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The quiet man: KU quarterback Jason Bean

Bean’s personal redemption fuels KU football’s furious midseason run.

by Chris Lazzarino
Bean during KU’s game against No. 6 Oklahoma on Oct. 28. The Jayhawks’ 38-33 victory was the team's first against the Sooners since 1997 and first against a top 10 opponent at home since 1984.

For all the fantastic fireworks that lit up football this memorable season, a case could be made that the most revealing—perhaps even the most important—event happened inside the KU locker room shortly after the team’s defining victory two and a half seasons into the Lance Leipold era, a 38-33 Homecoming triumph Oct. 28 over Oklahoma.

The guys were still in uniform, still riding the adrenaline of a nationally televised upset victory, when quarterback Jason Bean made his most surprising play of the day: He asked to speak to his teammates.

Describing Bean as a lead-by-example quarterback would sell his silence short. He is quiet in the deep-woods sense, soft-spoken, and, by all reports, always more comfortable listening rather than speaking. But now his moment was at hand, and his teammates took reverent knees before him.

“I just want to say thank you,” Bean began, speaking softly before his hushed audience. “Thank you for allowing me to come back. Thank you for allowing me to be with this team. Y’all know what this means to me. Thank you.”

Cheers ricocheted through the team’s newly renovated clubhouse, players leapt to their feet, and the victory celebration became one for the ages.

Following KU’s triple-overtime Liberty Bowl loss to Arkansas last season, Bean was so distraught that he saw no way to return for his super-senior season. It wasn’t long, however, before he had a change of heart. He returned to Leipold’s squad, knowing that he’d be the backup to junior Jalon Daniels, KU’s first Big 12 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year and the flashy star who last year led KU to an improbable 5-0 start that lured ESPN College GameDay to Hill.

Daniels missed four games after the hot start to a shoulder injury, but in the Memphis bowl game, he set KU passing records by completing 37 of 55 attempts for 544 yards. On the game’s final play, however, coaches dialed up a reverse to Bean; rather than using his sprinter’s speed to dash for the goal line, Bean instead sailed a pass out of the end zone.

Inconsolable afterward, Bean within a month spurned the transfer portal and rejoined his teammates. Offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki remarked before the season began that he had what could be the country’s best 1-2 QB combo, which proved prescient: Daniels missed training camp and the season opener with a mysterious back injury; returned for victories over Illinois, Nevada and BYU; then, shortly before KU’s showdown at Texas, was again derailed by tightness in his back.

Bean celebrates with teammates during the Sept. 23 BYU game.

Although Leipold has repeatedly affirmed that Daniels will still be the starter should he return, Bean, as of Kansas Alumni press time, had been KU’s starter ever since, leading KU to victories over Central Florida, Oklahoma and, perhaps most crucially, Nov. 4 at Iowa State, after which the Jayhawks rose to No. 19 in the Associated Press Top 25.

“I don’t say things like this a lot, because sometimes when you step out of your role as a coach, you let your emotions get to you a little bit,” Leipold said after the Oklahoma victory, during which Bean rebounded from two late interceptions to complete a 37-yard fourth-down pass to Lawrence Arnold that set up Devin Neal’s game-winning 9-yard touchdown run. “But, as disappointed and bad as I feel for Jalon not being able to play at this particular time, I’m happy and probably pulling for Jason in ways that I don’t always do, because he’s been unselfish. He could have left, like a lot of guys do today in college football. The things he’s been through, the ups and downs, and he just keeps coming back.

“He just keeps fighting, and that’s all we can ask. To see him make some plays like he did today, I thought that was really special. He had some down moments and he found a way to keep battling. He’s thankful for the team, and they’re proud and happy for him. It’s a pretty neat situation.”

Also a pretty neat situation: KU was 7-2 heading to its Nov. 11 game against Texas Tech, potentially setting up the Nov. 18 home contest against Kansas State as a rivalry game with implications for the Big 12 championship race.

During the Fox Sports Big Noon Kickoff pregame show broadcast from the Hill before the OU game, commentator Urban Meyer, a three-time national champion coach, noted that with the looming departures of Oklahoma and Texas, KU could contend for future Big 12 titles. A few hours later, the Jayhawks made it clear they never intended to wait that long.

Title contention starts now.

Chris Lazzarino, j’86, is associate editor of Kansas Alumni magazine.

Photos by Steve Puppe

Issue 4, 2023


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