Kansas quarterback Jalon Daniels has faith in football team and coach

LAWRENCE – Jalon Daniels has never been in this position before. Not really.

In 2020 as a rookie, his six starts at quarterback came for a Kansas football team that would go winless and be the last in the Les Miles era. Last season he was forced to burn his red shirt after injuries propelled him into the starting role for the last three games of the year. Now, as a junior, he’s heading into the season opener against Tennessee Tech as Kansas’ second-year starter in the Lance Leipold era.

That doesn’t mean Daniels’ mentality is different. That doesn’t mean his preparation this year is any different than in 2021, although there are far more knowns than unknowns compared to the previous season. That’s what Daniels showed himself during his time at KU, and now it’s about what that will lead to when the season kicks off at 7 p.m. Friday against Tennessee Tech in Lawrence.

“I mean, I go to every practice with the same preparation, the same mindset, just to get that 1% better every day,” Daniels said. “So I’m happy to be able to be put in this situation and to be able to show everyone what I can do. But I always went there with the same preparation, no matter who it was.

Why Jalon Daniels is optimistic

Daniels explained that it comes from the faith he has in the coaching staff and the plan he presented last year. Daniels has also seen success under those coaches in the past, with Leipold winning six Division III national titles and three bowl appearances at the University of Buffalo before arriving at Kansas. Daniels and his classmates in the class of 2020 have dreamed of enjoying these kinds of seasons.

How close the Jayhawks show they get to that this year, after going 2-10 in 2021, will be played out in the months ahead. It’s still only the second year of Leipold’s tenure and a Big 12 Conference roster presents its own set of challenges. But there are reasons to respect Daniels’ optimism.

There’s what Daniels described as a “four-headed dragon” of running backs, likely a nod to sophomore Devin Neal and redshirt sophomores Sevion Morrison, Ky Thomas and Daniel Hishaw Jr. There is experience along the offensive line, although the depth may not be where everyone would like it yet. The group also feels more comfortable in second-year offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki’s scheme.

That doesn’t even mention the progress Daniels was able to make on his own. As a freshman, he threw for 718 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions while completing 50% of his passes in seven games. As a sophomore, he threw for 860 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions while completing 69.2% of his passes in six total games.

“I feel like I’ve grown up,” said Daniels, who also rushed for 103 yards and six touchdowns over the past two seasons. But everything that I felt coming out of high school, I feel like I grew in those areas.

Kansas quarterback Jalon Daniels receives a snap during a 2021 game against Kansas State

Starting role gives Daniels confidence

It’s a level of development that, if nothing else, helped Daniels retain redshirt senior quarterback Jason Bean — last year’s Opening Day starter for the Jayhawks. Bean, according to Leipold and Kotelnicki, played the best football the coaches have seen of him this fall. Leipold even said he would feel comfortable playing either one.

For Daniels, winning the starting role gives him more confidence heading into the season. Leipold alluded to this, while pointing out all the in-game work Daniels showed last season. The way Daniels handled a positional battle with someone he’s as close to as Bean might have explained why their teammates felt comfortable wanting Daniels to be captain, alongside the senior offensive lineman in the shirt. red Mike Novitsky, super senior defensive lineman Sam Burt and senior linebacker Rich Miller.

“It’s really nice, but I don’t consider it the title,” Daniels said, reacting to his appointment as captain. “It’s something the coach (sports performance director) (Matt Gildersleeve) said when we were doing the meeting to become captains. It’s not a title. It’s something you just developed and I feel like I learned that from the old guys who came here.

Jordan Guskey covers University of Kansas athletics at the Topeka Capital-Journal. Reach him at [email protected] or on Twitter at @JordanGuskey.

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