University of Kansas

Jayhawks poised to add quarterbacks Carter Stanley, Ryan Willis on national signing day

Bishop Miege quarterback Ryan Willis led the Stags to the Kansas Class 4A Division I state championship.
Bishop Miege quarterback Ryan Willis led the Stags to the Kansas Class 4A Division I state championship. The Kansas City Star

In some ways, the story of how a high school quarterback named Carter Stanley ended up signing with Kansas is a classic tale of college football recruiting. It includes an overlooked prospect from Florida, a stealthy assist from a high school coach and a young KU football staff motivated to find talent under every rock.

The story also includes some clandestine contact on Twitter and an iPhone FaceTime conversation that helped seal the deal, which perhaps illustrates how much of recruiting is conducted in 2015.

But first, the basics: Stanley, a 6-foot-2, 190-pound quarterback from Vero Beach, Fla., will sign with the Kansas football program during national signing day on Wednesday. When his paperwork goes official, he’ll become a member of KU coach David Beaty’s first recruiting class and join Bishop Miege’s Ryan Willis as one of two quarterbacks in the Jayhawks’ 2015 class.

For Stanley, it will also end a few months of waiting and wondering.

“Fortunately,” said Lenny Jankowski, who coached Stanley at Vero Beach, “there are still staffs that go out and do their homework on kids.”

In the world of college football recruiting, Stanley is what you might consider a late bloomer. Still just 17 years old, Stanley put up eye-popping numbers during his senior season at Vero Beach High, throwing for 3,000 yards and 40 touchdowns in Florida’s highest class of high school football. A dual-threat quarterback, Stanley had also spent his first three years growing into his body and playing behind another Division I quarterback. Jankowski estimates that Stanley was close to 5 feet 6 and 130 pounds as a freshman, and even by his senior season, few major colleges had identified him as a top prospect.

“I’m not exaggerating,” Jankowski said. “He could walk under a table his freshman season.”

Undeterred, Jankowski set out to help his talented quarterback find a place to play. Which is how a few fortunate connections led Stanley to Kansas. Jankowski had a prior relationship with KU linebackers coach Kevin Kane, a former KU player who had spent the last three seasons as an assistant at Northern Illinois. Kane had recruited Vero Beach before, and when Jankowski saw news in mid-December that Kane was set to join Beaty’s staff at Kansas, he sent a congratulatory text message — with a special request.

“If you’re in a staff meeting,” Jankowski recalled texting to Kane, “and you hear the offensive coaches talking about needing quarterback, I got the perfect guy for you.”

A few weeks passed, and Jankowski figured the Kansas idea was dead. But then came one Friday morning in January. Stanley was calling his high school coach with some odd news. Beaty had started following him on Twitter.

One day later, Kane was headed to Florida to visit Stanley, who would also do a video FaceTime chat with KU offensive coordinator Rob Likens. By the end of the weekend, Stanley had committed to Kansas.

“It all happened really fast,” Stanley said in an interview with the Vero Beach Press Journal.

For his part, Jankowski believes the KU staff landed a steal. Stanley, who has run a 4.6 40-yard dash, is still unranked by all the major recruiting services, and he’ll actually be an underdog in his own recruiting class. On Wednesday, the Jayhawks are also poised to sign Willis, the former Miege standout who is ranked as Rivals’ No. 16 pro-style quarterback in the country.

Willis, who stands 6 feet 4 and 200 pounds, committed to Kansas last May, when Charlie Weis was still the head coach. But his commitment never wavered, even after Weis was fired and Texas showed some interest during the fall. According to Bishop Miege coach Jon Holmes, N.C. State also reached out toward the tail end of his senior season, but Willis stayed firm to KU.

“I always say, and I think other people see it,” Holmes said. “I think if Ryan was from Texas, he’d be going to a school like Texas. I just think it’s the type of player he is.”

With the addition of Stanley and Willis, Beaty could face an intriguing numbers game at quarterback in the fall. Michael Cummings returns for his senior season after taking over the starting job midseason, while Montell Cozart, another Miege product, will be a junior after beginning last season as the Jayhawks’ starter. The program also has junior-to-be T.J. Millweard, a former transfer from UCLA, and Jordan Darling, a former SM East product who has spent two seasons in the program.

Then again, you can never have enough quarterbacks — at least until you find the right one. So when Beaty had the chance to add Stanley in January, he jumped at the chance. No matter what the recruiting rankings said.

“Anybody that has seen Carter play would rate him with five stars,” Jankowski said. “And certainly, anybody that’s coached him would put him of the highest ranking.”

To reach Rustin Dodd, call 816-234-4937 or send email to rdodd@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @rustindodd.

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