LAWRENCE — Thomas MacVittie says he learned a lot last year, a junior season spent almost entirely backing up then-senior quarterback Carter Stanley.
But there is one thing the 6-foot-5, 225-pounder couldn’t quite figure out throughout his inaugural campaign with the Jayhawks — or in the time since, for that matter.
MacVittie says he’s still unsure of why he came up short in that first preseason race.
"I’m still kind of looking for those answers," MacVittie said last week in a news teleconference. "You can always do better. Even with y’all, y’all can do better. I can do better. I can be a better teammate. I can be a better leader. ... Last year was tough. I could’ve done a lot better though."
MacVittie is trying to do just that in his second shot at seizing the starting role.
The Cincinnati native, who joined KU as a coveted junior college transfer ahead of the 2019 season, is in the thick of a quarterback competition with juniors Miles Kendrick and Miles Fallin — head coach Les Miles mentioned those three by name when discussing the battle during his first fall news conference last Thursday, though MacVittie and Kendrick were the only signal callers to speak to the media.
MacVittie said he’s approaching the competition "a little bit different" than a preseason ago, where Stanley won out and subsequently performed well enough to hold the starting gig for the entire season.
"Last year I fell a little short of what I wanted to achieve. This year I’m not letting that happen," MacVittie said. "Every day I’m doing something better. Every day I’m learning from the mistakes I made yesterday. (I’m) just trying to motivate all the guys around me."
As MacVittie acknowledged, "tough" is indeed an apt word to describe his 2019.
Pegged by some as the top junior college quarterback in the country, MacVittie joined KU from Mesa (Ariz.) Community College, where he threw for 1,064 yards and 16 touchdowns in just six games. MacVittie played in a system similar to what incoming Jayhawk offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey planned on installing, so it came as no surprise that Lindsey played a key role in convincing MacVittie to be a part of Miles’ first roster at KU.
Less than a month after MacVittie’s commitment, however, Lindsey bolted for the head coaching position at Troy. Les Koenning was hired by Miles a short time later to fill the vacancy at offensive coordinator, and while Miles at times indicated that MacVittie was the frontrunner at quarterback, that job ultimately went to Stanley.
MacVittie made two brief appearances last season. He threw an interception on his lone pass attempt, an ill-fated trick play that started with MacVittie lining up at wide receiver in an eventual 31-13 loss to Oklahoma State in Week 10.
Ahead of his second and final season in Lawrence, MacVittie cited two specific areas of emphasis.
First, he said he’s "definitely" amped up his energy from this time a year ago — "I’m a pretty energetic guy once you get to know me but if I don’t play too well then you don’t really get to see that side of me," MacVittie said.
Second, MacVittie indicated he better understands the leadership qualities a successful quarterback must possess.
"This team is close. It’s 100-plus kids that we see every single day. It’s just getting those guys behind me, getting those guys fired up to step on the field every day when we’re battling," MacVittie said. "... Just letting the guys know they can fall on me, they can lean on me. I want to be the rock, I want to be the person that has everybody on their shoulders."
MacVittie didn’t hesitate in explaining the biggest lesson he learned from the back-and-forth with Stanley.
"Just always, always, always work hard," he said. "Even if you think you’re outworking the other senior or freshman, just work harder because there’s other kids at other schools working harder than you. So you’ve just always got to compete, even if you think you’ve got it in your back pocket, man."
FORMER KU DEFENSIVE TACKLE PASSES AWAY — Isi Holani, a defensive tackle at KU from 2016-18, died Saturday, the university confirmed. Holani was 24.
"I’m truly lost for words, just (doesn’t) seem real," tweeted Daniel Wise, a former teammate of Holani and fellow defensive tackle. "My great friend Isi Holani was called home early yesterday. He was a true warrior, a great man, friend and brother. Always in good spirits, and full of life! Love you bro."
A native of Kaumana, Hawaii, Holani appeared in 17 games with the Jayhawks, notching 23 total tackles and two sacks.
"Myself and the Kansas Football family are saddened by the loss of one of our very own," Miles said in a news release. "He was a great member of our program and will always be remembered for his dedication to the Jayhawks. My thoughts and prayers are with him and his family. May you Rest In Peace, Isi Holani."