Published October 24, 2012
LAWRENCE, Kan. – The senior quarterback has taken a seat and the freshman is under center, perhaps the clearest indication yet that Kansas is starting to focus on the future.
Coach Charlie Weis sat Dayne Crist late against Oklahoma State two weeks ago and put Michael Cummings into the game, and he performed well enough to warrant the start last week at Oklahoma.
While it turned out to be a forgettable debut as a starter for the Jayhawks, Weis is sticking with his young quarterback for Saturday's game against Texas.
"I think at this point, when you are 1-6 and things haven't gone real well, you owe it to your team to see what you've got," Weis said.
So who is this unheralded kid getting the nod over the once-highly touted Crist?
Cummings is a multisport athlete from Killeen, Texas, who was recruited by former coach Turner Gill after getting little Division I attention because of his size. The 5-foot-10 athlete received other offers, but those schools wanted him to play another position, and Cummings' dream was always to play quarterback in the Big 12.
Kansas seemed like a good place to give it a try.
"I kept my faith, kept my nose to the grindstone and kept working," said Cummings, whose recruitment fell off when he hurt his ACL his senior season in high school.
Cummings remembered the conversation he had when Weis took over the Jayhawks. The two of them sat down in his office and Weis told him that he wasn't planning to make the raw quarterback change positions, despite his size, and despite the fact that Crist was a former five-star recruit and another one — Jake Heaps — was also transferring into the program.
"As long as I got a chance to compete, that's all you can ask for," Cummings said.
That's precisely the demeanor that teammates have come to expect of him.
Running back Tony Pierson said Cummings has a quiet strength and confidence that seems to rub off on the Jayhawks (1-6, 0-4 Big 12).
"Mike is a cool guy. He's honest, he's laid back," Pierson said. "He's a real nice guy to be around all the time."
Against Oklahoma State, Cummings replaced Crist late in the third quarter and led two scoring drives to give Kansas a chance to win the game. The rally fell short, but his performance sparked a battle for the starting spot, and he ultimately got the nod against the Sooners.
He's only completed 50 percent of his passes for 198 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions, but he's also gaining experience in the most difficult situations imaginable for a team struggling to find wins, and with his first start coming at Norman, Okla.
"Mike's got a good set of quarterbacking skills, but the one thing he was lacking was experience," said Ron Powlus, a former Notre Dame quarterback who works with the Jayhawks' signal-callers. "The more reps he gets, the better he gets."
Cummings has known since Tuesday that he would be starting against Texas, but true to his nature, he said that does not affect his routine.
"I am just going to prepare all week like I know how, take the coaching from the coaches all week and just go into the game confident and ready," Cumming said.
With five games left in the season, Cummings understands that this is his opportunity to make a case for next year's starting spot.
"I can build a foundation with the players and coaching staff," he said, "so they can trust me when I am on the field to lead them to victory."