Tuesday, May 28, 2013


Opinion: Miller’s return proves pull of KU


The easy path back to Division I football would have taken Darrian Miller, a major talent at running back, elsewhere. That way, his having been run from the program by new coach Charlie Weis would not become a big part of the story. Miller didn’t take that path and that speaks to the pull Kansas University has on those who taste it.

It’s often been said by football coaches throughout the years that getting athletes to make a campus visit is the toughest battle. Once they visit, soak in the natural beauty of the place, meet the people, get a feel for the vibe of life as a student-athlete, the place sells itself. Parents walk away impressed with Paul Buskirk, genuine boss of academic support. Athletes leave blown away by the facilities made possible in large part by the generosity of Tom Kivisto and Dana Anderson.

It’s natural to group the most recent football recruits, Miami of Ohio wide receiver Nick Harwell and Miller, together because they add so much explosiveness and because they weren’t always as impressive off the field as on it. But for the purposes of demonstrating the appeal of playing football and attending school at KU, cornerback Dexter McDonald is the better player to twin with Miller.

McDonald spent two seasons at KU, one wearing a redshirt, and then needed to attend Butler County Community College to get his academics headed in the right direction. He accomplished his goal, was ranked the 80th best junior college player in the nation, and decided to come back to KU. Why? He knows what a cool place it is to play college football and live as a college student.

After being shown the door by new head coach Charlie Weis, Miller, a native of Blue Springs, Mo., took the fall off from football, took classes at a junior college and then participated in spring football at Butler County Community College in El Dorado. He matured to the extent Weis wanted him back. Miller has three seasons of remaining eligibility and decided to spend them in Lawrence. Why? Again, unlike similar talents who never have visited KU, he knows what a special place it is.

Surely, when Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger took a gamble on Weis he did so in part because he knew the coach would be able to coax more serious talents into visiting Kansas. Based on the deep junior-college recruiting class and the addition of Harwell, Weis has done so, making Zenger look like a prophet in that regard, right?

“I’d love to take credit for that and say that was in the matrix (of reasons he hired Weis),” Zenger said. “The truth is that’s one of those things you just don’t have any way of knowing. It’s always an unknown.”

Zenger said the homework he did on Weis suggested he was hiring a man with a “really, really strong work ethic,” but he could not have foreseen exactly how that would manifest itself.

“I pictured him rolling up his sleeves and grinding it out in the office,” Zenger said. “What I’ve really enjoyed is seeing how hard he works at recruiting. Not every head coach is like that. Charlie will tell you it’s the assistants. He jumps right in there and works as hard at recruiting as his assistants. When a leader leads by example like that, everybody else naturally jumps right in.”

In welcoming first McDonald and then Miller back, Weis has brought two of the more talented Turner Gill recruits onto a team that has been led by James Sims (recruited by the staffs of Mark Mangino and Gill) and Tony Pierson (a Gill recruit).

Weis’ decision to retain another Gill recruit, running backs coach Reggie Mitchell, could rank as the wisest of all his choices. Relieving him of recruiting coordinator duties also was a wise decision because it freed Mitchell to do what he does best, which is develop relationships with young athletes and sell a Kansas education. A recruiting coordinator has to spend a great deal of his time on organizational duties and on judging his judges, the other recruiters. It’s no coincidence running back is KU’s deepest position because recruits know they’ll be working under Mitchell, so it’s an even stronger bond than Mitchell forms with recruits at other positions.

Mitchell does a terrific job of selling Kansas and Weis knows how to recruit talented, confident athletes, having coached them all those years in the NFL. Having such an appealing home away from home to sell certainly doesn’t hurt. As McDonald and Miller can attest, developing a fondness for the whole Lawrence/KU experience comes quite naturally.


actorman 7 years, 7 months ago

Very nice article. Definitely gets me pumped up for football season.

CrystalJones 7 years, 7 months ago

Agree. Once we get kids to visit, they realize there's really no better place.

kellerman411 7 years, 7 months ago

Anyone know who has the inside track to replace the left side of our offensive line? I know we had a really good tackle and guard over there and I think we lost our center too. This worries me. Has Weis mentioned any offensive lineman in practice that may have a chance at replacing them?

jhox 7 years, 7 months ago

I hope we've upgraded the O line because it wasn't that great last year. They were pretty good run blockers but not quick enough to be even serviceable pass blockers. Everyone is worried about the guys we lost but, with one exception, I'm glad they graduated. We needed to upgrade those positions just like ever other position with the exception of running back.

NebraskaJayhawk 7 years, 7 months ago

Couldn't agree with you more. Our O-Line has been average at best for about 4 years despite the large rushing numbers we have put up.

John Randall 7 years, 7 months ago

Rushing stats (team and individual) can be very deceptive. Opponents are willing to give up yards that don't show up on the scoreboard.

Dirk Medema 7 years, 7 months ago

From the depth chart page:

LT Pat Lewandowski (Jr.) & Riley Spencer (Sr.) LG Ngalu Fusimalohi (Jr.) & Damon Martin (So.) C Dylan Admire (So.) & Gavin Howard (Sr.) & Mike Smithburg (Jr.)

The latter 2 are also RG options. Additionally, Zach Fondal (JC) & Joey Bloomfield (HS) are not on campus yet, but will be options more or less beginning this summer.

Lewandowski seems to be a bit in the Hawkinson mold, and CW has been optimistic about him. Spencer is a big guy with some talent, but even more injuries. Hopefully, he can stay healthy and be productive. Martin was good enough to start one game, but bad enough (off the field?) to not make the traveling squad one game. I think Howard slid over from RG mostly as a matter of depth. There is some thought that Smithburg will slide over to start in the middle, but his spring game (several bad snaps IIRC) left room for improvement. Admire has been with the program 5 semesters already, but still sort of young, and not quite as big as other D1's. I think they have talked about both Fusimalohi & Smithburg as having that nasty streak that you need in the trenches.

Bobby Burch 7 years, 7 months ago

Aslam Sterling should also compete for reps.

VaJay 7 years, 7 months ago

These are good questions to ask Matt on Fridays!

I think if the line manages to be about as good as the one last year, that will enable us to have a much better offense. With a stable of RB's probably we could stack up to anyone's in the country, and as long as we are a threat to pass - it's gonna be a heck of a year.

KGphoto 7 years, 7 months ago

I’m pretty excited to see Fusimaholi at LG. Some of the comments I’ve read about him have been eye opening. If Lewandowski is anywhere near what Weis seems to think he’s capable of, we should have a nice LT for the next couple years. Dylan Admire’s size has some people worried at the C slot. Personally I think he’ll be fine. He’s a tough kid, and even more importantly for a C, he’s smart.

The best part is that we have more depth at each slot. If Fusimaholi doesn’t make 1st string, it will likely be because Damon Martin stepped it up. The same Damon Martin who started briefly over Duane Zlatnik last season. Dylan Admire will have to win his slot with a couple guys breathing down his neck. Lewandowski has to beat out a 5th-year senior who was once slotted as a starting tackle until injuries plagued his career.

We have guys stacked 2, and even 3 deep looking for an opportunity to break their way in somehow. It should create a high level of play for whoever ends up starting.

And don’t forget we have Grunny coaching them up. Now in his second season and having established himself, I expect a little nastier disposition from each and every lineman.

cabmando 7 years, 7 months ago

What is status of Harwells eligibility?

Jim Jackson 7 years, 7 months ago

Harwlel needs to take some classed in the summer to be eligible. I recall Tait thinking he was 60/40 or better to be eligible.

I know we recruited Zach Fondal a JUCO who had offers from Arkansas, Texas Tech and he is supposed to be here in June; 6'5 295

CrystalJones 7 years, 7 months ago

I don't think that's ridiculous at all. I can't think of a better RB unit, and I truly think they'll lead us to a lot of grind-it-out, clock-eating victories this year. I see 8 wins.

JBsJAYHAWKS 7 years, 7 months ago

I am so excited about our football team - work hard guys, believe you me, there are a lot of kids from Kansas who grow up wanting to wear te Crimson and Blue, so when you put that jersey over your head and onto your shoulder pads, just know, you're carrying the dreams and hopes of a lot of young boys who love our/their Jayhawks.

Best to Coach and his staff - thank you for all of your hard work and dedication to our alma mater

Randy Bombardier 7 years, 7 months ago

Good article. There is no more attractive campus on a fall day IMO, especially at a football game.

CrystalJones 7 years, 7 months ago

Sheltered? I don't think so. A football player wants to play in an attractive setting, not in some giant multi-level box that you can't see out of, or a stadium on the edge of campus next to sheep pens. KU offers one of the prettiest settings in college football. Don't think that goes unnoticed by recruits.

Machawk 7 years, 7 months ago

Whatever happened to KU running back recruit, Dreamius Smith of out Wichita Heights. I last remember he went to Butler Juco because of grades. Did he move on or will he ever come to KU?

Ben Fletcher 7 years, 7 months ago

Smith is at West Virginia. Hope he doesn't come back to haunt us...

Shardwurm 7 years, 7 months ago

Hilarious article. Thanks for the laugh.

LeadFarmer 7 years, 7 months ago

All of this will be moot thanks to Bowen

kellerman411 7 years, 7 months ago

I won't lie, I had to look up moot. I will however agree that Bowen must go. Why has Weis kept him around? 2011 - Bowen is the D coordinator, we have the worst defense in the nation.... literally. 2012 - Bowen is in charge of special teams, we have the worst special teams in the nation... literally. You can even look before then, every aspect of the team he is responsible for is terrible. It's not my opinion, it's simply a fact.

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