When graduate transfers seek out new opportunities for their final years of collegiate eligibility, one of the top priorities when choosing a school is usually the ability to take the field early and often. In most instances, the goal is to land at a place in need of a sure-fire starter.
For Troy graduate transfer quarterback Sawyer Smith, who tossed for 1,669 yards and 14 touchdowns on 62.9% overall last season for the Trojans, his situation was different.
Despite a widely successful redshirt sophomore season that included earning MVP honors in the Dollar General Bowl following a 320-yard, four-touchdown performance in a 42-32 victory over Buffalo, the newest Kentucky quarterback wanted to land at a school that could use his off-field leadership traits just as much as his on-field talents.
“I just wanted to come to a program where I could come into a locker room and make an impact. That’s all I could ask for,” Smith said at UK Media Day on Friday. “Playing in the SEC, it’s a great opportunity to be in. … I just want to have a good effect on this football team, on the university. Just do what I can on the field and off the field.”
Aside from incumbent starting quarterback Terry Wilson, Smith also saw Kentucky add two true freshmen quarterbacks in Amani Gilmore and Nik Scalzo and felt he could be a solid addition to the quarterback room to help groom them for the future.
“I just want to impact the locker room,” he said. “We have so many young guys on the team, two young guys [in our quarterback room], and I just want to help them grow. Help everybody here.”
And that’s not to say he’s not wanting to help the shoe-in starter, either. Though he understands Wilson is “the guy” in Lexington, Smith says he is excited to compete against him in practice and help make him a better player, as well.
“I can tell he’s the kind of guy who likes practice competition,” the redshirt junior said. “I am going to do what I can to make him better and, in doing that, make this team better.”
Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops said Smith’s intrigue in working with the team’s young gunslingers stood out to him during his recruitment. As impressed as he is with his newest quarterback physically, it’s Smith’s standout leadership qualities that made Stoops so giddy when the 6-foot-3 quarterback was ready to sign on the dotted line.
“Just the fact that he’s played in big games, he has that experience, he’s very poised. He can throw the ball,” Stoops said. “As you know, we needed somebody to come in and give us an opportunity to groom the young guys until we can get moving. I just was impressed with Sawyer. I like everything about him, love the way he plays, handles himself, the way he’s done everything to get to this point. He’s done a lot of work. He’s here, up there grinding, ready to go.”
As for UK offensive coordinator Eddie Gran, he understands bringing in a veteran quarterback with a starter already in place can be tricky, but he couldn’t be more impressed with how the situation has unfolded. In the end, the Wildcats landed a team player through and through.
“If you get somebody that’s not right in the locker room, it can be a bad deal,” Gran said. “So far, (Smith has been) fantastic to be around. He wants to learn. He’s a team guy. (He) was a guy that was a backup, came in, led (Troy) to a lot of victories, did what the coaches asked of him. I loved, really, his humility, the way he approached that.”
Another key reason for Smith’s decision to transfer to Kentucky? UK linebackers coach Jon Sumrall, who served as an assistant on Troy’s staff from 2015-17.
“The coach I knew best was Coach Sumrall,” he said. “Me and Coach Sumrall were really good friends. I love him. He’s a good dude, I love his family. We’ve always been close, ever since he’s been at Troy, and even after he left. He’s a good dude.”
But what do we need to know about the newest Wildcat’s on-field talents?
“I love (to throw) the deep ball,” Smith says. “That’s my favorite thing to throw, probably. I kind of surprise people running the ball, too.”
At the end of the day, he couldn’t be happier with his decision to show off some of that talent, all while being a major contributor in the locker room, in Lexington.
“It just felt like a good position to be in, felt like a good move at the time, and still is,” he said. “It’s good here, it’s a fun place. All the guys here are kind of funny, really fit together. It’s just a really good place to be.”