Kansas tried a former Bishop Miege quarterback at that position this season and it hasn’t worked out.
But the Jayhawks hope to try again.
Ryan Willis, who has orally committed to KU, is the 20th-ranked quarterback nationally by Rivals.com and will lead Miege into the Class 4A-Division I championship game Saturday against Topeka Hayden in Topeka.
The Jayhawks eventually had to bench former Stags QB Montell Cozart this season, but Willis might be the kind of quarterback who sticks.
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“If there are skeptics, I’m always trying to prove them wrong,” said the 6-foot-4, 205-pound Willis. “I’m a very confident person who is trying to be the best and want to get the credit I deserve. I can compete with anybody and won’t back down.”
This is a confident young man. Key word: confident.
“Never cocky, but always confident,” Willis confirmed.
So let’s check the numbers.
Willis has passed for 2,683 yards and 32 touchdowns in 12 games. He has completed 63 percent of his pass attempts in an undefeated season.
“Montell was able to do a lot of things athletically here,” said Miege coach Jon Holmes, in his third season as coach and 11th on the staff. “But Ryan is a true quarterback. He’s a pocket guy who can move out of the pocket a little. He has a really, really strong arm and there’s not a throw on the field he can’t make.
“I think that’s what sets him apart from some of the other guys we’ve had.”
Miege has been rolling in the playoffs, winning games against Basehor-Linwood, Fort Scott and Kansas City Piper by a combined score of 172-7.
Hayden has had a tougher go of it on the western side of the 4A-I bracket with wins over Ulysses (49-37), Mulvane (34-12) and Buhler (49-19).
Miege-Hayden should be high scoring, just the way Willis likes it.
“We went 6-0 in our league (Eastern Kansas), which we believe is the toughest league in Kansas,” Willis said. “It really prepared us for the playoffs. I feel like our offense really has stepped up from last season. Coach (Tim) Grunhard has been a real key.”
Grunhard, the former Kansas City Chiefs offensive lineman who spent the 2012 and 2013 seasons as line coach at Kansas, joined the Miege staff last December.
Willis says he’s protected and that he likes the offensive balance the Stags possess.
“Both our run and pass blocking has been incredible,” Willis said. “Coach Grunhard really brings an X factor to this team.”
So does Willis.
He narrowed his college choices to Kansas and Kansas State, something a lot of high school players in the state have done over the years.
The majority, though, have ultimately decided to go with the proven commodity, Bill Snyder and the Wildcats. Many thought Willis would make the same choice since his father, Steve, is a former K-State kicker from the early 1980s.
“I took a lot of visits and felt most at home at KU,” Willis said. “It’s right in my backyard, practically, and I really liked this coaching staff. And they seem like they have a need at the quarterback position.”
Willis said his dad made no bones about his hope that Ryan would pick K-State.
“Yeah, he was a little upset about my decision at first,” Ryan said. “But I think he’s starting to warm up to the fact that I’m going to KU. I felt like even if I wasn’t going to play football, I most likely would have gone to Kansas. I really liked the environment there and I think they’re on the edge of being a good, competing Big 12 school.”
But KU’s coaching situation is up in the air. Clint Bowen became the interim coach in late September, replacing Charlie Weis, the coach when Willis committed in the spring. The Jayhawks are 1-6 under Bowen and finish the regular season against Kansas State on Saturday in Manhattan.
“If it was up to me,” Willis said, “I would want Coach Bowen to get the job. I like and trust what he is telling me. But if he doesn’t, I’ll wait for the new coach to come in and assess what kind of offense he runs and go from there.”
First things first, though, and Willis is most intent on finishing his high school career with a state championship.
“It’s kind of bittersweet,” he said. “I wish high school could last forever, but in all reality it doesn’t. And the coaches keep telling us we have unfinished business, which is to go 13-0 and win a 4A-I state championship. We set a lot of goals in the preseason and we’re trying to live up to them.”
The Willis skeptics, if there are any left, say he’s not mobile and that he can’t elude pressure.
Willis disagrees. He said he has worked on his movement and quickness and that he ran a 4.72-second 40-yard dash during a combine in San Antonio during the summer.
“I’m more athletic than some people give me credit for,” Willis said. “I think the knock was mostly last year. This year, I think I’ve kind of proven myself.”