LAWRENCE, Kan. — Matthew Wyman couldn’t have imagined playing his senior season for anybody but David Beaty.
That may be the strongest support he could give the second-year coach, considering Wyman began his career playing for Charlie Weis, endured an interim stint under Clint Bowen and wrapped it up with a longtime high school coach and career assistant trying to turn around the Jayhawks.
"The year didn’t go as expected," Wyman said after a season-ending loss to rival Kansas State on Saturday, "but I wouldn’t ask for a different team or coach."
Winless in their first season under Beaty, the Jayhawks made tangible signs of progress in Year 2. There was their season-opening win over Rhode Island, close calls against TCU and Iowa State, and an overtime victory over Texas in their home finale that snapped a 19-game Big 12 losing streak.
They appeared to find a promising young quarterback in Carter Stanley, who threw for 302 yards and two touchdowns against the Wildcats, and have more playmakers on the roster than any recent season. Their defense also made strides, keeping them in games most weeks.
Modest improvement, to be sure. But clear improvement, too.
"The work that those kids have done is not easy. The foundation work that they have done is very difficult and the results have not been very high," Beaty said after addressing his senior class for the last time. "For those guys to continue to persevere and be resilient, I think it is going to serve them well in their life. They continue to fight and they continue to move forward."
So does Beaty, who now hits the recruiting trail as his vast rebuilding job continues.
His first class was lured to Kansas on a compressed timeframe after he replaced Weis, and his second was sold on hopes and dreams after a winless season. At least now, he can sell a couple of wins, a potentially program-defining upset of Texas and some momentum moving forward.
"Last season was pretty bad. I didn’t feel like we were — chemistry-wise, I didn’t feel like we was there yet," senior running back Ke’aun Kinner said. "I know I came with the coach but like, it was definitely, the chemistry wasn’t there. This year we definitely stressed family and I know each and every one of us would throw down for another teammate. We always want fight for the man to the left and the right of us. I think we’ve definitely grown as a team."
The Jayhawks will have plenty of holes to replace next season, especially on defense. Defensive ends Damani Mosby and Anthony Olobia are graduating. So are linebackers Marcquis Roberts and Courtney Arnick. The defensive backfield will lose cornerbacks Marnez Ogletree, Fish Smithson and Brandon Stewart, all of whom played crucial downs this season.
But just about everyone should return on offense, including wide receivers LaQuivionte Gonzalez and Steven Sims Jr., freshman running back Khalil Herbert and four starters on the offensive line.
That should give Kansas a solid foundation to build on two wins.
"The thing I am most proud about this football team is how much we fight and how much we love football," sophomore linebacker Keith Loneker said. "You need that on any team, especially successful teams. I am glad to see a lot of those guys coming back and seeing us go in the right direction. That fight that we had was laid down by our seniors, so it is something we get to build off from them."
There is still plenty of work to be done. The Jayhawks haven’t had more than three wins since 2009, and haven’t won more than one Big 12 game since 2008, when they last when to a bowl game.
They started 5-0 the following year, lost five straight and began their downward spiral.
Now, Beaty and the Jayhawks may be starting the climb back up.
"This season there was a lot of camaraderie, lot of guys really care about each other, on and off the field," Smith said. "I believe during the offseason they’ll work hard and be ready for next year."