As the starting quarterbacks in three of the 12 bowl games the Kansas University football program has played during its 121-year history, Todd Reesing and Bill Whittemore certainly are qualified to talk about what it takes to play quarterback at KU.
And both are more than impressed by the upgrade that new KU coach Charlie Weis has brought to the position during his first three weeks on the job.
By adding former Notre Dame QB Dayne Crist and former BYU QB Jake Heaps — both transfers and five-star prospects coming out of high school — Weis has returned to the program the kind of hope and excitement that Reesing and Whittemore once made common during their five combined seasons as KU starters.
With the pieces in place, it’s time to see if the new guys can deliver the same type of results. Reesing and Whittemore believe that’s possible, even if they can’t quite believe KU now has two blue-chip QBs on its roster.
“If they were recruiting five-star quarterbacks back when I was around, I wouldn’t have been there, so I’m obviously glad that wasn’t the case,” said Whittemore, now a quarterbacks coach at a private high school in Nashville, Tenn. “But I think KU has always had potential to recruit those types of kids. It’s a great college town, it’s a great school and there’s no reason why they can’t compete at that level. Obviously, they don’t have the backyard that Texas and schools like that have, but I think it’s an exciting time, with a new coach, and I think this just proves that.”
Reesing, who owns every major passing record in KU history, said the addition of such high-profile players not only brings talent to the field but also provides a sense of pride for the program.
“These guys still have to go out and play and prove themselves,” Reesing said. “But when you have guys that have the five-star ratings, whether they live up to them or not, they still bring that kind of attention. They’re the guys that are talked about, fans know their names and they’re being recruited by all the big schools. So when you get those kinds of guys to your school, and beat out schools like Texas and Florida and Alabama, it means a lot.”
Reesing, a former three-star recruit out of Lake Travis, Texas, and Whittemore, a former three-star recruit out of Fort Scott Community College, brought stability and skill to the team’s most important position during their stints at Kansas.
Whittemore, who started during Mark Mangino’s first two seasons at KU and led the Jayhawks to the 2003 Tangerine Bowl, threw for 4,000 yards and 29 touchdowns while bringing grit, toughness and leadership to a team that had cycled through QBs with regularity during the decade that preceded his arrival.
Reesing, KU’s starter from 2007-09, led the Jayhawks to back-to-back bowl victories — including a 12-1 record during the 2007-08 Orange Bowl championship season — and threw for 11,000 yards and 90 touchdowns while delivering three consecutive seasons of more than 3,400 yards.
Both were leaders on their teams, and both operated as KU’s unquestioned, first-and-only choice at quarterback throughout their careers. While having that kind of a role helped them perform on the field, both said it also helped their teams tremendously.
“I do think there has to be a guy that the coaches believe in and back, and, as a response to that, I think it’s important that the players do, too,” Whittemore said. “The team has to believe in the quarterback or else the defense will be playing for just their side and not for the team and things become more individualized.”
Added Reesing: “When the team knows who their quarterback is, who their leader is, it makes everybody else around them play well. They have the ability to motivate people, to lead, to get everybody excited. It’s a lot of responsibility. It’s a tough position to play. And most of the teams that have been really, really successful have had a good quarterback.”
While it’s too early to tell if either Crist, who will play one year at Kansas and will be eligible next season, or Heaps, who has to sit out 2012 and will have two years remaining beginning in 2013, will match, or even exceed, what Reesing or Whittemore were able to do, Reesing said both will come to KU with a huge advantage.
“The thing is, these two guys are seasoned veterans,” Reesing said. “They have played a lot of college football and they’ve been around Charlie Weis. Dayne Crist knows Weis’ offense, he knows the system, and he’s going to come in and be miles ahead of everyone on the team, which is going to give him the ability to step in and be a leader right away.”
Will all of the impressive traits along with the incredible hype surrounding his arrival mean more pressure for Crist from the start?
“For a young guy who’s been playing at Notre Dame, with the attention that that program gets, he’s not going to feel any pressure,” Whittemore said.
While the two former Jayhawks were impressed by the new players who will step into their old positions, that paled in comparison to the thoughts each had about KU’s new head coach.
“I was actually at work and I got online and happened to read it somewhere, and it just completely caught me off guard,” said Reesing, recalling the moment he first heard about the Weis hire. “It was kind of like, ‘Oh my gosh. Where did this come from?’ It kind of takes your breath away. You know who Charlie Weis is. You know what he’s done, you know what his pedigree is and it’s exciting that he’s bringing that to our school.”
Added Whittemore: “I think we’re probably catching him at the right time. I think he’s figured out the college game and realizes that he only has some much time to spend with the kids, so he’s probably tweaked his offensive schemes for them. I’m interested to see what they do and how it evolves.”
With his coaching staff only half complete and somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 new players still on his wish list, there clearly is more work for Weis to do. But both Reesing and Whittemore said, from their perspective, one of the hardest things to achieve already is in the bag.
“I don’t think there’s been this much buzz surrounding KU football since the middle of our 2007 season,” Reesing said. “And that’s exciting to see.”