The second Kentucky quarterback Terry Wilson was declared out for the season due to a torn patellar tendon in his left knee, fans and the media as a whole began scrambling to find out everything there is to know about Wilson’s new replacement, graduate transfer Sawyer Smith, as a player.
The numbers were the first point of emphasis. In 13 appearances last year at Troy, Smith tossed for 1,669 yards, 14 touchdowns, and six interceptions on 62.9% overall to go with a 320-yard, four-touchdown MVP performance in a 42-32 victory over Buffalo in the Dollar General Bowl.
Not too shabby.
Film breakdowns were the next order of business, most notably from KSR’s own Nick Roush, who analyzed all of Smith’s biggest strengths and weaknesses as a quarterback from his time at Troy right here on the site.
In short, Roush determined that while he struggles at times with his accuracy in the intermediate passing game and as a decision-maker, Smith has a rocket for an arm and can tuck it and run if need be. Above all else, his experience in big games against Division I opponents will pay off in a massive way when he is thrown into the fire against SEC foes for the remainder of the season.
If you missed it, take a look here:
But what do we need to know about Kentucky’s newest starting quarterback as a person? What about his personality? How did he even get to Lexington in the first place?
Let’s dive right in.
Recruitment (Part One)
A 6-foot-2 dual-threat quarterback prospect out of Cantonment, FL, the consensus three-star prospect in the class of 2016 held offers from Mississippi State, Central Florida, South Florida, Southern Miss, and Syracuse, among others.
247Sports listed Smith as the No. 843 overall prospect in the nation and the No. 21 dual-threat quarterback in the nation. The current Wildcat was listed at No. 969 overall and No. 25 in terms of dual-threat quarterbacks in the 247Sports Composite rankings.
Smith actually committed to Scott Frost at Central Florida back in June of 2015 before Neal Brown swooped in and flipped him to Troy on September 15, 2015. The 6-foot-2 quarterback signed with the Trojans on December 15, 2015 and enrolled early with the program on January 11, 2016.
After combining to pass for 5,627 yards and 47 touchdowns in his final two years at Tate High School (Fla.), Smith was a two-time Pensacola News Journal All-Area selection and was named all-state as a senior.
Playing career at Troy
In two seasons with the Trojans, Smith accumulated 1,850 total yards, 15 touchdowns, and seven interceptions on 63.8% passing. Last year alone, he managed 1,669 yards, 14 touchdowns, and six interceptions on 62.9% overall.
The Wildcat quarterback began his Troy starting career with a 22-16 loss at Liberty, tossing for 135 yards, one touchdown, and one interception on 52% passing. From there, he won four consecutive games before falling again on the road at Appalachian State. His three biggest outings came against Louisiana Lafayette (317 yards and a touchdown on 82% passing), Georgia Southern (287 yards and a touchdown on 75% passing), and Buffalo in the Dollar General Bowl (320 yards and four touchdowns on 70% passing).
In his time as a starter, the Trojans went 5-2, with two of those victories coming against 10-win teams.
Recruitment (Part Two)
After Neal Brown announced his departure from the Troy football program and signed on to coach at West Virginia, Smith ultimately decided on taking his talents elsewhere, as well.
On May 1, the Cantonment, FL native announced he would be exploring his options as a graduate transfer, with the initial rumblings being that he would likely follow Brown to West Virginia.
When it became apparent that Oklahoma star transfer Austin Kendall was likely making the move to Morgantown, though, Kentucky jumped in as a serious contender, with the goal being for Smith to come in and replace Gunnar Hoak as the team’s backup quarterback behind Terry Wilson.
Not long after, an official visit to Lexington was scheduled for May 13, which resulted in Smith’s commitment to Kentucky.
Excited to announce that I'm going to spend my last seasons as a Graduate Transfer at THE University of Kentucky!! Words can't begin to explain how proud my family and I are to be apart of the #BBN @UKFootball pic.twitter.com/b223Ixk3td
— Sawyer Smith (@smittyyy22) May 13, 2019
But how did the commitment come together so quickly? Mark Perry, a quality control assistant on the Kentucky coaching staff, was hired off of Neal Brown’s staff at West Virginia back in March. Last year, Perry left his head coaching gig at Lexington Catholic – he also coached Kentucky commitment Beau Allen – to join Brown’s staff at Troy and was set to follow him to WVU.
UK linebackers coach Jon Sumrall, who served as an assistant on Troy’s staff from 2015-17, was apparently another key reason for Smith’s decision to transfer to Kentucky.
“The coach I knew best was Coach Sumrall,” Smith said at UK Media Day. “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.”
When Perry became aware that his former quarterback at Troy was searching for a new home as a graduate assistant, he connected the UK coaching staff – specifically Sumrall – with Smith, resulting in a scheduled visit – and eventual commitment – not long after.
Playing career at Kentucky
When graduate transfers seek out new opportunities for their final years of collegiate eligibility, one of the top priorities when choosing a school is almost always 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 Smith, however, he was more than accepting of the backup role asked of him when he first arrived on campus.
Despite a widely successful redshirt sophomore season at Troy, 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 back in August. “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.”
But it wasn’t just to serve as a mentor for 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, as well.
“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.”
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-2 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 at UK Media Day. “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.”
Fast forward just over a month, and Smith is now preparing to suit up as Kentucky’s starting quarterback in yet another big game, this time against the Florida Gators.
And Smith’s appearances in big games will now only continue as the season progresses.
After Wilson’s season-ending injury, the redshirt junior said that while he feels devastated for his friend in the quarterback room, he knows he has to do the job the UK coaching staff brought him in to do.
“That’s not what you want as a friend or competitor,” he said. “Terry was having a great game, had a really good game last week and was playing well, so to see this happen. You know, I love Terry. You have to do what you have to do. You have to go out there and play. … I learned last year that you have to get into a different mindset quickly. It’s good that it happened last year (at Troy) because I have experience now. I have full confidence in the staff to get me ready. I have to get ready and keep it going.”
Now that he has officially been thrown into the fire, he’s appreciative of the support he continues to receive from his teammates and the coaching staff.
“I think that as a backup quarterback, especially at this level of football, you need to have two or three guys that are ready to go,” he said on Saturday. “I think they have confidence in me to keep it going and I think that is how it should be.”
In his debut on Saturday against Eastern Michigan, Smith tossed for 76 yards and two touchdowns on 5/9 passing, with his biggest highlight coming on a 54-yard bomb to 6-foot-7 wide receiver Ahmad Wagner on his very first throw.
Kentucky backup QB Sawyer Smith throws a 54 yard TD pass to Ahmad Wagner on his first throw at Kentucky ? pic.twitter.com/styXYGNnfQ
— Sports Related (@SportsRelated) September 8, 2019
According to Smith, those deep tosses are something Kentucky fans should get used to.
“I love (to throw) the deep ball,” Smith said at UK Media Day. “That’s my favorite thing to throw, probably. I kind of surprise people running the ball, too.”
Moving forward, Mark Stoops is confident in No. 12 to win plenty of football games under center.
“He can throw the ball. He throws it down the field. We have a lot of confidence in him,” the Kentucky head coach said on Saturday. “I think the guys have a lot of confidence in Sawyer. .. The guys believe in Sawyer and we’re going to play to win no matter who is playing. Everybody better get that straight right now. We’re sad for Terry and it stinks because it’s part of our game, but believe me, we’re going back to work with the intent to win a football game next week, and that’s the way we’re going to approach it every week.”