{{ timeAgo('2023-01-25 17:52:01 -0600') }} football Edit

Leary eager to develop in Coen's offensive scheme at UK

New Kentucky quarterback Devin Leary met with the media on Tuesday at the Joe Craft Football Training Center.
New Kentucky quarterback Devin Leary met with the media on Tuesday at the Joe Craft Football Training Center. (Jeff Drummond/Cats Illustrated)

When Mark Stoops addressed the media during December's signing day festivities, the Kentucky head coach could barely contain his excitement about adding the No. 1 quarterback in the transfer portal, NC State's Devin Leary, to his program.

Leary, who threw for 6,807 yards and 62 touchdowns with only 16 interceptions during the last four years with the Wolfpack, immediately gave the Wildcats a nice replacement for NFL-bound star Will Levis.

"Anybody that was in the quarterback market -- and I mean anybody and everybody that was in the quarterback market -- was after him," Stoops said of Leary. "We really feel like we hit a home run with him."

The feeling was mutual.

Leary, speaking with the local media for the first time on Wednesday at the Joe Craft Football Training Center, said many factors contributed to making Lexington his new home for one final season of college football.

"My biggest thing," he said, "was just talking with my family, making sure I had the right personnel around me, making sure I had a collaborative relationship with the offensive coordinator and the head coach, and then, thirdly, just the scheme, making sure it's not too crazy different from what I'm used to, but at the same time helping me get to the next level and succeed.

"Kentucky checked off every box."

A prior relationship with UK receivers coach Scott Woodward was a substantial advantage for the Cats. Leary was being recruited out of Timber Creek High School in New Jersey by Woodward during the coach's time at UMass.

When it came time to make a new college decision, that prior relationship, as well as feedback on UK's scheme with new offensive coordinator Liam Coen and the personnel that would surround him, was important.

"The first thing he started doing was just breaking down film, giving me an idea of what could potentially happen," Leary said. "Instantly, it clicked in my mind that I knew I could operate in this offense. Really, that was the biggest priority for me, finding the right system and the right fit.

"He said, look, we've seen what you can do on film, what you've done at NC State, and that can translate right into this offense. It was really just a no-brainer."

Asked what impressed him about the Coen scheme, Leary said: "The biggest thing that stands out to me is how balanced it is. Coach Coen does a great job of calling the offense and really designing it so there's so many ways to attack the defense."

Kentucky was one of the most well-rounded offenses in the country under Coen in 2021, averaging 225 yards through the air and 200 on the ground. His direction of the unit helped him land a job with the Super Bowl champion LA Rams before deciding to make a return to Lexington and the college game this winter when UK's OC position re-opened.

"Compared to the previous couple of offenses that I've been in, this one is a little more pro-style, which I think you need to run to succeed in this league, as well as to help me in my development," Leary said.

He also liked the potential of who he would be throwing to, including a pair of talented freshman receivers in Barion Brown and Dane Key.

"I got a chance to watch them a little bit last year, just tuning in to Kentucky. I know they're young, but they're explosive," he said of the duo who combined to catch 87 passes for 1,147 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2022.

"They're very, very talented receivers. Really, every receiver in that receiver room brings their own dynamic. For those guys to play at such a young age, they're only going to get better. And for me to be able to watch film with them and really work with them one-on-one, we'll all make each other better."


"Just talking to him through the whole process when I entered the transfer portal, he was getting word that coach Coen might come back here, too, and he just shot me a text and said, 'Dude, if there's any coach in the country that can develop quarterbacks, it's coach Coen. For him, it was really helpful and successful for him, so he was trying to feed that back to me.
— Devin Leary on Will Levis' input on his transfer to UK

The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Leary is eager to show what he can do for the Cats, but he's currently going through rehab after undergoing surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle while playing against Florida State on Oct. 8.

He says he's taking it "day by day," but is hopeful that he'll be on track to participate in spring practice.

"On schedule. Feel really good," Leary said. "Just taking it day by day and listening to the doctor's protocols, listening to the trainers in the training room, and just making sure the strength and conditioning staff keep me on pace. Right now, I'm in a really good spot."

For now, he's diving into his new playbook and trying to develop relationships with new teammates.

"This is my third week here, and really just being able to get around the guys and just prove to them through my hard work that I'm very happy to be here," Leary said. "... Grabbing those guys on the side and diving into the playbook, doing extra film and really building that camaraderie right now."

The Cats made it an easy transition during his first visit to campus.

"It was pretty cool coming on my visit, being around guys like Eli Cox and Dane Key, instantly they were like open arms," he said. "I felt like I had known them for a while, even though it was my first time meeting them. Ever since I got here, with the entire team, it's been the exact same way. Really welcoming."

Leary hopes to follow in the footsteps of Levis, who took the transfer portal from Penn State to UK and is now in the discussion to be the No. 1 pick in this year's NFL Draft. The two players were roommates during the Manning Passing Academy last summer and stayed in touch.

"Just talking to him through the whole process when I entered the transfer portal, he was getting word that coach Coen might come back here, too, and he just shot me a text and said, 'Dude, if there's any coach in the country that can develop quarterbacks, it's coach Coen," Leary said. "For him, it was really helpful and successful for him, so he was trying to feed that back to me.

"It just goes to show that if you buy into this culture, you just buy into this program and give all that you can to this team, anything can happen... He's an awesome example of what hard work can do for you."