On the last Saturday of April, a day designed for Kansas University’s football players to reap the rewards of the previous few weeks’ practices, the Jayhawks watched a nightmare play out in front of them at Memorial Stadium.
Quarterback Michael Cummings, entering his senior season with KU, took a helmet to his left knee in the program’s spring game. The injury looked bad that afternoon, and the result proved worse. Cummings had surgery on the knee in June and is likely to miss the entire 2015 season.
A 5-foot-10 senior with 23 career starts, Cummings has been at Kansas since red-shirting in 2011. Defensive end Ben Goodman, also a fifth-year senior, mellows his generally upbeat tone when he thinks about the damage suffered by his good friend and the uncertain future ahead for Cummings.
“It was kind of painful, and it kind of hurt to see that he was the projected starter, I guess, and to see him go down,” Goodman said.
Junior offensive lineman Jordan Shelley-Smith added watching that happen to a senior leader made the setback even harder to stomach. Still, Cummings might be handling his misfortune better than any of his teammates. According to the Jayhawks in attendance at Big 12 Media Days in Dallas, the quarterback remains not only upbeat, but also in an influential role.
Said Shelley-Smith: “Mike is the kind of guy that when he says something, everybody’s quiet, and we all listen, because we know he’s been in so many situations, and we just have the utmost respect for him.”
Sophomore tight end Ben Johnson thinks Cummings handled the potentially devastating blow better than anybody else on the team could and revealed when the Jayhawks’ skill players have worked this offseason, the quarterback shows up to yell his support and push them.
“He still brings competition to the table, even being hurt,” Johnson said. “I think that’s special. That really shows that he cares and that he’s passionate about what he’s doing and what he’s got going on for the football program.”
None of these anecdotes surprises first-year KU coach David Beaty.
“He is only a better kid than he is a player,” Beaty said of Cummings, who figures to seek a sixth year of NCAA eligibility. “I don’t know how I can give a kid higher praise than that.”
Now a vocal leader instead of a contributing performer, Cummings has helped out junior Montell Cozart, as well as freshmen Carter Stanley and Ryan Willis this summer.
“I kind of wish there was someone like that when I came in,” Johnson said, “to be that vocal and not be afraid to say something to a younger kid when he’s doing something wrong or if he’s doing something right.”
Knowing Cummings well, Goodman said the injured QB’s insights will help the three players fighting to win what seemed to be his job. From little things like footwork and dealing with a collapsing pocket to larger issues such as playing time or off-the-field troubles, Goodman expects Cummings to help Cozart, Stanley and Willis in every way imaginable — all while he tries to rehab and return to the field.
As much as Goodman respects his friend and is glad Cummings remains involved with the team, he realizes dwelling on what might have been won’t help any of the Jayhawks.
“We’re focusing on the now,” the defensive end said, before divulging Cozart, Stanley and Willis all have shown flashes of turning into Cummings’ replacement.
“They’re out there competing each and every day,” Goodman said, “and all three of them are hungry for the job.”