Originally published September 24, 2010 at 12:00a.m., updated September 24, 2010 at 08:56a.m.
On the night before his team’s first game, Deshaun Sands saw his phone charger in his hotel room and instinctively plugged it in.
There was one problem: The Kansas running back’s phone wasn’t with him.
“I was like, ‘Man, this is tough,’” Sands said. “I didn’t know what to do in the room. I looked at the TV, but I was like, ‘Man, I’m tired of looking at the TV. I need my phone.’”
Sands said he is starting to become accustomed to one of KU coach Turner Gill’s new policies: no cell phones before gameday.
The players first learned of the procedure a few months ago when Gill handed out players’ manuals.
“I think everybody was just like, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to be able to make it without my cell phone,’” KU receiver Daymond Patterson said. “I think everybody was just kind of in shock, because we hadn’t had anything like that here in the past years.”
Though many players were surprised, KU receiver Bradley McDougald said a few of the seniors stepped forward and told their teammates that they needed to buy into Gill’s beliefs if they wanted to be successful.
“Some guys, of course, like to talk to their parents and family members before the games,” McDougald said, “but it’s just a small price you have to pay.”
The policy works like this: KU players turn in their cell phones to the coaches the day before each game. The phones are given back after the games, many times returned to each player’s locker.
In case of emergency, family members can still contact director of football operations George Matsakis, who will then get in touch with the players.
The goal is to cut down on distractions.
“Their job is to get ready to play a football game, not (do) things on the phone,” Gill said during his Hawk Talk radio show Thursday night.
Punter Alonso Rojas — who also followed a similar order his freshman year at Bowling Green — said he’s been able to avoid late-night texts, calls and requests for last-minute tickets.
“There are always going to be guys who don’t like it more than others,” Rojas said, “but we’re a team and our coach expects us to do something, so we’re going to do it.”
KU defensive end Jake Laptad has noticed on the night before games, teammates have spent more time talking to each other and hanging out in each other’s rooms.
Some Jayhawks still have been able to find ways to work around the policy.
Laptop computers are not banned, so McDougald said he uses applications like Skype, Facebook chat and Twitter to keep in touch with others.
McDougald said he believed part of the cell-phone ban was put in place to avoid distractions in the locker room, as players have the ability to play games or access sites like Twitter on their cell phones.
The cell-phone rule wasn’t the only major change introduced before the season.
Also in the players’ manual is a rule that states that KU’s players cannot be with girls past 10 p.m. on any night. McDougald said that meant either having a girl over or being at her house.
Though Gill told the players that the rule was difficult to enforce, he explained the penalty would be more severe if a KU player was involved with an incident and it was discovered that the player had broken the policy.
“Coaches are like parents, though,” McDougald said. “They’re our parents away from home, because if anything happens to us, and my parents come ask coach Gill what happened to me, he’s going to be responsible.”
Though the new cell-phone policy’s purpose is to help the team focus, there might be some risk it could harm KU in the future.
“We’ll think this opens up Coach Gill to a lot of criticism and could impact recruiting.”
Scott Roussel, president of Footballscoop.com, said that seven college coaches helped provide the content for the site, and they had agreed that the new policy could be used against Gill in recruiting battles.
After posting the story earlier this week to his website — which receives between 50,000 and 100,000 visitors per day during its peak season — Roussel said three other college coaches had contacted him to support Gill and his decision to have a cell-phone policy.
Though Sands believes Gill is smart to have the rule, the freshman admits it’s been an adjustment.
“Usually when you drop your phone, it’s like you drop your heart,” Sands said with a grin. “You don’t want it to break or anything like that. It’s precious to you. A phone is a powerful thing.”
The rule also put the running back in the doghouse earlier this year.
The night before one of KU’s games, Sands realized that he hadn’t called or texted his girlfriend back at home in Florida.
Sands was in trouble the next day and faced lots of questions: “What happened?” “Where were you?”
Though it sounded a little bit like saying that the dog had eaten his homework, Sands told his significant other the truth: that his coach had taken his phone.
Luckily, the new rule didn’t end up costing Sands his relationship.
“She bought it,” Sands said. “She was really understanding.”