Kentucky football needs help at multiple positions in the transfer portal this offseason, but no evaluation will be more important than quarterback.
On the first day of the winter portal window, the Wildcats’ quarterback plan might have begun to take shape.
After weeks of speculation Kentucky could be an option for Georgia backup quarterback Brock Vandagriff, a former five-star recruit, the Wildcats were quickly linked to Vandagriff by multiple reports when he entered the transfer portal Monday. Meanwhile, at least two of Kentucky’s backup quarterbacks appear headed elsewhere.
Third-string quarterback Destin Wade and twin brother Keaten Wade, the Wildcats’ top strongside linebacker, entered the portal Monday. Fourth-string quarterback Deuce Hogan tweeted Monday morning he planned to enter the portal but later deleted that post. On Tuesday, primary backup Kaiya Sheron also entered the portal.
“We’ll work through it,” UK coach Mark Stoops said Monday when asked about the plan for quarterback. “I think it would be negligent for me to talk about anything right now, just get to work.”
The imminent departures of Wade, Hogan and Sheron are not a surprise as it was clear Kentucky was likely to sign a transfer quarterback to serve as a bridge between current starter Devin Leary and four-star Lexington Christian Academy quarterback Cutter Boley, who plans to enroll at UK in January.
The only other quarterback on the 2023 roster is former Dayton transfer Shane Hamm, a walk-on who did not dress out for games.
Wade was third on the depth chart, but his only UK appearance came while starting the 2022 Music City Bowl shutout loss to Iowa in his hometown. Hogan opened 2022 as Will Levis’ primary backup after transferring from Iowa but played in just three games that season and none in 2023. Sheron appeared in nine games across the last two seasons, starting once in a loss to South Carolina in 2022 when Levis was sidelined by turf toe.
None had the same recruiting hype as Vandagriff, the No. 4-ranked quarterback in the high school class of 2021, according to the 247Sports Composite. The Bogart, Georgia, native initially committed to Oklahoma in high school but flipped to his home state Bulldogs before signing day.
The 6-foot-3, 210-pound Vandagriff lost Georgia’s starting quarterback competition to Carson Beck last offseason. Beck has since emerged as a possible first-round pick in the 2024 NFL draft but could improve that stock even more with another college season.
Vadagriff’s father confirmed Kentucky was in the running for his son’s transfer commitment in an interview with 247Sports. He listed South Carolina and Mississippi State as other options and said Vandagriff expects to make a decision within the next two weeks.
In eight games this season, Vandagriff completed 12 of 18 passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns. He also gained 39 yards on five carries. Vandagriff’s most productive game actually came against Kentucky when he completed 5 of 7 passes for 46 yards and one touchdown while gaining 27 yards on two carries in Georgia’s 51-13 win.
Pursuing Vandagriff would represent a philosophy change for UK compared to last offseason.
A year ago, UK elected to prioritize Leary, an undersized graduate transfer with an extensive college résumé coming off an injury over Wisconsin transfer Graham Mertz, who lacked Leary’s track record of success but boasted more impressive physical tools. Leary struggled for much of the season operating Liam Coen’s pro-style offense.
Signing Vandagriff would be a bet on Coen’s ability to make the most of a quarterback with NFL-level measurables that has yet to translate those physical tools into consistent college production. That bet paid off when Coen and UK signed Will Levis, then a run-first backup quarterback, as a transfer from Penn State prior to the 2021 season.
“You put it on you as a coach to coach them to get them to reach their max performance,” Coen told the Herald-Leader earlier this year when discussing his decision not to take a more proven option over Levis in 2021.
Like Levis when he arrived at Kentucky, Vandagriff has two seasons of eligibility remaining. If he spent both seasons in Lexington, Vandagriff would leave as Boley was moving into his third season on campus and hopefully ready to take over the starting job, ending UK’s reliance on the transfer portal for quarterbacks.
Even if Kentucky lands Vandagriff, its work in the quarterback transfer market might not be finished. Kentucky likely now needs to find a depth option to pair with Boley next season too.
UK coaches will likely need to show an transfer quarterbacks progress in rebuilding a wide receiver room that is down to just five players who were recruited as scholarship players out of high school after former four-star recruit Shamar Porter entered the transfer portal Monday. Kentucky appears to be in a good position for Texas A&M wide receiver transfer Raymond Cottrell, who would be a like-for-like replacement for Porter as a 6-foot-3, four-star prospect in the class of 2023 who still needs development, but more additions to the receiver room will be needed even if Cottrell picks Kentucky.
Indiana wide receiver Donaven McCulley is reportedly visiting Kentucky this weekend.
“We have to go and attract some (wide receivers),” Stoops said. “We have to get some just for numbers. You got to build your depth. It takes four or five, six receivers even throughout the season to really contribute and to help, so we’ll work at that.”
Kentucky vs. No. 22 Clemson
What: TaxSlayer Gator Bowl
When: Noon Friday, Dec. 29
Where: EverBank Stadium in Jacksonville, Florida
Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1
Series: Kentucky leads 8-5
Last meeting: Clemson won 21-13 on Dec. 27, 2009, in the Music City Bowl at Nashville, Tennessee