LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — There has been turnover in nearly every aspect of the Kansas football program over the past year, from the coaching staff to the roster to the way the entire operation is run.
Three new captains will attempt to lead the Jayhawks out of the fog.
Defensive lineman Ben Goodman, quarterback Montell Cozart and defensive back Fish Smithson were elected to lead the Jayhawks, who open the season on Saturday against South Dakota State. The trio will be joined by a rotating fourth captain that is chosen each week.
“It’s such an honor,” said Cozart, who won an open competition to start under center after losing the quarterback job a year ago. “Being able to lead 105 guys out there, every Saturday, having them trust you as a captain and a brother, I can’t even put it into words.”
Every team has captains, of course. There is nothing unique about that. But those chosen by the Jayhawks carry a heavy burden — not only are they leading Kansas onto the field for games, they are being asked to help dig the entire program out of the doldrums.
Kansas has not had a winning season since 2008, three head coaches ago. The Jayhawks haven’t won more than three games in the last five seasons, or more than one Big 12 game over that same span. After a brief period of respectability — startling success, even — they have returned to the conference cellar, where they have battled the past couple of years with also-ran Iowa State.
In other words, the captains have plenty of work to do.
“They control the temperament on the field,” said Kansas defensive coordinator Clint Bowen, who was interim coach last season when Charlie Weis was dismissed. “You need to get your guys to understand that a good play doesn’t mean go crazy and get too excited and a bad play doesn’t mean get all down. I think the captains being on the field will keep that under control.”
Goodman was a freshman during Weis’s first season, so he at least has some experience on his side. Over the years, he’s tried to absorb the leadership lessons of former players Toben Opurum, Cassius Sendish and Ben Heeney, who is now trying to make it with the Oakland Raiders.
“They were all great captains,” Goodman said. “They did their job. (Learning) from Heeney, as a captain, he made plays. That’s how you stay respected.”
Goodman, Cozart and Smithson provide continuity among the captains from week to week, but Beaty said the fourth captain would likely be tied to special teams. It may be the kicker or punt return, or simply a player who has stood out in what be less-visible ways.
“As a staff, every meeting we start with starts with special teams,” Beaty said. “Whether it’s one unit or four, everything we do starts with special teams.”
For good reason, too. The Jayhawks squandered two games last season because of them.
They were tied 20-20 with No. 16 Oklahoma State after a 35-yard field goal late in the game. Then, Tyreek Hill took the ensuing kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown. The Cowboys won 27-20.
Four weeks later, the Jayhawks had No. 4 TCU on the run in the third quarter. But after getting held on third down, a decent punt turned into a disaster when the Horned Frogs’ Cameron Echols-Luper returned it 69 yards for a score. TCU went on to win, 34-30.
Beaty is certainly aware of those downfalls. That’s a big reason why his staff wanted to leave a captain spot open for a special teams player to earn.
“We wanted to make sure we left a spot open for that third part of the game that a lot of people don’t put a lot of emphasis on,” he said. “We really do value those guys that play in those seven or eight seconds. Those seven or eight seconds are very, very valuable to us.”