Jared Casey, a walk-on fullback with Kansas football, isn’t exactly the type of player who features prominently in the offensive game plan. In fact, the redshirt freshman had only appeared on special teams for the Jayhawks prior to Saturday night, when Casey delivered the game-winning catch in KU’s overtime victory at Texas.
That’s why not even Casey’s parents, Jerry and Karen, who made the 11 and a half hour drive to Austin, Texas, realized at first it was their son who caught the two-point conversion that wrapped up the upset win.
“That was Jared, wasn’t it?” Jerry asked in amazement, as seen in a video posted Sunday by Jared’s brother, Justin.
The Casey parents were watching from the opposite end of Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, leading to the momentary disbelief, which quickly turned into uncontrollable joy, with both Jerry and Karen screaming in celebration.
“Shoutout to my parents. They travel to every single game,” Jared Casey told reporters after he went from an unknown reserve to a KU hero.
The 6-foot, 254-pound walk-on from Plainville said the whole scene felt “surreal,” with him being from a small town in Kansas and growing up a fan of the Jayhawks.
What’s more, Casey said he had played “zero” offensive snaps in a game before the night that he made his clutch grab against the Longhorns. Junior tight end Mason Fairchild, who had two receptions for 31 yards and a touchdown at UT, got hurt earlier in the game. The tight end/fullback group already had been hit hard by injuries in recent weeks, too, with Spencer Roe and Will Huggins lost for the season.
So it was Casey, instead of any number of other KU tight ends or fullbacks who might have otherwise been in that spot, who lined up wide left on KU’s two-point conversion try in overtime.
After coming in tighter to the formation in motion, once the ball was snapped Casey ran across the front of the end zone from left to right, waving his hands, trying to make sure quarterback Jalon Daniels, who was evading pressure, could find him.
“I knew I had an open pass available. It seemed like it took forever to get there, but once it landed in my hands, it was a surreal moment,” Casey said.
Even though Casey was unrecognizable to even diehard KU football fans before Saturday night, Daniels said he knew what the big walk-on could do, because Casey had proven himself behind the scenes during practices.
“Jared has some of the best hands on the team. I’ve seen him make some miraculous catches, just with one hand,” Daniels told reporters after the win. “So, you know, a walk-on or not, a ballplayer is going to be a ballplayer when it counts.”
The reserve had a humble response when asked about Daniels’ account: “I like to say I’ve got some decent hands.”
KU head coach Lance Leipold named Casey as one of the numerous standouts from the win, which snapped an eight-game losing streak for the Jayhawks (2-8 overall, 1-6 Big 12).
“When you have a walk-on step up and make a catch like that, it’s a pretty neat deal,” Leipold said.
Casey felt ready for the moment, because Leipold and offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki are always reminding players about the “next man up” approach that’s needed in football.
“Even at practice, we rotate, and I get my reps, and then you don’t really know when it’s going to happen,” Casey said.
He added: “I took my opportunity and there it was.”
Although a dog pile on top of Casey commenced in the end zone once he made the catch that ended a wild shootout, he didn’t stay there for long. Undeterred even by a celebratory bump from cornerback Jeremy Webb, who accidentally knocked Casey to the ground in the process, the walk-on kept moving as fast as he could toward the opposite goal line with a purpose.
“I ran straight to my parents. I was just really excited,” Casey explained. “After my tiredness, I had to take my 100-yard trot,” he added, in order to “give my mom and dad some love.”
The redshirt freshman said he heard from his parents after the win that they love him and they were proud of him.
“They know I have it in me, and I do, too,” Casey shared.
An obscure reserve no more, Casey told his head coach that he appreciated the opportunity and he won’t let KU down when he’s on the field.
After all, Casey has been paying closer attention to the Jayhawks through the years than nearly all of his teammates. Casey traced his KU fandom all the way back to his childhood. He recalled listening to the radio “full blast” inside his parents’ van in 2008, as KU receiver Kerry Meier caught a go-ahead touchdown pass from Todd Reesing to beat Missouri in the final minute.
That was the last year KU played in a bowl game (the Insight Bowl), and the Jayhawks won’t be postseason eligible this year, either. Still, the win at Texas, which killed a 56-game Big 12 road losing streak that actually dated back to 2008, had significance for Casey, a lifelong KU fan.
“I didn’t know until I saw it on the scoreboard that it was our first win in Austin — ever. So obviously it’s a big moment,” he said. “I feel like this will help boost our confidence into the next games, and into the next season, as well.”
KU has two more games left on the 2021 schedule: next Saturday at TCU (4-6, 2-5), and a Nov. 27 season finale at home versus West Virginia (4-6, 2-5).