On a late summer day, after the menu of offseason workouts had grown increasingly bland, Jimmay Mundine took his quarterback to the golf course.
In some ways, it could have been construed as a thank you. Nearly every Wednesday of the summer, Mundine had fired off a text toward transfer quarterback Jake Heaps. The Jayhawks had one day off a week, and Mundine, a junior tight end, wanted to spend his days catching some extra footballs. So who else to text but the quarterback?
“That’s my guy,” Mundine says, “and I’m his guy.”
Eventually, Mundine says, the throwing sessions turned into a golfing trip. And while Mundine wants you to know that he shot a 94 while Heaps struggled to break 100, Heaps quickly responds with a rather legit excuse: He spent a lot more time throwing passes to Mundine this summer than he did working on his short game.
More work, of course, was the only true answer. All last year, Heaps was relegated to spectator as the Jayhawks’ passing game crashed and burned. Heaps had transferred from Brigham Young before the season, and for a player who had once been the top pro-style high school quarterback in the country, the results were a weekly source of misery. KU gained fewer than 150 passing yards per game, the receiving corps failed to catch a touchdown pass and a talented rushing attack was left to bang away at defenses that stacked the line of scrimmage.
Charlie Weis has made a reputation as an innovative and daring coach. But let’s assume Weis wasn’t trying to make history when he attempted to win by totally ditching the passing game.
“If we can't throw the ball,” Weis said, “we won't win, as it was proven last year. We could run against everyone, but we couldn't throw the ball, couldn't score points and couldn't win.”
All things being equal, Weis would prefer a 50-50 balance between running plays and pass plays. But even he knows that’s probably not a sound strategy with a cache of talented running-back options at his disposal.
“I think that just the opposite of other teams, I think our passing game could take the pressure off of our running game,” Weis said. “I think if we can come out and start slinging it around a little bit…”
Yes, at his core, Weis is still a coach who loves an intricate and efficient passing game. The question is whether it can come to fruition.
Heaps believes that Mundine is in line for a breakthrough season. After hauling in just 14 receptions last season, Mundine appears to have developed a nice chemistry with his signal caller.
“When you’ve got a quarterback that’s extremely consistent, you know what you’re getting every day,” Mundine said. “He’s not going to put you into many bad situations to where you might have to do something crazy to catch the ball and get blown up or something. It’s just a level of trust between me and Jake that’s even made me a better player.”
In addition to Mundine, Kansas added a handful of transfer reinforcements in the receiving corps. The unit took a hit when Nick Harwell, a transfer from Miami of Ohio, was unable to become eligible as a graduate transfer. But for now, Weis appears most confident in senior Christian Matthews, who spent most of last year as a “wildcat” quarterback, and Oklahoma transfer Justin McCay, a Bishop Miege product.
McCay spent last season as Heaps’ prime target on the scout-team offense, and that could also lend some continuity to a unit in flux.
“No one was higher rated than Justin McCay (in high school),” Weis said. “I think Justin McCay has an opportunity to be a top-flight receiver.”
Finally, there’s an in-house addition in running back Tony Pierson, who is slated to take on a larger role in the passing game. But Thursday, before the Jayhawks’ first official practice of the fall, Mundine was busy talking about Heaps. Of all the pieces in the passing game, his golfing buddy could become the most important one of all.
“When he throws it up, he’s expecting me to make a play,” Mundine said. “And when he’s in trouble, I expect him to throw it to me so I can make a play for him. We just have that trust.
“Our motto is a perfect route and a perfect pass beats a perfect defense every time. So that’s what we aim for.”