So far, all nine Kansas football games have been started by graduates of the same Kansas high school, Bishop Miege. Montell Cozart has started seven, Ryan Willis two.
Next season, it’s more likely one or two athletes from the same warmer, even sunnier state, will stand in shotgun formation to breathe life into an offense that hasn’t looked right since 2009.
The state is Florida and I know what you’re thinking: The first quarterback is Carter Stanley, who on Saturday in Morgantown, W.V., looked to have the most natural feel for the position of anyone Kansas has tried so far this season. Sure, Stanley, a redshirt freshman who graduated from a Florida high school, Vero Beach, is a candidate. But another QB from the sunshine state on KU's recruiting radar might prove an even better 2017 fit, although there is no point in starting anybody but Stanley for Saturday’s 11 a.m. kickoff at Memorial Stadium vs. Iowa State. He earned it.
The Floridian to whom I refer plays quarterback for a school in Mississippi, but not Ole Miss, where father-and-son combo Archie and Eli Manning became legends. Instead, he plays for a junior college, and his closest Manning connection is that his first name is Peyton. Before revealing his last name, let me tell you why I have a hunch he could make his way to Lawrence and maybe even have a big hand in returning smiles to the faces in the stands at Memorial Stadium for the first time in what seems like years because it has been years.
David Beaty is wedded to the Air Raid offense. Peyton Bender, a third-year sophomore at Itawamba Community College in Fulton, Miss., ran the Air Raid at Cardinal Gibbons High in Fort Lauderdale, spent two seasons learning Mike Leach’s Air Raid at Washington State, participated in spring football, 2016, then transferred to Itawamba, where you guessed it, he triggered an Air Raid offense. He's on pace to graduate in December.
Listed at 6-foot-1, 180 pounds, Bender is a pro-style quarterback who coming out of high school turned down a scholarship offer from Penn State.
Fans of the (with good reason) immensely popular Netflix documentary “Last Chance U,” are familiar with the school against which Bender had his most prolific game. No doubt freaking out East Mississippi College head coach Buddy Stephens, Bender completed 39 of 59 passes for 566 yards and three touchdowns in Itawamba's 44-42 loss.
"He's a good fit for anybody who runs an Air Raid, whether it be anybody from Washington State to Cal to Kansas," Itawamba offensive coordinator Nick Coleman said by phone. Coleman, by the way, counts KU assistant Rob Likens as a close friend. "He can throw it now. He can spin it. He's good."
The more Coleman talked the more Bender sounded like exactly what Kansas needs.
"The thing that Peyton does so well is he sits in the pocket and doesn't freak out," Coleman said. "He just has that knack for staying in there until the last second and delivering the ball."
Another perfect-fit quality: Beaty loves throwing what coaches refer to as "field throws," from the hash on one side of the field to the numbers on the other.
"A lot of quarterbacks are scared to make those field throws," Coleman said. "Peyton's not scared. He can make those throws."
Bender threw 21 touchdown passes, four interceptions and was sacked once for Itawamba (5-4). Something tells me Kansas can land him. Steven Sims, Daylon Charlot and LaQuvionte Gonzalez are attractive targets for a quarterback shopping for a home. So is an open starting job.