Kansas University safeties coach Scott Vestal knew what he was about to say would sound a bit hollow.
But he couldn’t help himself and said it anyway.
Asked if the KU coaching staff felt the same excitement for the upcoming season as KU’s players, Vestal sat up in his chair and delivered a clear response.
“There’s a different feel,” he said. “Every coach in America says the same crap every year, but the truth is, it’s there. I don’t even think it’s a belief. I think it’s knowing. Knowing what’s gonna happen? No. But knowing we’re on the cusp of something pretty good here.”
Whether that’s true, in many ways, will depend upon the strength of KU’s opponents. On paper, this year’s schedule, which includes nine teams that qualified for a bowl game last season, will test all of the progress the Jayhawks believe they’ve made.
And yet ...
“When you’ve got veteran guys, and they’ve been in the system for a while, it really makes a big difference,” said defensive backs coach Dave Campo. “Plus, when you’ve had the same coach for a number of years, you know the players know what to expect and (we) know what to expect from them so it’s a little easier from that standpoint for sure.
“I’m excited to get the thing going, as (head) coach (Charlie) Weis is I’m sure, to see the progress we’ve made. I feel good that we’ve got some players now that are experienced and good players and we just have to see what happens.”
Added junior defensive lineman Ben Goodman: “That’s where the confidence comes from. It’s just a preparation thing, and we know we’re ready.”
New turf a hit
Speaking with the media Saturday for the first time since new turf replaced the track at Memorial Stadium, several Jayhawks gave the project two thumbs up.
Few seemed to like it as much as senior linebacker Ben Heeney, who said he’d be happy to wake up on Sunday mornings without road rash from tackles he took all the way to the track.
Known as a sideline-to-sideline type of player, Heeney enters 2014 with a new mantra.
“Bleachers to bleachers now,” Heeney said. “I’ve got that much more turf to work with. I think it looks a lot better than (having) the track and I’m kind of glad it’s gone.”
With Maryland transfer Nigel King bringing the number of experienced wideouts on the KU roster to six, the remaining receivers figure to have a chance to use the 2014 season to learn and develop both physically and mentally.
Of KU’s four scholarship freshmen — Darious Crawley, Bobby Hartzog, Derrick Neal and Tyler Patrick — first-year receivers coach Eric Kiesau said two will need to be worked into the mix in some fashion this season so the Jayhawks aren’t left high and dry in the future.
“We’ll try to push two of them,” Kiesau said. “Because we do have to face the reality of losing those three seniors (Tony Pierson, Nick Harwell and Justin McCay) next year. I really need two of those freshmen to be integrated this season so next year it’s not first game of the year, they’re in college football, big eyes. They need to travel, go to the hotel and kind of know what it feels like.”