Kansas transfer Ryan Willis looking forward to renewing confidence at Virginia Tech
Former Kansas quarterback Ryan Willis quietly was shopping for more than Christmas presents throughout December. He was shopping for a new university where he could continue his football and academic careers.
Willis informed Kansas head football coach David Beaty with a phone call Wednesday that he had decided to transfer and announced on Twitter hours later that he is transferring to Virginia Tech.
“I did my research,” Willis told the Journal-World by phone Wednesday night. “I’m never going to go anywhere blindfolded.”
Willis will play for Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente and offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen, against whom Willis competed when they were coaching at Memphis.
“I saw first-hand what they want to do when they had Paxton Lynch at Memphis,” Willis said. “I envision myself being used similar to that.”
A finance major, Willis said that factored in his decision because it was ranked as one of the three leading majors at Virginia Tech.
Willis played in 16 games in two seasons at Kansas, sharing time with fellow Bishop Miege graduate Montell Cozart. Willis did not appear in any of the final six games of the 2016 season and would have ranked third or lower on the 2017 depth chart, behind juco recruit Peyton Bender and returning Carter Stanley, the starter in the final three games. Kansas also has Cozart, red-shirt freshman Tyriek Starks and senior Deondre Ford on the QB depth chart.
Even with such a crowded field at the position, Willis didn’t ask for his complete release from Kansas until he made sure he had options.
“I’ve stayed under the radar lately,” Willis said. “KU wanted me to stay, so I initially got permission to contact early in December. That allowed me to contact schools without losing my scholarship in case I wanted to stay. I explored all my options and weighed it all out.”
Willis was recruited to Kansas by Charlie Weis, who was fired before Willis arrived on campus.
“Coach Beaty’s been great to me,” Willis said. “Sometimes the ball doesn’t fall your way. As a quarterback, it’s kind of the nature of the beast. We bounce around more than any other position. I took emotions out of the equation and I’m doing what’s best for me and my family.”
Transfer rules require Willis to sit out a year before competing in games, which will give him ample time to learn the Hokies’ offense.
Willis made his Kansas debut fresh out of high school with just one fall camp of development. By the time he suits up for a Virginia Tech game, he will have undergone two spring camps and two fall camps with the Hokies and will be three years older than when he took his first snap with Kansas.
“Sitting out a year will help me grow athletically and mature,” Willis said. “There’s no down side to it. I was kind of thrown into the fire pretty quickly coming out of a 4A high school.”
Willis, one of 10 quarterbacks to start at least one game in the post-Todd Reesing era of Kansas football, was responsible for two of the six 300-yard-plus passing outputs since Reesing exhausted his eligibility.
Willis, a strong-armed pocket passer, completed 54.6 percent of his passes for Kansas and threw 11 touchdown passes and 17 interceptions. He started two games early in the season and then lost his starting assignment after having trouble avoiding sacks.
He sounded sincere in describing his time at KU in a positive light.
“I think coach Beaty’s doing a really nice job and I wish him nothing but success in the future,” Willis said. “I do not regret my time at KU at all. I would not trade it in for anything. It was a really good experience.”
Willis said KU and Virginia Tech were not his only options.
“It was kind of recruiting Round 2 for me,” Willis said. “It was kind of refreshing to see schools interested in me. It gave me some confidence back.”
Willis has two remaining years of eligibility, 2018 and 2019.