LAWRENCE — Kansas’ new starting quarterback is a former church choirboy with a soft spot for the doo-wop classics. You ever hear “16 Candles” by The Crests? Yes, that’s Michael Cummings’ jam.
Back in his old life, growing up in Killeen, Texas, Cummings could hit the solo notes just right, eliciting a few swoons, driving the ladies wild … but stop right there.
You see, Cummings is a redshirt freshman with a locker room full of a upperclassmen to lead. So, yeah, maybe it’d be best if no one knew about this.
“I gotta have him sing for me,” says sophomore running back Tony Pierson, Cummings’ roommate. “I gotta hear it.”
“That’s in my past…” Cummings says, smiling. “I try to leave that back in the past.”
Maybe it would be best if he focused on Texas, Kansas’ opponent on Saturday morning at 11 a.m. Maybe it’d be best if he locked in on what could end up being the most important five-week audition of his young college career. Cummings will make his second career start against Texas. But unlike last week at Oklahoma, when former starter Dayne Crist was waiting on deck, KU coach Charlie Weis made a point this week of declaring Cummings the Jayhawks’ No. 1 quarterback.
For Cummings, it’s a chance to make a case to teammate and coaches that he can help Kansas win — both today and in the future.
“I feel like I can build a foundation,” Cummings says.
After entering the season as something of an afterthought, this is all he ever wanted. When Weis arrived in town last winter, Cummings was an undersized quarterback who hadn’t played a down as a freshman. And one of Weis’ first moves at Kansas was fortifying the quarterback position with two former five-star recruits. Crist arrived from Notre Dame as a fifth-year transfer, and Jake Heaps, then a sophomore at BYU, came along, too.
For KU followers, it seemed clear. The Jayhawks’ quarterback position was now set for Weis’ first three seasons. And Cummings, all of 5 feet 11, was left to wonder where he fit in.
“I just kept my faith,” Cummings says.
Former KU coach Turner Gill had promised Cummings that he could play quarterback. No other Big 12 school could make the same pledge. So Cummings came to Lawrence. And one year later, he was sitting down with Weis, listening to a coach who had made a living running more of a pro-style offense.
“He sat me down in his office, and said he wasn’t gonna change my position just because I was shorter,” Cummings says. “He was gonna give me a chance to prove myself. If I wasn’t good enough, he’d move my position. If I was, he’d keep me there.”
So far, Cummings has proved himself worthy. He gave Kansas a lift against Oklahoma State. And after taking his lumps against Oklahoma, he emerged a stronger quarterback.
“The game wasn’t too big for him down in Oklahoma,” Weis said.
But here’s the rub: It’s not clear how many more chances Cummings will get. Heaps, who had to sit out this year, is still set to compete for the starting job next season. That’s the same Heaps whom Weis has referred to as the best scout-team quarterback in the country.
“We have a lot of factors at the quarterback position,” Weis says. “Michael sees Jake every Sunday (at practice), and as encouraging as it is for me, for those guys right there, they know they have their work cut out if they’re going to beat him out (next season). They know that.”
Cummings, though, has spent most of his football career feeling slighted. For so long, it was all the coaches who believed he’d never start at quarterback in the Big 12. Then it was all those who thought he’d be on the bench for the next three years behind Crist and Heaps.
“Adversity builds character,” Cummings said. “That’s a test of your character. When you’re in an adverse situation … how you react to it.”