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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Matt Tait: The state of KU football recruiting

Kansas University football recruiting

Kansas University football recruiting

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With signing day right around the corner and the current dead period about to expire, now is as good of a time as any to examine the so-far-so-quiet recruiting landscape of Kansas University’s football program.

As you surely know by now, coach David Beaty’s first full class will not be a full class.

Beaty, who was hired in December of 2014 and barely had two months to fill out the 2015 class, will have the luxury of bringing a class entirely full of his recruits to Lawrence this time around, but it will not be a full class.

Because of the number of 2015 additions that counted forward toward the 2016 class in order to get them on campus prior to last season — think WRs Quincy Perdue and Joshua Stanford, OL Larry Hughes, DT Corey King, etc. — the final number that Beaty will be able to add in the soon-to-be-revealed 2016 class will be closer to 18 or 19 instead of the full 25 allowed annually by the NCAA.

Who’s in?

In case you’ve forgotten or are in need of a refresher, a quick look at the 2016 recruiting class thus far, a list that includes the three recruits who signed during the mid-year transfer signing period and the seven oral commitments who, as far as we know, remain committed to the program.

What we know

On the surface, with the Jayhawks known to be lacking numbers to begin with, that certainly seems like a bummer. But the actual read is in the eye of the beholder, and you can either choose to look at it as a lost opportunity to add more young bodies in the 2016 class or as a way to get a head start on the 2016 class by bringing those recruits to campus earlier.

A strong case could be made for either argument, but, at least in my opinion, the recruits who arrived early and counted forward but had more than a year or two of eligibility remaining were 2016 scholarships well used. The others, such as Stanford and Perdue, names that no longer appear on the official KU roster, appear to be misses.

But anyone who tells you that the goal is to bat 1.000 in recruiting does not deal in reality. I have yet to talk to or cover a coach who hasn’t taken the approach that if half of the recruits you sign in any given year pan out and contribute, you did all right.

To the best of my knowledge, the following players counted forward to the 2016 class but were on the 2015 roster. As you’ll see, nearly all of them made a meaningful impact last season, even if it was for a winless team.

Larry Hughes, offensive lineman who started several games at tackle still has three years left and is a big part of KU’s plans; Clyde McCauley, offensive lineman who started several games at left tackle and also has three years left; Kendall Duckworth, young, athletic linebacker who played in seven games and also has three years left; Marcquis Roberts, veteran linebacker and South Carolina transfer finished third on the team in tackles (71) and has one year remaining; Corey King, started eight games at DT and rarely came off the field, which allowed KU to give younger D-tackles time to develop without destroying their confidence; WR LaQuivionte Gonzales, the Texas A&M; transfer who will be a huge part of next year’s team, and fellow wideouts Quincy Perdue and Joshua Stanford, who never made much of an impact.

Do with that information what you will, but, I think it’s important to remember that even the biggest and baddest programs out there don’t hit home runs on every recruit. The difference is, it just doesn’t hurt them as badly when they miss because they’re not rebuilding and their numbers are fine.

KU’s are not, but that’s not because of anything Beaty and company have done. He has said from the beginning that it would take a few years to get back to a full deck and he continues to be as creative as possible with enticing walk-ons and scanning the country for athletes who represent the right fit and immediate upgrades.

So, keep that number — 18 or 19 — in mind as you read on.

The next number that is important to remember is 3. That was the number of mid-year transfers that KU signed back in December — D-Tackles DeeIsaac Davis and Isi Holani and athlete Stephan Robinson — so the number of new names that will be eligible to make their commitments to KU official on February 3 actually will be closer to 15 because these three are already on board.

With seven players in the 2016 class currently committed — a handful of KU commitments fell off the radar during the past couple of months because of a number of issues, most of the departures falling in the category of the KU coaches doing what’s best for Kansas — that leaves roughly seven spots open and two crucial recruiting weekends right around the corner to fill them.

What’s still out there?

By far the biggest fish still out there who KU has a shot at is Lawrence High prospect Amani Bledsoe. The four-star defensive end showed he’s serious about considering Kansas when he used one of his five official visits on the Jayhawks despite having made dozens of unofficial visits to KU in the past couple of years. At least half a dozen people I’ve talked to about Bledsoe’s recruitment believe it will come down to Kansas and Oklahoma, with the decision hinging mostly upon whether he wants to go somewhere and play right away and be a part of a legacy that helped turn the program around (Kansas) or wants to go somewhere that is used to winning but possibly sit a year or two before he gets on the field (Oklahoma).

Both offer good opportunities, albeit in different ways, and Bledsoe is expected to take the decision all the way down to the wire. It’s worth noting that Baylor, North Carolina State and Oregon remain in the mix.

If KU can land Bledsoe, it would turn what already looks to be a pretty good class into a solid one, and there’s no telling what his addition could bring.

Would it entice other four-star prospects on the fence to at least consider joining him at KU? Would Bledsoe’s faith be the momentum boost KU needs to get into the living room of some other big-time players in the future?

A perfect example of this comes from right down the road at Olathe North, where stud Isaiah Simmons (younger brother of former Jayhawk Victor Simmons) remains undecided and could really give KU a chance if he knew he’d be joining Bledsoe in Lawrence.

If they don’t get Bledsoe, nothing is lost because KU’s not getting a real shot at a bunch of four-star prospects anyway.

What’s next?

Even though the numbers are down, you can bet darn sure that KU is going to introduce as many quality additions as it can on February 3rd. One thing Beaty told me this offseason, however, was that the staff was going to be very judicious and would not recruit players just to add bodies. They won’t add a player unless they believe he immediately upgrades that position.

That philosophy is responsible for at least one or two of the departures of players who had orally committed but no longer appear on KU’s radar.

That means Beaty and company have a little more than two weeks to fill those final seven or eight spots and you can bet that they’ll hold onto a spot or two if they don’t find/can’t get worthy upgrades because you never know what might pop up throughout the spring and summer and it’s always good to have a spot available in case something happens out of nowhere.

The weekends of January 22-24 and January 29-31 figure to be huge in this process and KU’s visit lists should be as close to full as possible for those weekends — unlike Bledsoe’s visit weekend, when the LHS standout was the only official visitor in town and received the undivided attention of the entire coaching staff and program. Lucky break, eh?

A quick look at the Rivals.com visit tracker shows just two players listed for those two weekends — juco DB Mike Daniels and prep RB Jawon Hamilton — but Jon Kirby and the guys at JayhawkSlant.com are tracking many more visitors than that and, again, you can bet KU’s slate will be full those two weekends.

Here are a few other names to watch in the coming weeks, which includes a few players who are committed to other schools but may still be looking around: Coffeyville safety Toyous Avery; prep DBs Julian Chandler (Missouri City, Texas) and Hamp Cheevers (Trenton, Fla.); Richmond, Texas, WR Evan Fairs; and D-Linemen Johsua Bailey (Jacksonville, Fla.) and Isaiah Bean (Summer Creek, Texas).

It’s hard to know exactly what positions are priority for the Jayhawks, but it seems safe to say that they want to add another running back, would like another receiver and would be interested in a couple of D-Linemen and DBs.

Something to remember

One of the most important things for fans to remember regarding KU’s football recruiting is this: Because of the numbers crisis facing the Jayhawks, it’s not as simple as one player leaves, another comes in to replace him.

Take recently departed linebacker Kyron Watson, for example.

Common sense says that with Watson gone and no longer on scholarship, that frees up another spot and KU will be able to add a body in his place, which should only help the numbers dilemma. And while that will be true eventually, it’s not initially because of the numbers.

Watson leaving does not change the fact that KU can only sign 18 or 19 scholarship athletes in this class. And with the number of outgoing scholarship seniors from last season already higher than that, KU will still be lagging behind. Could they go find a taker for Watson’s scholarship? In a second. Will the NCAA allow it? Nope. Not with KU counting so many scholarships forward in the Class of 2016 and filling up its 18- or 19-man 2016 class. Remember, except for on rare occasions, no program can add more than 25 players in a single class in any given year. That doesn’t change just because players leave. So, really, even though Watson’s departure won’t hurt the product on Saturdays, it does hurt a little because that’s one less practice body. In order to make up for it, a walk-on will likely now be taking Watson’s reps.

That’s why Beaty has deemed the development of a strong walk-on program as such an important part of this rebuild and he’s dead on about that.

This same general concept holds true for a number of ex-Jayhawks you’ve probably already forgotten: OL Brian Beckmann, OL Junior Visinia, OL Damon Martin, DB Matthew Boateng, RB Corey Avery and QB TJ Millweard. All are players who could have still been in the program and on scholarship but left the program for one reason or another and were either not replaced or replaced by walk-ons.

Those might not be the most talented names in the world, but KU is in no position to be OK with losing bodies. And that’s what makes Beaty’s decision to get rid of players such as Avery, Boateng and others so powerful. Trust me, those were not decisions Beaty took lightly, but he made them because he believed he only had one shot at establishing the culture and setting the tone and those moves certainly did that.

A few final words

As you can see, the rest of the month clearly will bring a big couple of weeks for the KU football program, but even if the Jayhawks don’t land a bunch of the names you read above, don’t take that as time to panic.

As we saw throughout the rough 2015 season, this coaching staff is willing to be patient and will remain positive and upbeat even in the face of the most dire circumstances.

And that’s certainly the only way to describe the current state of the KU football program.

But it sure seems like the positive feedback from the seniors who played their final seasons of college football last year as well from underclassmen is aiding KU’s recruiting efforts.

Several KU coaches have said that parents of current targets repeatedly have referenced comments made by Ben Goodman, De’Andre Mann and Taylor Cox as well as younger players who figure to be part of the future, such as Joe Dineen, Ben Johnson and others, and those words seem not only to be providing the families comfort but also encouraging them to give Kansas a long, hard look.

Comments

Doug Cramer 3 years, 11 months ago

Beaty is known as a good recruiter from one of the most fertile recruiting grounds in the country. I have expressed this in the past, but he hasn't quite caught traction with bringing in the Texas studs yet.

Bledsoe's decision will be huge.

One of the best things this program has going, is a decent number of young guys in the trenches that were underclassmen. This will be the foundation going forward, but it would be nice to start snagging some 4 star linemen like Bledsoe in these next few classes.

Ultimately we as fans have to accept that this is a marathon and not a sprint. I have faith in Beaty, and I think we may win 3 - 4 games next year.

Joe Ross 3 years, 11 months ago

Honestly, Id be satisfied with 2 and being competitive in a third of the rest

Glen Miller 3 years, 11 months ago

I always said that the first two classes would be sprinkled with talent, but not loaded with it. I look for this recruiting class to be better than last years, but still lacking. I really believe that year 3 will be when we start to see a significant jump in recruiting. That gives recruits a few years to see the direction of the program, if Beaty will stick around and if his scheme fits their style of play. If we show vast improvement and win 3 or 4 games maybe.... I look for next years class to be much improved on talent. I'm a Royals fan and I saw the growing pains it takes to come out of a ginormous hole...... we've got to be patient and trust the process, but I think Beaty is the best option we've had in a while. He and his staff have really shown enthusiasm for this program and progress throughout the season.

Brett McCabe 3 years, 11 months ago

Matt, thanks for a terrific breakdown - very useful.

It does seem that most of Beaty's decisions to pull a scholarship forward worked out reasonably well for the program, or at least still offer the promise to do so. This was not the case with many of the Weis transfers.

I think that your suggestion that Beaty may hold a few open spots is dead-on, unless we get a flurry of high-quality commits (i.e. Bledsoe, Simmons). This would make for a bit of a boring signing day, but it might be the wisest thing for the program.

Is it more important that Beaty land some big-name recruits, or is it more important he become KU's version of Billy Beane? To me, it's the latter. Finding value in guys who aren't being heavily recruited by P-5 programs is the key step in getting us going. How do you do that? I'm not sure, but let's hope that Beaty and Gene Weir know exactly how to do it.

David Kemp 3 years, 11 months ago

I would agree and use the example of redskins starting d line has a guy from Hampton and his hs friend from Georgia state. Obvious guys who fell under d1 radar and have proven to be stars in nfl. That's what we need to find!

Michael Bennett 3 years, 11 months ago

Blah, ba blah, ba blah.... Once again we have a coach talk about sealing the borders and owning the state but then never bothers to recruit it. I see one player from KS on the list, Bledsoe, and he's probably going to OU like Grissom & Bell. Meanwhile, the Gatorade player of the year, Christian Jegen, a 3-star athlete and honor student who was a 4 yr starter for the best team in the state goes w/o a full scholarship offer. It's the same old story every year. Let's take the 25th best WR in Texas rather than one of our own.

Dirk Medema 3 years, 10 months ago

He's the KS the Gatorade player of the year, a 4 yr starter for the best team in the state and doesn't have a full scholarship offer? Surely every coach in the country as blind as Beaty? Say it's not so.

Sam Walters 3 years, 10 months ago

Could not possibly agree with you more, Michael.

Greg Ledom 3 years, 10 months ago

MB, if it were only that simple to assess and offer kids a scholorship. He certainly has a glowing resume as a high school kid, but obviously (see NO D1 offers) the tape says something different as it translates to college. That said, I hope the kid can either walk on or be a PWO for us. Beaty has not only said it in words, but his actions and work have confirmed that if your in Kansas and your talent translates to D1 he'll be on your tail, and if doesn't appear you are not, he may ask you to walk on. What else do you want man. Let the process play out over the next several years and let's see if your singing a different tune. RCJH!!

Kent Myers 3 years, 11 months ago

A couple of names that were overlooked, are recruits from 2015 that are expected to enroll in January.

Cameron Durley, OT, from Houston, TX and Shola Ayinde, DB, from Richmond, Tx.

If they enroll as planned, then the remaining numbers are 5 or 6. Probably 5.

Hopefully, Amani Bledsoe, Mike Daniels, Jawon Hamilton, Evan Fairs and Toyous Avery as Simmons seems determined to go out of state.

Robert Brock 3 years, 11 months ago

How many Big 12-level players are on the squad? 20? I don't know how the Hawks can turn this mess around unless KU can recruit Kansas and Greater KC. Getting leftovers out of Texas ain't gonna cut it...

Brett McCabe 3 years, 11 months ago

Beaty was hired, in large part, because of his recruiting ties in Texas. You can't really criticize him for playing to his strength.

Kane was supposed to help in K.C. and then bailed in the middle of the recruiting period. Gene Weir should help us in the KC area over the next couple of years, though I'd still like to see Kelly Donohoe on staff in some capacity.

The third year of recruiting will be a better indicator of where we are.

Michael Maris 3 years, 11 months ago

My question is this, does Kelly Donohoe have any interest in making the jump up from his current job? And, what offensive position is he going to take (since they're all full right now)? I'm not trying to sound ignorant, I just don't see any (current) openings that would allow him to make such a jump (since he's a former QB and more than likely would want to coach on that side of the ball).

Greg Ledom 3 years, 10 months ago

I'd bet KD has absolutely no desire to coach at the next level. It's a whole different beast and time committment. See Tim Grunhard....

Michael Bennett 3 years, 11 months ago

And next year you will say its the 4th year that's most important and best indicator.

Greg Ledom 3 years, 10 months ago

Do you understand recruiting at all? Even from the laymen's view that we on this board can try to understand (apologies to those who have more experienced insight)? It's ALL (well, not ALL....but certainly a large aspect) about building relationships with these kids so they get to know who you are, what your about, what your style is, how do you run your program, what kind of kids (talent, character, etc.) do you recruit, etc.. That takes TIME dude, and I would suggest minimally 3 years to have that start to take hold and pay off, and yes, year 4, 5, 6, and so on will only be better if he is indeed successful at what he was brought in to do. Time will tell. Try to enjoy the journey as we have no choice but to do just that.....

Jim Pendleton 3 years, 11 months ago

One thing I didn't see here is where we will be after this new class with total number on scholarship. Seems to me that number last year was around 65. With the seniors we lost, additional ones who left, and add this 18-19 coming in, it seems to me we are still only going to be in the 60-65 range of total guys on scholarship.

I agree that we don't need to hand out scholarships just to fill spots, we have to get quality individuals who will build depth. Seems like we are having a hard time gaining any ground though if the numbers are the same.

Matt, how many seniors in this coming year's bunch? Seems with all the ones that left or were asked to leave when Beaty arrived, that we ought to be getting to a point where the next couple senior classes should be smaller, thus giving us the best chance to further rebuild with a full new class of 25 in the next couple years. Thoughts?

Kent Myers 3 years, 11 months ago

Closer to 60- than 65+ in 2015. Scholarship players should be about 70 with this class and no more losses due to injury or academics. 2017 will be close to limit with something around 80 and have third year walkons eligible for scholarships ( a few will potentially be more than practice fodder). Many teams never reach 85 but that is good for the walkons that "Earn It".

Brett McCabe 3 years, 11 months ago

Jim, I believe that your math is close to correct. I seem to remember an earlier article basically stating that next year we will be at about the same numbers, give or take.

Progress needs to be made on the field, nonetheless, and it should be possible since we'll be returning a whole bunch of guys with quite a few game reps in the system. And importantly, we'll be returning our starting QB. While patience is required, so is progress.

The most common over/under for wins I've heard is "1". I believe a better over/under would be "2". I'm not sure if I share Doug's full optimism, but I'll take the over.

Aaron Paisley 3 years, 11 months ago

It will take Beaty a full 4-5 year recruiting cycle to get scholarship numnbers back on track. KU's class balance ridiculously out of sync right now. KU just graduated a relatively small senior class, 2016 is going to be a larger than normal, 2017 is going to be smaller than normal, and 2018 will start to see a return to normal numbers. 2017 classes and beyond need to be balanced without kids being counter forward, and keeping a 6-8 JuCo limit per class to keep class numbers in check. JuCo players are meant to fill in the gaps of busts, dismissals, and transfers and the current class imbalance is the result of building around JuCo players like Weis did.

Dirk Medema 3 years, 10 months ago

The current imbalance is the result of losing 30 players in the coaching changes. Charlie's quick fix didn't work, but it was already broken when he got his hands on it.

David Williams 3 years, 10 months ago

I agree w/Dirk that the current numbers shortage is principally related to the hatchet job that Weis did by chasing off 30 players. If the maxim is that 50% of recruits pan out, what was the rationale? Clearly there was no rationale...borders on recruiting negligence.

Suzi Marshall 3 years, 11 months ago

When giving an update on recruiting, why not specifically call out the signing of Miciah Long. Long was the best player on the best team in Texas, leading Houston's North Shore to the 6A, Div 1 Championship.

Long is 6'2" and plans to play LB at Kansas. Armstrong, who had a terrific year as a freshman DE, is also from North Shore. These two played for an elite TX HS program and expect to win.

If Kansas can add Bledsoe to these two North Shore standouts...Kansas will have the defensive foundation needed to compete in the Big 12.

Michael Maris 3 years, 11 months ago

Matt, in reading your article I found the following to be confusing (since I don't ever recall seeing any such announcement of a departure of the following player).

"This same general concept holds true for a number of ex-Jayhawks you’ve probably already forgotten: QB TJ Millweard."

If I missed any such announcement, my bad. But, I just don't recall seeing any such announcement and from what I've seen, he's still listed on the (Jayhawks Football) roster.

Ken Schmidt 3 years, 10 months ago

That caught my attention too as I didn't remember hearing anything about him leaving as well. While not a starter or regular player, it was my observation that he was key in leading the offense from the sidelines and I suspected that he would probably end up staying on after graduation and maybe becoming a grad assistant. That is based on nothing more than my own personal hunch. I am a little surprised by this statement...

Dirk Medema 3 years, 10 months ago

He's probably graduated, and shocking as it is - the roster probably isn't updated.

Dirk Medema 3 years, 10 months ago

Great article Matt. Question though, if you can count players forward, such as we did in 2015 to 2016 class, why would you not fill a roster spot with a recruit if you had someone that could help?

Definitely agree though that if you don't have a player that can help, you save the spot for someone who can.

Bob Bailey 3 years, 10 months ago

Lots of talk about recruits; no talk about coaches.

Our biggest gap, besides Zenger, is DC! Do any of you watch football games? The worst fault of ALL teams is Defense. Even in the PRO's Defense players are poorly utilized. Did you see a DB make a tackle? Did you see the whole D line get dragged 6-8 yards, because they can't tackle. Most of the time the DB are out of position and really aren't covering anyone!

Hey, begin where the problem is. GET A NEW DC!

Michael Maris 3 years, 10 months ago

Were you a drummer in your high school band days?

David Williams 3 years, 10 months ago

Matt - any further news or hunches re new LB coach possibilities?

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