As we count down to the first football game of the season, it’s time to look back in time. Back to a simpler time, when the expectations of Kansas football were reasonable and realistic, back when “Don’t embarrass the school and win a few games” was the least that was expected and “contend for a bowl and surprise us” was more of the norm. We’ll mostly delve into the 1990s, a time of change and hope in the Kansas football program.
This brief series is called “The Lost Jayhawks” because many of these players have been lost to time, and lately, to an indifference to KU football that has never been seen before. Sure, there were a lot of down years, and even in and during its resurgence, Kansas football disappointed at times, but it’s never been lower than it is right now.
So, we here at Rock Chalk Talk would like to reintroduce (or to some fans, completely introduce) some players from the past who played significant roles for the Jayhawks. Let’s be positive for a day or two.
Today, we begin with Matt Johner, Kansas quarterback from 1994 through 1997. Johner became a starter and played regularly in his final two seasons at Kansas, racking up nearly 1700 passing yards in those two seasons. He was nice enough to join us in early May for a quick interview and this is a transcript of that conversation.
RCT: What are you doing now? What type of business, etc?
Johner: I am in the mortgage/home loan business. I am a self-employed mortgage broker. I got into this industry right out of college and have been doing it ever since.
RCT: How did you get from California to Kansas? What was the recruiting process like?
Johner: This is a good story. My high school coach at the time was an alum of Edison High School in Huntington Beach, CA and was a good friend with KU alums Kerwin and Dino Bell, and Frank and Troy Seurer. They all attended KU after Edison. Frank Seurer, who I am sure you may know or heard of, knew of me through his friend and my coach in high school.
At the time, Frank asked us to put together a little highlight tape and he would send it to the coaching staff at KU. At the time the recruiter for my area was Vic Ademle. After Coach Ademle gave him my tape, he came to visit me and we spoke and stayed in contact and he asked me to come out on a an official visit which I accepted.
Being from California my whole life and never having been to Kansas, I didn’t know what to expect. I had the typical , “Kansas is flat and all full of farms and wheat fields” in my head. Well as with most people who visit Lawrence for the first time, it wasn’t anything like I had expected and was absolutely beautiful! Kansas was an up and coming program at the time just coming off of their victory at the Aloha Bowl. All I could think of was playing in the Big 8 at the time and playing the likes of Nebraska, OU, Colorado, etc.
On my trip I was lucky enough to attend a KU Basketball game at Allen Fieldhouse. Well if I had any doubts about moving away from my home and family, attending a game at Allen sealed the deal. A few weeks after I came back from my recruiting trip, Coach Mason made an official visit to my home and made me an offer. After that, I spent the best four years of my life in Lawrence. I owe my KU experience and playing football all to Frank Seurer and my high school coach at the time Rick Meyers.
RCT: What do you think was your biggest accomplishment in a KU uniform?
Johner: A few things. We didn’t win this game but it was a good one. I had 4 TD’s and June Henley and I were up for an ESPY with a fake field goal on which we scored a touchdown.
This game (@ Utah, 1996) was back and forth. It was a Thursday ESPN game so all my friends and family back home were able to watch it.
(Here is the writeup from Utah’s perspective.)
Oh, then also graduating as a student athlete is something I am really proud of.
I wasn’t a starter at the time but I was on the ‘95 team. We were at one time in the season AP #3, then we met the buzz saw of Nebraska and K-State. We did finish AP #9 I believe and beat UCLA in the Aloha bowl. It was really cool to be on that team with all we accomplished.
Surviving two-a-days in Kansas heat and humidity was an accomplishment all on its own. Haha.
RCT: What’s your fondest memory as a member of the KU football program?
Johner: You may hear this a lot, but my fondest memory is knowing all my teammates. This is the biggest thing I miss more than all. These guys become family and never stop becoming family. I can go years and years without seeing or talking to my old teammates, then we see each other, and it was like yesterday that we last saw everyone.
There were so many memories but one that sticks out is in ‘96 when we played at OU. We had a great game that weekend, and all I could think of was beating OU at their place, and I was the starter. That was really fun and I have great memories of that game.
RCT: What was your best attribute as a football player?
Johner: I always felt I was pretty tough and a hard worker who never complained. I was a QB but I always liked to hit people. Now that wasn’t always the best idea, and I got yelled at plenty of times to run out of bounds, but it was still fun to lower the helmet.
RCT: Who is your most talented teammate while at KU?
Johner: This is a tough one as there were so many, but June Henley amazed me every week. He was tough and a great running back.
RCT: Do you keep up with KU football now? If so, what’s your impression of the current team/coaching staff, etc?
Johner: I follow somewhat. I should do a better job. It’s tough, to be honest with you, when we don’t win much. It’s hard to get excited. Then when I do get excited and can catch a game on TV, I get a little frustrated.
I love that Clint Bowen is still on the staff! I feel his connection and roots to Lawrence are great and am very happy he is still there.
I have my hopes up though as I have seen lately we have been getting some decent recruits and I think the tide will turn here soon. I always ask myself why can K-State recruit and we can’t? Manhattan doesn’t compare to Lawrence. Lawrence is the best college town around and I can’t figure out why we can’t get better at enticing more high level recruits.
RCT: Do you ever come back to Lawrence? For football or for leisure or both?
Johner: It’s been too long since I have been back. I have it on my radar. Now with my kids (10 and 12), I really want to plan a trip to come back. When I come back it will be for a football game.