Devin Leary committed to Kentucky on Tuesday, according to On3.com. 247Sports ranked Leary as the No. 2 available transfer at any position and the No. 1 quarterback in the portal as of early December.
In four years at N.C. State, Leary completed 60.2% of his passes for 6,807 yards, 62 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. His best season came in 2021 when he completed 65.7% of his passes for 3,433 yards, 35 touchdowns and five interceptions. That year, Leary was named one of five finalists for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, which goes to college football’s best quarterback.
Kentucky was in the market for a transfer quarterback following the departure of Levis, who is widely projected as a first-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. In two seasons as Kentucky’s starting quarterback after transferring from Penn State, Levis tallied a 17-7 record.
Leary will be the heavy favorite to start Kentucky’s 2023 opener, but he will face competition from returning backups Kaiya Sheron and Destin Wade. Sheron and Wade are expected to play in the Music City Bowl against Iowa after Levis opted out of the game to begin preparing for the draft. Wade, a former four-star recruit rated as an athlete, will be making his college debut in the bowl as a dual-threat option at quarterback.
Here are three things you need to know about Kentucky’s new quarterback.
1. A significant injury ended Leary’s 2022 season early
While Leary’s breakout 2021 season earned Leary a spot on preseason Heisman Trophy candidate lists, he was unable to duplicate that success in 2022 when his season ended after six games because he tore a pectoral muscle on his right side during N.C. State’s Oct. 8 game against Florida State.
The injury required surgery just more than a week later. In November, Leary told reporters in Fayetteville he was waiting to see how his rehab progressed before deciding whether to return to N.C. State or enter the 2023 draft.
Instead, Leary entered the transfer portal. Had he remained at N.C. State, Leary would have worked with a new offensive coordinator since Wolfpack coordinator Tim Beck was hired as the new head coach at Coastal Carolina.
It is unclear when Leary will be able to return to practice.
The torn pectoral muscle was the second significant injury for Leary in college. His 2020 season was ended early by a fractured fibula.
2. Leary broke one of Phillip Rivers’ N.C. State records
While 2022 had to be considered a disappointment for Leary, he left N.C. State as one of the best quarterbacks in program history.
Leary ranks sixth on N.C. State’s career passing yards list (6,807) and fourth in passing touchdowns (62). His 35 passing touchdowns in 2021 broke Phillip Rivers’ school record for most in a single season.
The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Leary is the only N.C. State quarterback to throw for at least four touchdowns in five games against ACC opponents in one season and the only Wolfpack quarterback to throw at least four touchdowns in three consecutive games. At one point, he threw 228 consecutive passes without an interception.
Leary’s record-breaking performances were not limited to 2021 either.
Earlier this fall, he became the third N.C. State quarterback to account for six touchdowns in a single game in a win over Charleston Southern. He was the only player on that list to throw for four touchdowns and rush for two in the same game.
3. Like Levis, Leary comes to UK from the northeast
Levis, a Connecticut native, was the rare Kentucky football player from New England. Leary also was raised in the northeast, though in the Mid-Alantic rather than New England.
A former star at Timer Creek High School, Leary graduated as the all-time leader in passing yards (9,672) and passing touchdowns (117) in New Jersey high school football history. He was twice named the Gatorade Player of the Year for New Jersey.
As a senior in high school, Leary was rated as a four-star prospect by both Rivals and 247Sports. The 247Sports Composite ranked Leary as the No. 16 pro-style quarterback in the high school class of 2018.
Next season, Leary and 2023 high school defensive back commitment Naasir Addison could become the first New Jersey natives to play for Kentucky since 2018 National Defensive Player of the Year and current Jacksonville Jaguars outside linebacker Josh Allen.
This story was originally published December 20, 2022 12:23 PM.