Making the case: Why Nik Scalzo could be UK’s starting quarterback this year

·3 min read

We probably won’t officially know who UK’s starting quarterback for the first game of the 2021 season will be until the end of fall camp. Over the course of the past week, the Herald-Leader has been breaking down the cases for why each scholarship quarterback on the Wildcats’ roster could, or could not, be this year’s starter. Next up, Nik Scalzo.

Background: A former three-star prospect out of Florida whose only other reported Power Five offer was from Illinois, Scalzo in the end signed with UK over Harvard and Georgia State. He was one of the high school stars featured in season three of the Netflix documentary series “QB1: Beyond the Lights.” Scalzo in January entered the transfer portal, but a week later was back with the program.

Why Nick? It’s apparent that Scalzo has the toughest hill to climb of any quarterback on UK’s roster to land the starting job. Prior to suffering an ACL injury — his second in less than a year — in fall camp prior to 2019 camp, Scalzo was purportedly pushing hard for the No. 2 spot behind Terry Wilson. He’s now the lone remaining quarterback from that edition of the team but has seemingly only gotten further away from the top of the order. But, a fully-healthy Scalzo would present an intriguing option for the Cats. At 6-foot, 195 pounds, he’s the slightest of the five guys vying to start, and in the past he’s played like it; prior to college he drew favorable comparisons to the likes of Johnny Manziel and Baker Mayfield. He’s probably the shiftiest player UK could field at the position, which, depending on the offense’s strengths elsewhere, could give him an advantage in that battle.

Why not? UK decided to play the long game with Scalzo after his second ACL injury (his first was suffered at the end of his final high school year), and he didn’t see the field at all last season. Scalzo opted to enter the transfer portal in January but a week later returned to the Wildcats, who held his scholarship spot (not something they had to do). That (in)decision at the time indicated a lack of confidence that he’d be firmly in the mix come fall, and was perhaps prescient; UK since then has added a fifth quarterback in Will Levis, whom many believe to be the frontrunner. Former offensive coordinator Eddie Gran was Scalzo’s primary recruiter, so any goodwill generated there has been exhausted.

Guest analysis

Jeff Drummond, CatsIllustrated/Rivals: We’re entering the true “darkhorse” portion of the QB race with Scalzo, but fans should remember that he came in with some of the same recruiting hype as most of UK’s other quarterbacks. The big challenge for him, aside from raw size, might be trying to catch up after a pair of knee injuries that have slowed his development.

Jon Hale, Courier-Journal: Have to wonder how much multiple knee injuries have hurt Scalzo’s ability to make plays with his legs, one of his biggest strengths as a recruit. Anyone who watched Scalzo’s season of “QB1” will know confidence isn’t a problem though. Even if he never starts for Kentucky, Scalzo can be an important depth piece for multiple years.

Nick Roush, Kentucky Sports Radio: Under-sized and injury-prone is a bad combination in the SEC.

Derek Terry, The Cats Pause/247Sports: Scalzo has not appeared in a game in his Kentucky career. He’s had injury trouble in the past, otherwise he might’ve played as a true freshman in 2019 following a string of injuries at quarterback. Scalzo briefly entered the transfer portal during the spring so it seems unlikely he’ll be a real factor in the quarterback race.

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