Ryan Willis, Jace Sternberger star in spring games
The Montell Cozart who played one season for Boise State was so superior to the quarterback who played parts of four seasons with Kansas that it became easy to draw a couple of conclusions.
First, Cozart must have had better blockers and receivers surrounding him in his final season. Second, he must have received superior coaching.
Cozart’s numbers playing half of his Kansas career for Charlie Weis weren’t much different from his numbers playing for David Beaty.
Then Cozart competed for Bryan Harsin at Boise State in 2017 and was a completely different quarterback.
Cozart at Kansas: 5.7 yards per pass attempt, 14 touchdown passes, 19 interceptions. Cozart at Boise State: 7.8 yards per pass attempt, 10 touchdown passes, one interception. Under Beaty, Cozart and Ryan Willis, both graduates of Bishop Miege High, lost the job to each other. Neither QB ever played consistently well enough to claim it outright.
Cozart headed west as a graduate transfer, Willis east to Virginia Tech, where he sat out a season as a redshirt.
Early returns suggest Willis might be in line for a big improvement as well. Josh Jackson is expected to start at quarterback for Virginia Tech, but it was Willis who had the more impressive spring football game Saturday.
Willis completed 10 of 15 passes for 262 yards and two touchdowns. He hit Sean Savoy in stride on a sideline sprint that went 83 yards. Willis also completed a 33-yard touchdown pass to Phil Patterson on a post pattern.
Willis has two remaining years of eligibility. In two seasons at Kansas, he compiled statistics similar to Cozart’s. Willis averaged 5.9 yards per pass attempt. He threw 11 interceptions and 17 touchdown passes.
Tight end Jace Sternberger joined Cozart and Willis in leaving the KU football program after 2016, his second season in Lawrence. Sternberger redshirted in 2015 and was used mainly on special teams in 2016. His only reception, for a 5-yard gain, came on opening week against Rhode Island.
Confident in his ability to draw interest as a junior-college recruit, Sternberger had a big juco season, signed with new Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher and stood out Saturday in the Aggies’ spring game. Sternberger caught eight passes for 147 yards and two touchdowns. The first question put to Aggies quarterback was about Sternberger’s value.
“Very, very valuable,” QB Nick Starkel said. “He’s a playmaker. He’s been making those plays every day, ever since he got here. Coach [Tim] Brewster’s on him really hard every day because he sees the potential in him, and I see the potential in him. I tell him every day, ‘Man, you’re a great tight end. Let’s go be great out there.’ ”
Successful football coaches have a way of drawing greatness out of talented athletes.