Kansas football quarterbacks gear up for starting job competition

Battle a two-man race between sophomore Carter Stanley, junior Peyton Bender

LAWRENCE — Carter Stanley is ready to move past the meme.

 

In the months since the Kansas football team’s surprising victory over Texas last November at Memorial Stadium — a victory engineered by Stanley, the Jayhawks’ starting quarterback — the upset has turned into a frequent Internet punchline at the Longhorns’ expense.

One example, of many, includes a screenshot of the aftermath of Matthew Wyman’s game-winning overtime kick that secured the 24-21 victory Photoshopped on a screen behind new Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley in a contract signing photo.

While the signature victory in what was only his second career start remains the highlight of Stanley’s young career, the sophomore is ready to put the moment in the rear-view mirror.

“I think the whole Internet thing is funny,” Stanley told The Topeka Capital-Journal in a Thursday interview, “but once again, I think it’s almost to the point where we can move forward and, really, that’s the expectation from us now.”

For Stanley, moving forward means entering what has become a two-man race for the Jayhawks’ starting quarterback job.

There appears to be no front-runner at this point in the competition — a quarterback will not be among coach David Beaty’s player contingent at Big 12 football media days on July 17 in Frisco, Texas, and the team won’t start practicing until July 31. But in the aftermath of last season’s musical chairs-like rotation of three different starters, Beaty announced early in the spring that the battle already is down to Stanley and junior college transfer Peyton Bender.

Stanley, who entered last season as the Jayhawks’ third-string option, eventually overtook Montell Cozart and Ryan Willis for the main role and started the team’s final three regular-season games. All told, the 6-foot-2, 196-pound native of Vero Beach, Fla., threw for 959 yards, six touchdown and six interceptions, finishing the year on a personal high note with a 302-yard, two-touchdown performance in a loss at Kansas State.

Stanley said he has put on weight this offseason while training under new strength and conditioning coach Zac Woodfin and has seen great personal growth.

“I think I’ve always been a competitor,” Stanley said. “Just my competitiveness has kept me in a lot of situations in the past. Things that I do have to work on is just recognizing the coverage and making sure I have the best idea of where the defense is going to be, what the defense is going to do, and I think I’ve definitely improved over time and this offseason in that.”

Bender, meanwhile, joins the Jayhawks from Itawamba Community College in Fulton, Miss., where he threw for 2,733 yards, 21 touchdowns and four interceptions in nine games. The 6-1, 190-pound native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has experience under Air Raid innovator Mike Leach during Bender’s two seasons at Washington State.

Bender, who shares a house with Stanley and said the two have “clicked” since the former’s arrival on campus, said he’s not looking at Stanley as his opponent in the looming battle for the starting job.

“He’s just a genuine guy and he wants the best for the team, whether that’s him playing, me playing or whatever. We both want to win,” Bender said. “I feel like we’ve had good chemistry and the fact that we’re in a competition is really not me versus him. I just try to go out there and compete versus myself.

“You know, I think when it comes down to it, it’s just what’s best for the team. It’s not up to me to make the decision for who plays, so I can’t hold a grudge against him for a decision I can’t make.”

Asked to evaluate Stanley, Bender said he sees “a little bit of grit — kind of like a gamer-type player who plays extremely hard and can make a play out of nothing when he has to.” It’s an ability he saw up close during the victory against the Longhorns, which Bender had used as his official visit to Lawrence.

The day after the victory, Bender officially committed to KU.

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, Stanley said he has only rewatched that victory over Texas once, at the insistence of his parents over winter break.

“They definitely talk about it a lot back home,” Stanley said. “It’s a cool thing for sure, but I’m definitely looking ahead and looking forward to more of that.”

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