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Big 12 Conference

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

At a loss: Jayhawks reflect on winless 2015 season

Kansas University quarterback Montell Cozart responds to questions during Big 12 college football media days, Monday in Dallas.

Kansas University quarterback Montell Cozart responds to questions during Big 12 college football media days, Monday in Dallas.

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— Monday afternoon at a ballroom in the Omni Hotel in downtown Dallas, the Kansas University football program played the role of the bearded lady.

A novelty act. The car wreck on the side of the highway that you just have to slow down to see. A unicorn, but with a mangy mane and dirty coat.

Becoming the first team in Big 12 football history to go through a season without experiencing victory — and just the second in KU’s 125-year history — has a way of attracting those who might otherwise be inclined to ignore you.

And, believe it or not, there was a strong and consistent horde of media members hovering around the Kansas football players during the breakout sessions at Big 12 Media Days this week.

So there they sat, senior safety Fish Smithson, junior quarterback Montell Cozart and junior linebacker Joe Dineen, peppered with questions for a little more than 90 minutes. With almost every fresh face that popped up in front of them, one inevitable question came with it: What did it feel like to go winless?

Their answers came with ease and were a mix of equal parts honesty and indignation. And there were a few words uttered that nobody expected to hear.

“Going 0-12 sucks,” Dineen said. “But we really did have a lot of fun last year.”

Fun, at that point, became a relative thing. And Dineen was talking more about the joys that came from pride, development and toughness than first downs and final scores.

Fun or not, though, that winless season stuck with these Jayhawks, and they, along with their 2016 teammates, are banking on its painful and still somewhat fresh stench carrying them to better days this season and beyond.

“Winless? It cringes you,” Cozart said. “It’s really tough. I haven’t experienced something like that. Even my (previous) years here at KU, we didn’t have the best record, but we won games. Coming from high school, where we were competing to win state championships, was really tough. But I’ve been able to experience both sides now, and that’s helped me grow as a person and as a player as well.”

Players and programs grow every year. The ones that grow fast win bigger, and those that change slowly lag behind. But the growth the Jayhawks experienced a season ago does not pop up every year at every school. All of the losing is painful. It stings. It gets old. And, in many ways, in begins to define you.

“Most guys on the team come from winning programs,” Dineen said. “So when you don’t win like you’re used to, it’s a shock. But I think our team has fought through and rebounded. We haven’t quit at all, and it’s all moving forward and getting better.”

A big reason for that is that all of that losing can bring a team together as well. Dineen and Smithson both indicated that this year’s roster seemed tighter than any they could remember. And Smithson said that unity can help bring the team closer to its fans, too.

A week ago, when Smithson was on vacation in Las Vegas, a man who noticed Smithson’s KU football T-shirt approached him and asked him if he played for the Jayhawks. Proudly, Smithson said yes, and the man’s response both surprised him and made him smile.

“Cool guy,” Smithson began. “He just told me, ‘Keep up the good work,’ they’re proud of me and Jayhawk Nation supports us. That was real nice to hear. Because that was the tough part about the season, just how much we let down our fans.”

At this point, it won’t take bowl-eligibility to win the fans back. But the Jayhawks will have to show significant progress and become consistently competitive. While none of them ever would have asked for it to arise, Dineen said the constant reminders of that winless season did wonders for team chemistry and this group’s mindset.

“I think we’re a lot closer,” Dineen said. “We all are going towards a common goal and that’s big. We all want to win and that’s keeping us together. It’s all coach Beaty and the staff. They do not allow you to get down at all. The motivation to play for those guys, the energy they bring to every practice, it’s crazy ... He makes college football a lot more fun than it probably is at other places.”

Comments

Jim Stauffer 1 year, 1 month ago

I will repeat my mantra. Last year we were freshmen playing, this year we are sophomores. Next year is the year when we are juniors and will be playing on a relatively equal scale experience and maturity wise. It takes time for our 18 yr olds to get to be 20 and 21 to play against the big boys in this league whose programs have been established for years.

Look at the coaching staff tenures in this league. OU - years - OSU - years - TCU - years - KSU - yrs, then you have programs like Texas who recruit the highest level of players each and every year, Baylor, who is having off field problems but a program loaded with talent from Briles time there, Texas Tech and Wva. are closest to us in tenure but neither of them reached the depths we did under Gill and Weis. ISU is the closest thing to our program and even they have much better roster numbers overall. A new coach and system might give us an opportunity.

This is a steep up hill climb. Going straight up the side of the mountain for Beaty and staff. I think they can do it. They should surprise someone and win at least 3 games this year. If they do, watch out on the recruiting trail.

Garry Wright 1 year, 1 month ago

Good post Jim Stauffer. Last year we were not a very good team, but we never gave up. That was a big improvement over the Weis teams. We may not win three games this year but I certainly would not be surprised if we do. I believe we will see much more improvement this year.

Bryce Landon 1 year, 1 month ago

We need to win three games this year in order to be confident that David Beaty is the right man to lead the KU football program. A one- or two-win season won't cut the mustard.

John Fitzgerald 1 year, 1 month ago

I kindly disagree, Bryce. I think if we can get 1-2 wins (better than last year) and compete in most games that will be plenty of proof that Beaty is still the right guy. I think people tend to forget he doesn't even have a full team yet, which by the way he had nothing to do with. We're still well below the 85 scholarship mark and it's still going to take a bit to get there. Hard to hold that against him. And honestly, Beaty WILL be a great HC some day. I just hope that some day is here at Kansas.

Brett McCabe 1 year, 1 month ago

Vegas - which knows a thing or two - has the O/U at 1.5 - so 2 wins would be viewed as success. I personally think we have a shot at 3, simply because of the 2nd-year bump, a returning starter at QB, and the points made by Jim above.

If we open 2-0, some good things could happen this year.

Jason Musick 1 year, 1 month ago

I think the Coach will be safe with 2 wins. If he can't beat Rhode Island he will be on the Hot Seat for next season. He needs to recruit Division 2 All Americans and get Junior College players. Coach Hull is doing a great recruiting Job. I hope he will go noticed for about 5 years. Before he gets hired by another College.

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