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Friday, May 7, 2021

KU’s Lance Leipold envisions creating ‘buzz around the area’ by recruiting local prospects

Lawrence High running back Devin Neal puts a move on several Washburn Rural defenders during the first quarter on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020 at Lawrence High School.

Lawrence High running back Devin Neal puts a move on several Washburn Rural defenders during the first quarter on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020 at Lawrence High School.

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When Lance Leipold took over the Kansas football program, the new head coach inherited a roster without many local or in-state scholarship players. He plans to change that.

Leipold during his introductory press conference described recruiting locally as “extremely important.”

“It needs to be our foundation and become the backbone of what we are,” Leipold said of finding high school prospects from the Sunflower State and surrounding areas.

As KU football coaches have come and gone through the program’s revolving door over the past decade-plus, the idea of placing an emphasis on local recruiting often is championed by the latest man in charge.

However, the first KU team Leipold will lead in 2021 features few contributors from the Sunflower State or Kansas City area who signed with the Jayhawks out of high school.

The most significant local signee in recent years came in KU’s latest signing class, when Lawrence High star running back Devin Neal — the top-rated Class of 2021 prospect in the state — signed with Les Miles and his staff.

When Neal officially is added to the roster this summer, he will join a small group of scholarship players who are from Kansas or the KC metro area.

That group includes senior linebacker Jay Dineen, junior tight end Mason Fairchild, sophomore receiver Luke Grimm, redshirt freshmen tight ends Will Huggins and Trevor Kardell, redshirt freshman defensive lineman Caleb Taylor and true freshman quarterback Conrad Hawley.

Notably, super-senior nose tackle Sam Burt, a former walk-on from Abilene, and graduate transfer Colin Grunhard, who played in high school at Bishop Miege before walking on at Notre Dame, are expected to play key roles for KU this coming season.

Leipold’s longterm vision for what he hopes to build at KU includes creating “buzz around the area for support” through recruiting local prospects.

“The closer the players, the more often they can get here, the more often you have chances to build that early relationship and trust,” KU’s head coach added.

As COVID-related restrictions ease in the months ahead, Leipold noted, he and KU assistant coaches will be able to meet local high school coaches face to face, as well, which will be an important part of the process.

Identifying nearby players to recruit and sign is typically an approach needed at any non-elite level college football program.

Leipold, who earlier in his career worked as a graduate assistant at Wisconsin and in a support role at Nebraska, referenced a blueprint followed by several teams.

“Some of the programs in the midwest, when you see what they do — they play a certain brand of football that is physical, tough, disciplined football — it’s usually a lot of the core people are right there in the backyard,” Leipold said. “And we plan to do that as well.”

It’s a strategy that KU’s rival, Kansas State, has used for years. In the Class of 2021, for example, six of Rivals’ top 10 prospects in the state of Kansas were Wildcats recruits.

Some of the Sunflower State’s top prospects in the Class of 2022 already have verbally committed to the likes of Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma State and, of course, K-State. Others remain unaffiliated.

None of KU’s current 2022 commitments are from Kansas, but the Jayhawks do have a verbal pledge from Lee’s Summit, Mo., defensive back Dewuan Mack.

Before long, more and more high school recruits in the area will be hearing from Leipold and his staff. During his recent appearance on KU’s “Hawk Talk” radio show, Leipold shared some more thoughts on his approach to recruiting local prospects.

“We’ve got to do a great job evaluating and giving players opportunity here first. You can branch it out from there,” he said. “I know high school football continues to get better in this area — I was told that through the process of trying to research things. And I want to make sure that we do a great job.”

KU’s newest head coach said he plans to split up the local recruiting map and assign assistants to certain areas.

Leipold also said he wants to make sure, beginning this summer when high school players can visit campuses, that prospects from the Kansas City area and within a drivable radius are making it to Lawrence to meet the KU staff and build relationships.

“And then we have a chance,” he said, “to keep them right here.”

In-state and local signees currently on KU football roster

• Joseph Gilbertson, sr. OL, Wichita

• Jay Dineen, sr. LB, Lawrence-Free State

• Mason Fairchild, jr. TE, Andale

• Luke Grimm, so. WR, Raymore, Mo.

• Will Huggins, RS-fr. TE, Lenexa

• Trevor Kardell, RS-fr. TE, Lee’s Summit, Mo.

• Caleb Taylor, RS-fr. DL, Kansas City, Mo.

• Conrad Hawley, fr. QB, Raymore, Mo.

In-state and local class of 2021 signees who will enroll in summer

• Devin Neal, RB, Lawrence

Comments

Jeff Coffman 7 months ago

I like that he has a plan, i like that KS and local area is a priority; however, this is probably the least impressive thing he has said...every coach since Mangino has said the same thing; to little avail.

To his credit; he actually did give a couple of specifics, like being able to drive to Lawrence should be a priority and breaking up local markets for recruiting by the coaching staff.

Dirk Medema 7 months ago

Jeff - Agreed, though both of the latter comments have been presented by others in the past as well. Guessing he’ll start to make more headway when he’s been in here a few years if he can begin to make any sort of progress on the field.

Brett McCabe 7 months ago

The comment that struck me as different from previous coaches was the one about toughness. The specificity of that remark suggests that he believes he can get kids locally who aren’t necessarily top 10 recruits in the state.

Take NDSU for example. If we had played the every year for the last ten years, we would have gone 2-8 at best.

NDSU is in a state with one-fourth the population of Kansas. I looked at their roster a few years ago and they had a ton of kids from Minnesota, Illinois and Wisconsin (along with some other states). Those three states had been picked over by Minnesota, UW, Northwestern, Indiana, Purdue, Nebraska, Iowa, Iowa State, etc, etc. As an example, Bryce Torneden you may remember, committed to NDSU when neither KU or KSU had offered. Those are the kids NDSU gets.

And yet, playing with only the leftovers, NDSU beat Bill Snyder in Manhattan and Turner Gill in Lawrence.

My take on Leipold’s comments is that you can build tough, disciplined teams by getting and developing kids in the area, and then grow from there. I think that this is an important nuance as compared to the public ramblings of Weis/Beaty/Miles.

Jerry Walker 7 months ago

An example of what toughness brings was Pete Adkins at Jefferson City, Mo high school. He's known as the greatest high school coach in history. Playing and dominating in Missouri's big school class his teams were known for their toughness with few big time college recruits. The one constant was that if you played for Adkins you were tough as hell.

A peek into Adkins success was demonstrated when he was once asked about an oppoent's scouting report on his team. "They don't need to scout us. They know what we're gong to do. We're going to line up and knock their asses off. If they stop us...good for them...if not, we win."

That's what toughness gets you.

Dale Rogers 7 months ago

In keeping with this article, here are some comments by K-Staters re in-state recruiting by KU.

https://www.kansascity.com/sports/college/big-12/kansas-state/article251159694.html

Layne Pierce 7 months ago

Brett is right on this one. There are 2 star and 3 star recruits, but there are also some very unknown but tough coachable kids who can be a big part of the program. Once the coaches and kids in the state and kc area see what kind of a coach and person, Leipold is, we will get more of the big name kids, but there will always be a need to be able to find and develop talent that other people have overlooked. I don't care where they come from , if their attitude is right, and they are willing to be developed.

RCJH

Len Shaffer 7 months ago

True, and that was something that Mangino specialized in (e.g., Aqib Talib, who was a 2-star recruit).

I think Mangino's greatest strength was his ability to develop players, and at first glance Leipold seems to have that same ability.

Robert Brock 7 months ago

Recruiting in Kansas is a zero-sum game. You have to take away K-State’s recruiting base to be successful. Good luck.

Dale Rogers 7 months ago

That's the idea. To look at a situation and say we cannot overcome that, well, that's exactly the kind of thinking we do not want to have, what we are trying to change.

Randy Bombardier 7 months ago

I've been on this for a long time. Kansas has produced some great players who went to neither KU nor K-State. K-State has shown that walk-ons can be developed into exceptional players that can even make the League. Are we just supposed to waive a white flag here? We compete on and off the field.

Brian Wilson 7 months ago

There are a ton of kids in Kansas, Kansas City, and Missouri that simply get overlooked. A lot of 8 man programs never even get a look not to mention the number of kids that go on to trades because they can't afford college and no one paid any attention to them. Much like basketball, football has a ton of camps and if the player can't afford to participate or doesn't think to participate then the thought by the coahes is they must no be interested. Its so much easier for the coaches to go to the camps than to travel around to the small schools digging for the hidden talent.

Dirk Medema 7 months ago

For some reason the phrase that came to mind this morning is from Mike Tyson; Everyone has a plan until they get smacked in the face.

Dirk Medema 7 months ago

Someone once commented that any defense that started Torneden would never amount to anything, apparently implying that Bryce would be a liability. While the Ds had plenty of trouble while Bryce was starting, it definitely wasn’t because of him. Hats off to the coach that found, recruited, and developed Bryce into an award winning DB.

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