Thomas MacVittie was only two-thirds of the way through spring football when he plopped down in one of Mrkonic Auditorium’s numerous seats inside Anderson Family Football Complex.
The University of Kansas quarterback and his teammates had just wrapped up their 10th practice and MacVittie had yet to take off the wristband he uses not to wipe sweat away from his forehead, but as a convenient reminder of the offense’s available play calls.
“These are pretty long,” MacVittie told the Journal-World at the time, glancing down at two laminated notecard-sized lists attached to his wristband, with the name of a different play call printed out on each line.
Although the Jayhawks kept much of the offensive details for Year 1 of the Les Miles era under wraps during media sessions this spring, MacVittie was glad to at least shed some light on the process of learning it all.
KU quarterbacks, MacVittie explained, often reference their wristbands when they’re lined up under center. But the usefulness of the uniform accessory isn’t limited to that situation. The wristbands are most useful for what MacVittie, a junior who joined the program this year as a transfer, described as “the long plays.”
In some situations, the KU offense has two possible plays to run when they line up and the one they choose before the snap depends on what they see from the defense in front of them.
“And we’ve got to check to the right play,” MacVittie explained. “That is what the wristband is for. Those are pretty long.”
How many plays were on there at the moment, with 10 of KU’s 15 spring practices completed?
MacVittie flipped the top flap of plays out of the way and eyed the second card beneath it.
“Umm. Let’s see. We’ve got 34,” the QB replied. “Adding to it every day.”
Throughout the spring, KU’s offensive coaches installed new plays for every practice. And for the Jayhawks who relay those calls to the rest of their teammates before every single snap, that meant huddling up in the QBs room before each of those practices to learn the details.
“This is what we’re gonna go do on the field in an hour,” MacVittie related of offensive coordinator and QBs coach Les Koenning’s typical message during those pre-practice meetings.
“It makes you learn fast, adapt fast and really kind of play on your feet,” MacVittie said of why he appreciated the process. “You can’t be back there thinking. You’ve just kind of got to do. And that comes with preparation, as well.”
Of course, MacVittie took other necessary steps to familiarize himself with the offense, through reviewing practice footage and other measures.
“Every day I come in,” the 6-foot-5, 215-pound QB shared of his spring football study routine. “I think I’m at the facility for probably five hours outside of needing to be. Asking coach to quiz me. Pulling up the film from practice. Kind of getting an edge on any new plays coming in.”
According to MacVittie, quizzes proved to be a valuable factor in his progress. What felt like almost every day throughout the spring, he said, Koenning provided the quarterbacks with brief tests of their playbook knowledge, with the help of senior offensive consultant Brent Dearmon.
Every KU quarterback would be handed a sheet of paper with specific play calls listed. The QBs then had to show off their X’s and O’s abilities by drawing up the plays correctly.
A former reserve QB at Pittsburgh and a starter in 2018 at Mesa Community College (Ariz.), the potential KU starter for Miles’ first season with the Jayhawks, MacVittie said he took pride in doing well on the quizzes, preparing for them by studying the playbook every night.
“They’re random,” MacVittie said of the plays that would show up at test time. “They could be from Day 1, they could be from Day 6. So you’ve really got to know it all.”
By the time the Jayhawks finished up spring football, Miles said they had gone through “at minimum” 50 percent of the offensive playbook. Obviously much more will be installed during preseason camp in August.
Just as he did throughout March and April, MacVittie expects to memorize it all, and prove his knowledge on quizzes and the practice fields. The expectation, he said, is to master the assignments for all 11 offensive players on every play call.
“The reads, the steps, what everybody’s doing,” he said, “to a ’T.’”
If Kansas football coach Les Miles and his assistants currently have a depth chart they feel good about during the final stage of spring practices, they’re certainly not making it public.
However, during the Jayhawks’ open practice on Thursday — a light, pads-free warmup for Saturday’s spring game — the 11-on-11 session provided a glimpse of what KU’s two-deep just might look like right about now.
The first-string units that were in place for the 13th practice of the spring may not even look exactly the same when the Jayhawks reconvene under the lights for No. 14, when fans will get to watch KU scrimmage at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium.
Still, this particular practice was the first prolonged opportunity those outside of the program have had this spring to watch the offense and defense go toe-to-toe.
More players will join the roster in the summer, and some undoubtedly will factor into the two-deep at preseason camp. So it’s safe to describe the current state of the various position battles as fluid.
For Thursday at least, here’s who started on each side of the ball when the team period began inside KU’s new indoor practice facility.
QB - Thomas MacVittie
RB - Dom Williams
WRs - Daylon Charlot, Andrew Parchment, Kwamie Lassiter II
TE - Jack Luavasa
LT - Hakeem Adeniji
LG - Malik Clark
C - Api Mane
RG - Chris Hughes
RT - Clyde McCauley III
DE - Cody Cole
NT - Jelani Brown
DE - Darrius Moragne
Hawk - Azur Kamara
LB - Drew Harvey
LB - Dru Prox
CB - Hasan Defense
S - Bryce Torneden
S - Mike Lee
S - Davon Ferguson
CB - Corione Harris
After all of those presumed current starters took a fair amount of reps, coaches rotated in other Jayhawks.
Here are the players who showed up most often in reserve roles as KU spent most of its afternoon session pitting the offense against the defense.
QB - Carter Stanley
RB - Khalil Herbert
WRs - Takulve Williams, Ezra Naylor, Stephon Robinson Jr.
TE - James Sosinski
LT - Earl Bostick Jr.
LG - Jacobi Lott
C - Andru Tovi
RG - Adagio Lopeti
RT - Antione Frazier
DE - Willie McCaleb
NT - Sam Burt
DE - Jelani Arnold
Hawk - Najee Stevens-McKenzie
LB - Kyron Johnson
LB - Cooper Root
CB - Kyle Mayberry
S - Ricky Thomas
S - Jeremiah McCullough
S - Shaquille Richmond
CB - Elijah Jones and Elmore Hempstead Jr.
Other reserves got their fair share of reps at the practice, as well. These are the other backups who participated during the 11-on-11 work.
QBs - Miles Kendrick and Torry Locklin
RB - Donovan Franklin
WRs - Kameron McQueen and Evan Fairs
FBs - Sam Schroeder and Mac Copeland
OL - Joey Gilbertson and Kevin Feder
DL - Jalan Robinson
LB - Robert Topps III
S - DeAnte Ford and Julian Chandler
Again, there were no pads involved, so there wasn’t any real hitting or tackling. But there were some players who stood out as the KU football program opened its practice up to both the student population and members of the media.
A senior safety, Mike Lee, intercepted two passes on the afternoon. Another defensive back from New Orleans, junior safety Ricky Thomas, made another pick.
Although several receivers had a crack or two at some deep shots, it was junior Stephon Robinson Jr. who hauled one in successfully, despite solid coverage.
What was the most impressive catch of the day? Quarterback Thomas MacVittie gave that honor to one of the tight ends.
“I think our tight end, Sosa, had a one-handed, kind of behind him,” MacVittie recalled of a snag by senior James Sosinski that drew oohs and ahhs from his teammates nearby on the sideline.
“That just shows how athletic he is,” MacVittie added of the grab.
KU’s spring game is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. Saturday. It will be available to stream on ESPN+ and broadcast locally and throughout the state on various cable platforms.
Don’t bring up the Kansas football team’s offseason conditioning sessions around Thomas MacVittie if you don’t want an honest response.
And if for some reason there happen to be children nearby when you do broach the subject with the junior quarterback, just tell the kids to earmuff it before MacVittie is reminded of those pre-sunrise sprints.
“(Expletive),” was MacVittie’s instant and visceral reaction when those workouts were mentioned.
Head coach Les Miles, his assistants and KU’s strength and conditioning staff made a point in February and early March, before the team’s spring football practices began, to push the players with intense conditioning work that doubled as a wake-up call — and an early one at that.
“It’s hard to kind of put into words, because there’s so many pieces that went into that puzzle,” MacVittie elaborated a few weeks back, when asked about how challenging that form of training was for the players. “First of all, waking up at 5 in the morning was a struggle, knowing the stuff that you were about to go through.”
The conditioning began promptly at 5:55 a.m. And even Miles admitted the workouts were not exactly designed to bring joy to the players’ lives.
“It tests you,” the KU football coach said. “It’s painful.”
However, as MacVittie would explain, the players understood how important it was to experience those mental and physical demands. A 6-foot-5, 215-pound QB from Cincinnati, Ohio, MacVittie said even though he’s no early riser, he appreciated the discipline instilled in the Jayhawks through the process.
To further their early a.m. misery, MacVittie said the coaches used what he called a “ding” system while watching the players’ runs. Any time a player failed to touch a certain line while sprinting back and forth on the turf at the indoor practice facility that player got dinged for coming up short.
“They time every rep that you have,” MacVittie added. “So if your rep is a couple of seconds (off), you’re not trying as hard, you’re dinged for that.”
According to Miles, the Jayhawks had to run “perfect sprints” at the very end of each morning workout, and they went through eight drills that were “very much like football games.”
The scrutiny didn’t end there, though. MacVittie said the whole coaching staff would watch video footage of the conditioning sessions “for two hours” after each one concluded. Each and every drill and every last Jayhawk was accounted for, thanks to the multiple cameras that captured every second of it from every feasible angle.
Even the players who were waiting in line had to be in “an athletic position,” with their wrists above their knees.
“And if you weren’t,” MacVittie said, “you would get dinged.”
As the Jayhawks endured it all, there was also a T-shirt system that measured their progress. MacVittie said everybody started off in gray KU football T-shirts. A player would receive a white one to wear if coaches deemed that particular Jayhawk was showing proper progress. What’s more, if players were what the QB described as “super-disciplined,” they got to wear a blue T-shirt.
What did that signify?
“You’re being a leader. You’re excelling in the things you need to do and you’re driving the team. Everybody was striving for the blues,” MacVittie shared. “If you got one ding you couldn’t get a blue shirt.”
Of course, all of this also made it easier for the Jayhawks to transition to spring football practice mode, once that began on March 6.
“I think it shows to the team that the details matter,” MacVittie said of the idea he took away from those demanding drills and sprints. “The details are why you win in the fourth quarter or overtime. Details are important. They’re going to be a first down or a fumble. It’s that small. It’s that small, getting your wrists above your knees. It’s that small, touching the line.
“That’s going to win games, believe it or not,” MacVittie said, “just that discipline.”
After nine months of construction time, the Kansas football program’s new indoor practice facility was finally ready to be put to use on Tuesday.
Returning players and spring enrollees were up bright and early for a 6 a.m. conditioning session on the full-length turf, sprinting and cutting as head coach Les Miles and his staff instructed and observed.
While spring practices won’t commence until March, the Jayhawks are able to work out without footballs while out of season at this time of the year. NCAA rules allow college football players 8 hours of work per week, with no more than 2 hours in a week spent reviewing game footage or walking through plays.
The other six hours are limited to conditioning and weightlifting, and Tuesday’s early morning workout was all about speed, changing directions and building the stamina the players will need for spring football. No skill instruction is allowed at this time of year, so there aren’t any footballs or blocking sleds or the types of drills one would expect to see at an in-season or spring practice.
But such workouts still hold great value for Miles and his assistants, as the staff members get a better understanding of their players’ individual abilities and how each Jayhawk approaches all that goes into playing at this level.
While there are still more bells and whistles to come for the indoor facility, with the playing turf ready to go, the Jayhawks got a sneak peek of the pristine venue on Monday, as donors Dana and Sue Anderson welcomed them to the space where the current and future players will spend countless hours in the months and years ahead.
In a video posted to KU football’s Twitter account, a number of Jayhawks offered their reactions to being inside the practice building for the first time.
“It’s a beautiful place,” senior receiver Daylon Charlot said. “We’re thankful for the opportunity for getting this. So we’re about to come in here and work hard every day.”
Junior quarterback Thomas MacVittie, one of the top signees from KU’s 2019 recruiting class, could be seen with his iPhone in hand, letting his father, Thomas Sr., get a live look of the facility via FaceTime.
“Man, this is something special,” the KU quarterback said. “This place is going up. It’s going to be fun.”
Between the social media posts provided by the football program, Jayhawks such as Najee Stevens McKenzie, Bryce Torneden, Corione Harris, Mike Lee, Hakeem Adeniji, Carter Stanley, Miles Kendrick, Quan Hampton, Evan Fairs, Elmore Hempstead Jr., Khalil Herbert, Codey Cole, MacVittie, Ezra Naylor and Andrew Parchment could be seen taking in and/or working out in the facility.
“This is beautiful right here. We love this,” redshirt junior cornerback Julian Chandler said in one of KU’s videos. “We’re ready to get some work in right here.”
Herbert, who served as the host for a live Instagram video of the players’ initial tour, enjoyed the bouncy feel to the fresh turf, as well as the prospect of staying warm and dry during workouts.
“It’s about to snow tomorrow, but that doesn’t matter to us,” Herbert said. “We’re fixing to be inside.”
Lee, who will be a senior safety this coming season, said it felt good to finally be inside the structure.
“We worked hard for this,” Lee said. “It’s about time we change this program around and get some dubs, and turn rock chalk nation to extreme.”