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Originally published February 7, 2017 at 12:36p.m., updated February 8, 2017 at 12:00a.m.

Keegan

Tom Keegan: Tony Hull brings taste of Cajun culture and Kansas football recruits follow

Kansas running backs coach Tony Hull encourages his players as they warm up during practice on Tuesday, April 5, 2016.

Kansas running backs coach Tony Hull encourages his players as they warm up during practice on Tuesday, April 5, 2016.

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Kansas, of all places, is fast becoming a popular destination for college football prospects from the state of Louisiana.

Kansas?

Yes, Kansas.

Why Kansas?

Naturally, the answer to the question being asked on message boards populated by fan bases of college football programs with long-time winning traditions is linked to outer space.

More specifically, the answer can be traced to a former NASA industrial engineer.

Kansas landing big fish from Louisiana, a fisherman's paradise, is such a departure from the norm in college football recruiting that it only stands to reason the explanation comes from space, the final frontier.

Tony Hull, second-year running backs coach for David Beaty, left the rocket-science industry, where he worked for NASA and Lockheed Martin, to coach football and teach math and physical education in his native New Orleans. He became head football coach at Warren Easton High in 2007, the school’s first season post-Hurricane Katrina.

“I loved working for NASA and Lockheed Martin,” Hull said during my most recent conversation with him. “They did a great job of creating an environment for innovative thinking and development. The one thing I loved about working for those two companies, they allowed you to think outside the box and not just be cookie-cutter.”

It takes thinking outside the box to convince highly recruited football players to sign with a school that hasn’t had a winning season since 2008, and in adding Hull to his staff Beaty did that in an effort to add the state of Louisiana to the school’s recruiting footprint.

Hull has made it happen.

Four Louisiana natives already dot the KU football roster, including the team's top freshman last season, safety Mike Lee, and the most talented offensive player on the roster, Alabama transfer Daylon Charlot, a receiver and punt returner.

In the past few days, six more football players from the Bayou State made verbal pledges to Kansas, including a pair of the nation’s top 60-rated recruits from the Class of 2018, Saturday, a development that sent shock waves throughout the recruiting world. Devonta Jason is the nation’s sixth-ranked receiver, Corione Harris the No. 8 cornerback in the junior class.

Typically, Kansas has had a high success rate with recruits once they visit campus, but getting top talent to come to Lawrence to check it out has been a source of frustration.

This staff, particularly with Louisiana recruits, isn't afraid to go head-to-head with national powerhouses and more and more blue-chip prospects are visiting and committing. Now comes the challenge of getting them to stay loyal to KU through the next signing day, in December (if the NCAA council approves recruiting reforms).

Don’t count Hull among those at a loss for explaining Lawrence becoming an attractive destination for Louisiana athletes.

Speaking well before this round of verbal commitments took place, Hull said, “Surprised? No, because I was as receptive to Kansas when I came here. I put myself in the shoes of a player, of how I was when I first came to Kansas and I how I viewed it and how I understand it. It’s been joyous to see kids from that area come here and see how much they enjoy it.”

Hull’s work on behalf of the Louisiana recruits once they move to campus extends beyond football tutoring. Whether it’s making sure Cajun seafood balls are on the menu at some team dinners, or seeing that Crawfish Etouffee is an option in the dining hall, or helping a player’s mother with the details of having her red beans shipped to her son, Hull counts little Louisiana touches such as those as important details.

“The great thing I love about kids from the area I grew up in is we adapt really well to different environments and when you come to an environment where you don’t have to worry about being loved and cared for and you don’t have to worry about violence and you don’t have to worry about things going on, it’s an easy adjustment and kids are loving it,” Hull said.

Emerging from a tragedy that uprooted so many from New Orleans might have a little to do with that adaptability.

“One thing Katrina taught a lot of people from our area is that there are other places that we can be successful that we hadn’t been privileged to see,” Hull said. “Once they are able to come out here and experience what the KU community gives, which is love, nurturing, unselfishness, I think a lot of people from that area are drawn to KU because of that.”

Clearly, Hull has adapted well since leaving behind the aerospace industry, a slice of the business world he said he thoroughly enjoyed.

“It was my passion for developing kids on and off the field and using football as a tool for doing that,” Hull said of his motivation behind a career change. “Football is a means of working with young men and developing them to do great things.”

He said that’s what makes his job-satisfaction level so high.

“Other than getting a chance to see the smiles on my daughters’ faces, there is nothing more rewarding than that,” Hull said.

Comments

Andy Tweedy 1 year, 9 months ago

Reading this article and the comments about getting kids TO KU, it reminded me of my campus visit my senior year. I went to high school in Omaha and hadn't really thought much about Kansas until I saw a picture of the campus. I remember the day we visited just being blown away by how beautiful the campus was. I loved everything about my visit and still love the place as much as any I've ever been to. I can see how any kid might feel the same way!!!

Buck Bukaty 1 year, 9 months ago

Geaux Jayhawks!!!! Don't forget the Cajun-Fried Alligator Tail. To Die For !!

Robert Brock 1 year, 9 months ago

What happens when these guys discover that Kansans don't season their food?

Buck Bukaty 1 year, 9 months ago

With all due respect, speak for yourself, Robert. ;-)

Brett McCabe 1 year, 9 months ago

Easy to see why kids connect with Coach Hull. Brilliant move by Beaty.

Karen Mansfield-Stewart 1 year, 9 months ago

Coach Beaty certainly seems like a very genuine and likable person (from afar at least). Ditto for Coach Hull. Easy to root for these guys and the work they are doing.

In addition, since the Big 12 grant of rights expires in the not too distant future (2024-2025 I think) its critical for the product on the field to improve well before then. Based upon subscriber losses at ESPN (less traditional TV money to go around) and other challenges its easy to imagine that Texas and Oklahoma might begin evaluating the pros and cons of conference realignment as early as 2020. If KU has a respectable product on the gridiron and maintains our premier basketball ways I'm pretty confident KU winds up in the Big 10 --- if the Big 12 collapses.

Buck Bukaty 1 year, 9 months ago

Coach Hull could leave a lasting imprint on Lawrence in many ways. Besides his phenomenal recruiting and mentoring, he could limit his financial liability by licensing his name for a Mass Street Cajun restaurant. Could be as simple as “Tony Hull’s Cajun Kitchen” (Investors, line up!). HC Self is an investor in a Mexican Restaurant(s), no reason Coach Hull couldn’t capitalize too. Everyone could use some spice in their lives.

All this talk of food and “Tail-gating” is making me hungry. Fat Tuesday is coming up on February 28th. Here’s hoping Popeye’s Chicken will be running their Fat Tuesday 8 pc specials again!!

Brock Wells 1 year, 9 months ago

How do we keep Coach Hull for a long time??? I doubt money is a priority for him.

Buck Bukaty 1 year, 9 months ago

How about making him an Associate Head Coach???

Kevin Robert Fest 1 year, 9 months ago

I think just like the recruits Hull just wants to feel appreciated. Im worried a bigger program will see what he is doing and snatch him up. Im hopefull he can stay.

Now none of these recruits have signed and who knows how many will actually sign or how successful they will be if they sign, but if Mike Lee and other Boots can point out the good things about the program hopefully more will be open to at least giving KU a look. Then who knows.

David Robinett 1 year, 9 months ago

I think the city of Lawrence needs to have a downtown Cajun festival every year now. To give even greater visibility to the recruits we have and the prospects coming in.

David Robinett 1 year, 9 months ago

Lester Earl can't be king of the parade. Well never mind.

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