Kansas Jayhawks quarterback Cole Ballard takes pride in staying ready.
Good thing, because when KU starter Jason Bean exited Saturday’s game against Texas Tech with a head injury, it was the freshman Ballard’s turn to take the reins.
The moment he’d dreamed about had finally arrived. Heading into the game, Ballard had played 10 total snaps all season.
But he made the most of his increased opportunities Saturday. Although the Jayhawks lost 16-13 to the Red Raiders, it was Ballard who led them back from a 13-0 deficit.
The Indiana product even led Kansas on a 14-play, 77-yard drive that culminated in a game-tying field goal by Seth Keller. Ballard played fearless, airing out the ball from the start and using his legs when needed.
The son of former Kansas City Chiefs executive Chris Ballard completed nine of 20 pass attempts for 124 yards and one interception.
But Ballard’s performance wasn’t exactly surprising for KU coach Lance Leipold.
“I thought he’d do just about what he’d do: compete his tail off and he won’t flinch,” Leipold said. “He will give you everything he has. I don’t think he ever had that deer-in-headlights look about him, where the moment was too big.
“That locker room really likes Cole Ballard and they have for a long time. It’s his makeup, it’s in his DNA and he’s going to be a fine player here.”
Leipold went on to rave about Ballard’s readiness to play, especially given the circumstances.
“His football upbringing has prepared him to stay ready,” Leipold said.
As for how Ballard felt coming into the game?
“It’s exciting,” he said. “You dream of this your whole life. And just for those guys to have the confidence to put me in there, it’s something that not a lot of guys get the opportunity to do, and I’m very grateful for it.
“You get the first-snap jitters out of there. Once you catch that first one and you walk on the field, it’s like you’re in the backyard playing. So it’s no different.”
Ballard said he has focused on his mental preparation in the weeks since Bean was elevated to the starting role due to Jalon Daniels’ lingering back injury.
Ballard said Bean and Daniels were in constant communication with him throughout the game.
“Jason was in my ear — he’s the best teammate I could ask for,” Ballard said. “To be heard and still be able to (be a) backup and help the freshman out is something I applaud him for.”
As KU prepares to play rival Kansas State next Saturday, the Jayhawks’ starting quarterback will remain a mystery for now. If it’s Ballard, count KU linebacker Rich Miller among those with confidence in his abilities.
“Cole, he’s poised,” Miller said. “He’s nice. He is a good quarterback, I’m not going to lie… when we are doing two-minute drills in practice, he’s probably the only quarterback that scores every (or) probably every single time. If not, then most of the time. He always finds a way to score.
“He’s real poised back there. He don’t say too much. He’s always ready. He’s tough. He’s going to be a guy here, so be ready.”