Freshman Ballard making waves in KU quarterback room

photo by: Chance Parker/Journal-World photo

Kansas quarterbacks (from left) Mikey Pauley, TJ Crews IV and Cole Ballard watch as Jalon Daniels and Jason Bean take snaps during practice on Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023.

When Ethan Vasko opted to leave Kansas in late spring, the conventional wisdom was that redshirt sophomore Ben Easters would slide smoothly into Vasko’s No. 3 spot, as the lone scholarship quarterback behind Jalon Daniels and Jason Bean.

Cole Ballard’s performance has quickly disabused the KU football community of that notion.

Offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki told reporters at the team’s media day last Wednesday that Ballard, a freshman walk-on from Westfield, Indiana, has garnered the lion’s share of snaps as the third quarterback, as compared to Easters, Mikey Pauley and TJ Crews IV.

“He’s kind of earned those,” Kotelnicki said. “He’s got some moxie and savvy that you really don’t anticipate seeing from somebody who’s in their very first fall football camp.”

Those reps have taken on added significance because Daniels has missed practice time this August due to back tightness, and so Bean has temporarily moved up to the top spot. Head coach Lance Leipold said Wednesday that he believed Daniels’ ongoing absence wasn’t currently cause for concern and that Daniels was continuing to work with trainers.

In the meantime, Kotelnicki said that Daniels’ “mental reps,” taken from the sideline as he recovers, have featured plenty of praise for Ballard as he watches his teammates work.

“Half the time he’ll be in my ear and whisper ‘He needs to throw the ball here,’ or ‘That was really good,'” Kotelnicki said. “He’s really quick to compliment his teammates when he sees them recognize a good read … so there’s a few snaps where Cole’s doing a heck of a job, making a great read, and Jalon’s super excited and happy for him.”

Ballard credited Daniels and Bean for helping him understand in particular the toughness required to be a collegiate quarterback.

“Our quarterback room is the best,” Ballard said. “It makes me excited every day to be able to come in and work. Coach Z (Jim Zebrowski), all the older guys, it’s been just the best and they’ve taught me so much.”

Ballard said he needs to continue to work on his knowledge of the offense and continue to “learn from my mistakes,” but to hear his coaches tell it, that’s already his strong point. Zebrowski said Thursday that “the ability to process information quickly” is what’s allowed Ballard to move up the depth chart.

“Besides, he’s a talented young man, obviously,” Zebrowski added.

Ballard, the son of Indianapolis Colts general manager and former Kansas City Chiefs executive Chris Ballard, threw for 1,654 yards and 11 touchdowns while running for 655 yards and 13 more scores as a senior at Westfield High. Zebrowski said that Ballard’s arm strength, including the low-90s fastball he threw as a baseball pitcher, caught his attention.

The coaches haven’t been disappointed since Ballard came to Lawrence. Kotelnicki said Ballard’s early command of the offense has made it easier for KU to evaluate the rest of its personnel without having to “lessen what we do offensively.”

Ballard has also been able to bond with reserves beyond his position group and mentioned that redshirt sophomore lineman Dre Doiron, a former Leipold recruit at Buffalo who played in three games for KU last season, has helped ease him into action.

“He’s been the center I’ve mainly worked with,” Ballard said, “and he’s definitely there to pick me up whenever I make a mistake, and just a really great guy.”

Kotelnicki made sure to note that praise of Ballard isn’t an implicit criticism of the rest of the quarterback room – “they’re grinding, and Ben is just a fantastic teammate that goes out there, he’s got unbelievable presence, and we’ve talked about Mikey in this room before, about his athleticism that he brings to the table. All critical components for what we’re looking for in that room.”

“I love the competitiveness,” Ballard said. “We have a very competitive quarterback room from top to bottom.”

photo by: Missy Minear/Kansas Athletics

Cole Ballard


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