Early QB decision could pay off for Kansas

While some college coaches are playing possum about their starting quarterbacks with the season just around the corner, Kansas coach Charlie Weis took a different approach.

Weis named sophomore Montell Cozart the Jayhawks' starting quarterback in mid-April, leaving opponents no doubt who would be the man under center this fall. But Weis’ early choice also left no doubt in the minds of Cozart’s teammates.

The result of the pre-summer decision has paid off.

When the Jayhawks announced their captains and leadership committee last week, linebacker Ben Heeney, safety Cassius Sendish and receiver Nick Harwell were named captains after garnering the majority of the votes, while Cozart, offensive lineman Pat Lewandowski and defensive lineman Keon Stowers earned enough votes to separate themselves from the rest of the squad and join the captains on the leadership committee. Cozart is the only non-senior on the six-player committee which was voted on by the players.

“That’s what you’re hoping for,” Weis said. “By putting him in that position in May you’re hoping by the time you’re ready to play the players are looking at him as a guy they can rally around.”

For Weis it was more important to put Cozart in a position to emerge as a leader and difference-maker on KU’s offense before the summer so everyone knew who would be the triggerman in John Reagan's new offense.

“He’s more mature than a lot of sophomores I’ve seen,” Harwell said. “He’s soft-spoken but he’s a leader.”

Cozart earned the starting role during the spring after an roller-coaster freshman season. He appeared poised for a redshirt year, watching the first five games from the sidelines, until his redshirt was removed before the Jayhawks’ home game with Oklahoma. He played in KU’s final seven games (three starts), finishing 23 of 63 passing for 227 yards and two interceptions. He added 66 carries for 214 yards and one touchdown.

Yet his emergence as a leader didn’t begin until after his first season in the program.

“He’s done his part as a quarterback and leader to push us,” tight end Jimmay Mundine said of Cozart’s impact on the Jayhawks’ summer workouts.

His leadership traits were largely unseen during his true freshman campaign, but they were among the traits that intrigued Weis when he visited Cozart at Kansas City (Missouri) Bishop Miege High School during the recruiting process.

“I went to his high school and he couldn’t go anywhere without everyone following behind him,” Weis said. “They all gravitated to him. He was obviously, not just the quarterback, but the leader. I knew we would eventually see that from him. I’m happy it’s happening sooner rather than later.”

Now, as a sophomore, the future—and present— of the Jayhawks' offense is in the hands of Cozart. When the Jayhawks become the last Big 12 team to open its season when Southwest Missouri State visits Memorial Stadium on Sept. 6, it will be a different Cozart taking the snaps for KU.

“He’s a young guy who has grown a lot since last season,” Harwell said. “I feel like he’s ready for the big stage.”

It’s a stage he didn’t shy away from when thrown into the fire against Oklahoma in his first collegiate game. And the players’ vote completely validated Weis’ decision to name Cozart the starter before the summer and revealed Cozart’s emerging leadership skills.

“The statement was made by [the players], not by me, by their votes, they can see that [rallying around Cozart] happening,” Weis said. “They’ve set it up for him to be the leader of the team as you move forward into the future.”