Ryan Willis has stepped into Kansas history in just his first year as a Jayhawk.
With throwing for 203 yards last Saturday against TCU in Kansas’ 23-17 defeat, the quarterback is now the school’s all-time freshman leader in passing with 1,377 yards. Now just two games remaining in 2015 against West Virginia and K-State, Willis will become just the sixth freshman to lead the Jayhawks in passing in a season.
Wait, there’s more.
The former Bishop Miege star is the first frosh to throw a touchdown in six-straight games since Kerry Meier did it in 2006. The six consecutive contests (all starts for Willis) ranks third-most in the KU single-season passing records with the legendary Todd Reesing holding the top-two spots at 13 and seven, respectively.
Ever since he was anointed the starter against powerhouse Baylor on Oct. 10 after season-ending injuries to quarterbacks Montell Cozart and Deondre Ford, Willis has done an admiral job of leading the Jayhawks. He certainly hasn’t been great all the time, but he’s been quite effective.
And he has all heart.
You can tell he’s a courageous player since he’s been playing in pain the last two games with left and right groin injuries.
“There was one time he went down in the back of the end zone and looked at me kind of like my daughter, Alexa, does when she's hurt,” Kansas coach David Beaty said about Willis in the TCU game.
“And I was like, ‘Dude, you're okay. You're fine. Take your time. We'll slow down for you.’
“He limped his way up there. We were about to run a play that involved him dropping back again, and I vetoed it, and said, ‘Rob (Likens, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach), hand the ball off. Give him a second to take a breath. He's hurt.’ Rob couldn't see it, because he was up in the booth and he's looking at structure, but we gave him a second to catch his breath. You know, you never knew he was hurt from that point forward, which was good.”
Willis will be back in action Saturday at 11 a.m. as KU hosts West Virginia and looks for its first victory this season.
“Boy, he's a tough dude,” Beaty said. “He’s going to play.”
Willis, who ranks No. 8 in the Big 12 in passing yards per game, has completed 132-of-244 passes for those 1,377 yards, a 54.4 completion percentage. He’s also thrown for seven touchdowns with seven interceptions.
As he grows and matures, look for that completion percentage to rise and the picks to dip.
Beaty believes he’s made great progress since his first start.
“I think the big thing for him is understanding structure. He's getting better each week,” Beaty said. “Every week he gets a little bit better in understanding what they're trying to do to him. The first week is what are we doing? What's he running, what's he running, what's he running? And I'm pretty sure he had no clue what the secondary was doing other than whether the guy was on or off of the guy, tight or loose. But as he played and progressed, he's starting to understand what spins look like and whether they're going to stay one high or two high, whether it's going to be man or zone based on the feet of the corner, the feet of the nickel. All those keys are starting to slow down for him. And I think understanding structure is helping him a little bit.
“With the exception of that last throw (in TCU game) or one of those last throws right down the middle there, the kid was really accurate. He did a nice job with a guy that was kind of limited to stick it in the pocket. He couldn't do a whole lot getting out of the pocket (with his injury).
“He made a heck of a run in that game that he almost got out. He almost got out and got us down there in good field position by himself,” Beaty added. “You could tell -- I don't know that he wanted to keep running that far, but he almost had to.”
Willis will do whatever he can to help KU win games. He’s shown he has the guts and savvy to continue leading the program the next three years at quarterback.
And he just might spearhead Kansas to a victory or two in his final starts in 2015.