Three games into his junior season, running back Velton Gardner is ready to move on from the Kansas football program.
According to various reports Monday, including from Rivals and 247 Sports, Gardner, the Jayhawks’ starting running back each of the past three weeks, entered his name in the NCAA’s transfer portal.
Though Gardner came into the season as KU’s No. 1 running back, the junior from Dallas had yet to produce much out of the backfield. This past weekend, the 5-foot-9, 195-pound veteran only carried the ball twice for 4 yards in the Jayhawks’ blowout home loss to Baylor. That brought Gardner’s season totals to 56 yards on 29 rushing attempts (1.9 yards per carry) with no touchdowns.
Having played in just three games for KU, Gardner could potentially use 2021 as a redshirt season and join another program next year with two years of eligibility remaining.
With Gardner on his way out, true freshman running back Devin Neal is likely to become the new starter. Neal, the former Lawrence High star, already was the only KU running back with a rushing touchdown in the first three weeks. Neal enters KU’s game at Duke this Saturday (3 p.m., ACC Network) with 74 rushing yards on 22 carries (3.4 yards per attempt) — almost all of which came in the past two games.
While Gardner had yet to show the flash in 2021 that he did at times during his first two seasons with the program, his departure marks another blow to the depth in KU’s running backs room.
The position projected as one of the rebuilding program’s strengths in Lance Leipold’s first season. But sophomore Daniel Hishaw Jr. suffered a season-ending injury in the preseason and Gardner, KU’s leading rusher in 2020 (4.5 yards per carry, two TDs in six appearances), is moving on.
That leaves Neal, redshirt freshman Amauri Pesek-Hickson and now former reserve quarterback and receiver Torry Locklin as the Jayhawks’ top running backs.
Pesek-Hickson missed the opener due to injury and has five carries for 13 yards in his two appearances. Locklin has 10 carries for 19 yards.
This is the third year in a row that one of KU football’s top running backs moved on from the program during the season. In 2019, Khalil Herbert left after four games, ultimately transferring to Virginia Tech. Last year, Pooka Williams opted out of the season after four games, and eventually entered the 2021 NFL Draft.
Herbert, after rushing for 1,183 yards at Virginia Tech, became a sixth-round draft pick of Chicago. He’s currently a reserve running back with the Bears.
Williams went undrafted, but he remains with the Cincinnati Bengals on their practice squad.