Ryan Willis, Jace Sternberger star in spring games


Virginia Tech quarterback Ryan Willis (5) throws while being pursued by defensive lineman Zion Debose (35) during the NCAA college football team's Maroon-White spring game Saturday, April 14, 2018, in Blacksburg, Va. (Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via AP)

Virginia Tech quarterback Ryan Willis (5) throws while being pursued by defensive lineman Zion Debose (35) during the NCAA college football team's Maroon-White spring game Saturday, April 14, 2018, in Blacksburg, Va. (Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via AP) by Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via AP

The Montell Cozart who played one season for Boise State was so superior to the quarterback who played parts of four seasons with Kansas that it became easy to draw a couple of conclusions.

First, Cozart must have had better blockers and receivers surrounding him in his final season. Second, he must have received superior coaching.

Cozart’s numbers playing half of his Kansas career for Charlie Weis weren’t much different from his numbers playing for David Beaty.

Then Cozart competed for Bryan Harsin at Boise State in 2017 and was a completely different quarterback.

Cozart at Kansas: 5.7 yards per pass attempt, 14 touchdown passes, 19 interceptions. Cozart at Boise State: 7.8 yards per pass attempt, 10 touchdown passes, one interception. Under Beaty, Cozart and Ryan Willis, both graduates of Bishop Miege High, lost the job to each other. Neither QB ever played consistently well enough to claim it outright.

Cozart headed west as a graduate transfer, Willis east to Virginia Tech, where he sat out a season as a redshirt.

Early returns suggest Willis might be in line for a big improvement as well. Josh Jackson is expected to start at quarterback for Virginia Tech, but it was Willis who had the more impressive spring football game Saturday.

Willis completed 10 of 15 passes for 262 yards and two touchdowns. He hit Sean Savoy in stride on a sideline sprint that went 83 yards. Willis also completed a 33-yard touchdown pass to Phil Patterson on a post pattern.

Willis has two remaining years of eligibility. In two seasons at Kansas, he compiled statistics similar to Cozart’s. Willis averaged 5.9 yards per pass attempt. He threw 11 interceptions and 17 touchdown passes.

FILE — Kansas tight end Jace Sternberger pulls in a catch during warmups prior to the Spring Game on Saturday, April 9, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

FILE — Kansas tight end Jace Sternberger pulls in a catch during warmups prior to the Spring Game on Saturday, April 9, 2016 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

Tight end Jace Sternberger joined Cozart and Willis in leaving the KU football program after 2016, his second season in Lawrence. Sternberger redshirted in 2015 and was used mainly on special teams in 2016. His only reception, for a 5-yard gain, came on opening week against Rhode Island.

Confident in his ability to draw interest as a junior-college recruit, Sternberger had a big juco season, signed with new Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher and stood out Saturday in the Aggies’ spring game. Sternberger caught eight passes for 147 yards and two touchdowns. The first question put to Aggies quarterback was about Sternberger’s value.

“Very, very valuable,” QB Nick Starkel said. “He’s a playmaker. He’s been making those plays every day, ever since he got here. Coach [Tim] Brewster’s on him really hard every day because he sees the potential in him, and I see the potential in him. I tell him every day, ‘Man, you’re a great tight end. Let’s go be great out there.’ ”

Successful football coaches have a way of drawing greatness out of talented athletes.


Marcus Balzer 3 years, 6 months ago

Some of it is up to the players but a large portion is the coaching staff and their ability to draw it out of guys.

Puzzling and scary that I can't think of any KU players off hand that you say, "they made a huge jump from X year to X year."

Cozart, like you pointed out was a great example of that. Watching him play on a random game last year I immediately thought that couldn't be the same guy that suited up for KU.

Marc Frey 3 years, 6 months ago

A few years ago, Texas Tech trotted out a walk-on QB who torched KU and looked like a Heisman candidate. If you have good blockers, it can make anyone look good.

Dale Rogers 3 years, 6 months ago

I agree with Marc. Coaching is part of it but when you're talking the QB position so much is dependent on your blockers buying you a little time and you having the trust in your blockers so you're not always having to watch your six. You have to be able to scan the field and find an open receiver. And then you also have to have receivers who run the correct patterns and get themselves open. Our quarterbacks have not had much of this in quite a few years.

[''] 3 years, 6 months ago

Beaty can clearly spot talent, but can he coach them up? 3-33 record says unequivocally....NO!

Brett McCabe 3 years, 6 months ago

The treatment and mishandling of Willis by Beaty is the clearest symbol out there of the enormity of the ineptitude of the current KU coach, and the AD who hired him.

After Willis committed to KU and Charlie, Beaty tried to recruit past him in the same class. Willis not only kept his commitment, he welcomed the competition, won the job, an sent his competitor to the redshirt closet.

After taking an absolute beating for a year, playing tough, never complaining and actually visibly displaying the type of mettle we needed in the program, Beaty began his bi-polar routine at QB because Willis wouldn't hold hands and sing love songs with his teammates.

Willis' ability was so clearly superior to any other QB on the roster, that only a numbskull like Beaty could insist on running an offense counter to his best quarterbacks' abilities. In addition to Beaty's enthusiasm and stupidity, the most remarkable personality trait of the current coach has been his arrogance. I guess this was based on the fact that once was in the same room with a Heisman trophy winner.

While it's no surprise the Cozart and Willis have made upturns by going to programs with better coaching, a better evaluation of the current staff's coaching ability is to look at the number of starters, JUCO recruits, flip-flops and abandonments the current staff has inflicted on the program in 3 years. Beaty literally has no idea how to identify QB talent, to recruit QB talent (his best QB was recruited by Weis), to coach QB talent or to develop QB talent. But one thing we all know for sure is this: he won't give Nicholls an advantage by announcing his QB until they send in the first play.

Bryson Stricker 3 years, 6 months ago


Ask your daughter about Ryan Willis' time at the CAVE, Brett. The kid was a mess, his only friends were Jim Beam, Jose cuervo and Jack Daniels because he literally pushed everyone away. He was irresponsible off the field and was lucky he didn't get sued for beating the sh** out of a kid for hugging his girlfriend.

I don't disagree about Beaty's inability to coach up the QB position though. Ryan Willis was what we needed at mentally at QB, we just couldn't give him a good enough line. Wish him the best at VT and if he has found new friends, he will be successful.

Whitney Tangeman 3 years, 6 months ago

I read the back and forth in the commentary on this site, and the second half of your comment (not the first) gives me hope that our KU football fanbase is not as divided as American politics are. As much chipping at each other as there is, at least we can agree on some basic facts. Our line play has been troubling, and this year doesn't look promising with the loss of Ribordy. Not that I don't have faith in Tovi, but we've yet to see.

Mike Bennett 3 years, 6 months ago

I agree with McCabe. Our staff is awful. When key performers go elsewhere and make plays, it's clear the problem was/is coaching.

John Fitzgerald 3 years, 6 months ago

It’s nice to see the players that left Kansas are doing well. But I’m more concerned about the players that are still here. No way Beaty and staff can survive another 0-12 or even 1-11 season.

Mike Bennett 3 years, 6 months ago

2-10 this year and they will be shouting about improvement and how the next QB is the real deal.

Mike Bennett 3 years, 6 months ago

I've been harping for at least 3 years that it's not the QB. The QB's are and have been fine. It's the O-line and miniature dacshound receivers that are the issues. And don't get me started on the D.

[''] 3 years, 6 months ago

Imagine that WR Charlot left the Beverly Hills/Gold Standard of coaching (Alabama) to come to the 3rd world/slumlord/sewer coaching of Beaty-Bowen. Wow.

John Brazelton 3 years, 6 months ago

We have upper class players this year in all positions and it will be a make or break season for Beaty and his Assistant Coaches. Coach Meacham has proven that he can win as both a player and as an OC at other colleges. Let's let the players and coaches play the 2018 season before we start firing coaches and bad-mouthing players.

Dyrk Dugan 3 years, 6 months ago

Ryan Willis and Montell Cozart were actually fish out of water in Beaty’s system; and they were both Weis recruits so it makes sense. And remember, between them, only Cozart won a league football game, and that was under Weis. My main criticism of Beaty is that he didn’t recruit a guy to run his system; until the last two years; and Bender had his chance with Leach. Mangino immediately brought in Whittemore; Snyder didn’t win consistently until May came on. When you’re starting to build a program, you HAVE to get a guy that fits YOUR stuff. Otherwise, you’re just spinning your wheels. That why I really hope, Kendrick wins the gig this year.

Mike Hart 3 years, 6 months ago

Dyrk... Beaty wasn't hired until DECEMBER 2014, well after the 2015 recruiting class was signed, sealed and delivered. You said he didn't recruit a QB to run his system until the last 2 years. Well... that's his first 2 years of full recruiting. For the record, he still signed Carter Stanley in Feb 2015... who red-shirted 2015.. and started chunks of 2016 and 2017 season. I'd say he has been the best "fit" for our system so far. Do some research... the QB running our system was signed 7 weeks after Beaty accepted the HC position at Kansas.

Dirk Medema 3 years, 6 months ago

Sternberger was one of the players I was most excited about. Only reasonable that he would excel in his 4th year. Wish he would have hung around. Maybe Charlot will take care of what he needs to do and will help us forget about players that have gone elsewhere.

Hadn’t heard about Willis “friends” and you would certainly hope it wouldn’t affect his teammates’ performance, though the coaches certainly weren’t teaching him to throw 17 INTs. It also wasn’t a coach that broke his hand/wrist or whatever and kept him out of the spring game. The job would have remained his if he would have taken care of his business but he didn’t and that’s not the coach’s fault.

Dirk Medema 3 years, 6 months ago

While Cozart’s numbers were definitely better at BSU, it would also seem noteworthy that he never started or had to play a complete game and especially not against Big12 competition. Wasn’t it Tait that wrote the article about how well Montell played against teams that weren’t great (like our practice D?) but his performance fell off drastically against better competition. A backup and situational player at BSU sounds like the perfect spot to maximize his performance regardless of any other factor.

Mostly glad for him because every indication was that he was a great kid and teammate.

Chris Condren 3 years, 6 months ago

It is the same sad story we here every year. Players fail at KU and transfer. Many find success once they leave the toxic the toxic environment that has been KU Football for ten years.

Andy Godwin 3 years, 6 months ago

I have no doubt that Willis has the physical talents to be a successful college QB. I even ran into the AD one day at the airport during his freshman year and said looks like we finally have our quarterback of the future after seeing him play for the first time. However, it become clear during his time in Lawrence that he needed to grow up and become a better teammate. Unfortunately, it wasn't happening at KU and he saw the bench. I won't be surprised if he is successful when he see the field after his redshirt year to reflect and mature.

Jeff Coffman 3 years, 6 months ago

All the QBs have similar numbers under Beaty. Low TDs, high turnovers and around 51% completion when the BII league is around 60%.

If Beaty isn't 3-0 he needs to be sent packing. He can't continue to lose to inferior conference teams and expect to continue to coach.

Mike Hart 3 years, 6 months ago

Is it really hard to fathom a major uptick in Cozart's numbers at Boise State. At KU, he played on the worst team in the Big 12... one of the top 3, toughest conferences in the nation. When he was the starter, he was responsible for being the leader... the offense was incumbent on his ability to make quick decisions and his ability to lead the team. He failed in this endeavor. He transferred to Boise State.. which is in the Mountain West conference. This is no means a powerhouse conference and Boise State is far and away the lead dog in this conference. Cozart didn't even START for Boise State. He was a complementary role player, meaning he contributed in spots. I would hope to god his pass yards/attempt would be higher at powerhouse Boise State in its comparatively weaker conference than at KU... last place team in the Big 12 conference. Before we truly start comparing Cozart's performance, keep in mind that he attempted 5 passes or less per game... in 9 of Boise State's games in 2017. Not exactly an apples to apples comparison. One thing Cozart never demonstrated in college... was the ability to be the #1 QB on any of his teams. Beaty's first game at KU summarized Cozart... down 41-38 and in field goal range... Cozart fumbled the snap when he went to spike the ball... and time expired. That's the clutch kind of play that defined Cozart at KU... and fumbling the snap in a big moment like that.. that's not coaching, folks.

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