When fans descend upon Memorial Stadium for the first time this season, before they even enter the gates they will be greeted by fond memories, thanks to some of the prominently-displayed most recognizable faces in Kansas football history.
From John Hadl and Gale Sayers to Aqib Talib and Chris Harris, the giant likenesses of Jayhawks associated with on-field success are now plastered on the outside of the team’s nearly century-old home.
One of the 15 player banners even represents someone they can watch live and in person — the most talented player on the 2017 roster, star defensive lineman Dorance Armstrong Jr.
Third-year Kansas football coach David Beaty never has seen junior Armstrong get a big head about any of his accomplishments, so it was an easy decision to sign off on adding the standout defensive end to the stadium’s exterior.
“The one thing that is basically the common denominator amongst those guys is production, right? Dorance is the first All-Big 12 unanimous pick that we’ve had here,” Beaty said. “So that really was where the decision-making was, because that was all above my pay grade, in terms of who went in there. They certainly talked to me about it a little bit.”
When the banners first began appearing on the old facade, someone texted a photo of Armstrong’s to him the first day it went up, in early August.
“I had to make that drive over there and take a picture for myself and send it to my family,” Armstrong said. “I was excited for it.”
Predictably, Armstrong’s family members — particularly his mother, Carol Watson, who “put it out everywhere” — were thrilled by the latest distinction for the Big 12’s Preseason Defensive Player of the Year.
As usual, the humble defensive lineman downplayed the honor.
“I don’t want one thing to feel bigger than the other. It’s keeping me going,” Armstrong said. “That’s what I’m going to use it as.”
Here’s a quick look at the 15 KU players represented on the stadium — although Beaty hinted he’d like to see more former players added in the future.
The Big 12’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2005, as a senior the linebacker made 112 total tackles, including 13 for loss. His 416 career tackles are second in program history (Willie Pless, No. 1, 633).
A first-team All-American in 2007 and the MVP of the 2008 Orange Bowl, the former KU corner picked off 13 passes in his college days, ranking him second all-time in program history.
Dorance Armstrong Jr.
A consensus All-Big 12 first-team defensive end as a sophomore, Armstrong racked up 20 tackles for loss and 10 sacks a year ago, making him the leading candidate for Defensive Player of the Year as a junior.
In two of his final three seasons the home-state linebacker recorded triple-digit tackles: 112 total as a sophomore and 127 as a senior.
During four seasons, the cornerback totaled 290 tackles (198 solo). As a junior, in 2009, Harris’ nine passes defended ranked 10th in the nation.
He played both receiver and corner for the Jayhawks. In 2005, his final season at KU, Gordon made 34 receptions, scored two offensive touchdowns, totaled 28 tackles and picked off two passes. His seven interceptions in 2004 are the third-best single-season total in program history. He also has returned more career punts (96) than any other Jayhawk.
Ray Evans, John Hadl and Gale Sayers
The only three players whose jerseys have been retired by KU.
Evans (No. 42) is the program’s all-time leader in interceptions, with 17 in the 1940s, including a Kansas-best 10 in 1942. He made first-team All-America in 1947.
Hadl (No. 21) received first-team All-America nods in both 1960 and 1961. He played quarterback and halfback and became a three-time all-conference selection, ending his career with 1,281 passing yards and 1,016 rushing yards.
Sayers (No. 48) joined Hadl as a two-time All-American in 1963 and 1964. He rushed for 2,675 yards and 19 touchdowns in his career. In 1962 he averaged 7.1 yards per carry.
A key contributor in the secondary and as a returner, Stuckey topped 90 total tackles in each of his final two college seasons, 2008 and 2009. He averaged 25.6 yards per kickoff return as a senior. As a junior, he picked off five passes, contributing to his career total of eight.
KU’s all-time leader in receiving yards (3,240), touchdown receptions (31) and 100-yard games (14), Briscoe also is responsible for the two best individual receiving games in program history: 269 yards versus Oklahoma in 2008, and 242 against Missouri in 2009.
A receiver-turned-defensive back, Shepherd also returned a Big-12 best 37 kickoffs as as senior, in 2014, leading the league with 773 yards in that category. In his final two seasons, as a corner, he defended 24 passes. Shepherd’s 14 defended as a senior ranked seventh nationally.
The Jayhawks’ all-time leader in receptions (226), Meier owns the two best season totals in that category, too, with 102 in 2009, a year after totaling 97. Meier’s 2,309 career yards and 18 career TD’s rank second to Briscoe.
A first-team All-American offensive lineman his junior year, in 2007, Collins was an Outland Trophy finalist. The massive tackle helped block for two of the 14 1,000-yard rushers in KU history, Jon Cornish and Brandon McAnderson
Name a KU career passing record and Reesing owns it: total yards (11,194), completions (932), attempts (1,461), TD passes (90), completion percentage (63.3%), yards per game (273), 400-yard passing games (4), 300-yard passing games (18).
Before Kansas football great Aqib Talib made the No. 3 jersey his own in Lawrence, wowing spectators in Memorial Stadium with his prowess in the secondary, Charles Gordon did the same.
Donning the very same No. 3 on his chest and back and drawing the adulation of the KU faithful as both a defensive back and receiver, Gordon was the Talib prototype for Mark Maningo’s teams in advance of people knowing about the future NFL Pro Bowler, Talib.
Gordon and Talib spent one season together at KU, on a 2005 team that went 7-5 and beat Houston in the Fort Worth Bowl. Now the two get a chance to team up under different circumstances in the NFL. The Denver Broncos have hired Gordon as a defensive quality control assistant.
The move to the pro ranks for Gordon came after the former Jayhawks standout spent four seasons on Northern Colorado’s staff at the college level, coaching defensive backs on Earnest Collins’ staff. A former KU assistant from 2003-06, Collins coached Gordon on special teams and in the secondary for Mangino’s teams.
"Anytime you run a program you want your coaches to excel and move on," Collins said in a UNC release about Gordon’s new job with Denver. "When you had a player that played for you, like Chuck did for me, and then also worked for you moving on to bigger and better things – it's like a family member moving on, or a son in a sense. I'm thankful for everything Coach Gordon did for me while he was here and I'm proud to see him moving into a new role with the Broncos."
Gordon was a two-time First-Team All-Big 12 selection (2004 and 2005) at KU, and earned Third-Team All-American AP honors in 2004. He was also a First-Team Freshman All-American in 2003, after catching 57 passes for 769 yards and 5 touchdowns.
In his three seasons at Kansas, prior to turning pro, Gordon caught 106 passes for 1,232 yards and 9 touchdowns on offense, and made nine interceptions on defense, while averaging 10.4 yards on his 99 punt returns.
The 5-foot-11 corner spent three seasons with the Minnesota Vikings before suffering a career-ending leg injury in 2008. Gordon started six games in the NFL, and made 2 interceptions and 64 tackles.
On a full Sunday slate of NFL games, few drew as much attention as a low-scoring affair in Nashville, Tenn., between Denver and Tennessee. But as you probably know by now, the buzz generated for all the wrong reasons.
Former standout Kansas football cornerback Chris Harris Jr., now one of the league’s top defensive backs with the Broncos, took what appeared to be a malicious cheap shot from Titans wide receiver Harry Douglas in the first half.
On a rushing play for Tennessee’s Derrick Henry, Harris came nowhere near making a tackle, but Douglas dove low toward Harris’ right knee as if to make a block.
"I never had a player try to end my career before," Harris told reporters afterward. "That's not football. He tried to end my career with a hit like that. ... [The officials] didn't call it, but hopefully the league can take a look at that."
Added Harris, who avoided suffering significant damage on the play by pulling his leg backward just in time: "Whatever the biggest fine is, that's what he should get."
The questionable play by Douglas might have been a footnote for the weekend had Harris’ pal and former KU teammate Aqib Talib not gotten involved, too. On the very next play, Denver’s other top-notch cornerback let the Titans receiver know what he thought about the low hit on Harris.
Talib went right after Douglas, inciting a small brawl on the sideline.
Following the game, Talib wasn’t done, calling Douglas a “sorry player,” and vowing to “beat his ---" when he sees him next.
Harris, too, didn’t mind sharing his thoughts on the Tennessee receiver.
"I was nowhere near the play, but that's why he's out there, to be a dirty player," Harris said.
Douglas denied that accusation.
"I'm a tough player. I'm a gritty player," Douglas responded, through reporters. "I'm not a dirty player, no matter what anybody says."
Both the defending Super Bowl champion Broncos and Harris consider themselves fortunate the play didn’t cost the star corner playing time, with the end of the regular season quickly approaching. At 8-5 following a 13-10 loss at Tennessee, Denver currently holds the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC, with three games left to play.
Despite Douglas’ low “block,” Denver won’t be cheated out of the use of one of its top players, which should be good news to Kansas football fans, even if they prefer another team from the AFC West.
As young Kansas football fan Cole Hayden continues his fight against undifferentiated sarcoma, a rare form of cancer, his cheering section continues to grow.
Over the past couple of days, Cole’s mother, Shanda Hayden, shared video messages sent the youngster’s way courtesy of some of the most recognizable Jayhawks in the NFL.
Shanda, the KU football team’s academic and career advisor who has worked with the program for nearly a decade, is beloved by current and former players alike. Many around the team consider her a bit of a team mom. In turn, Cole has become a popular member of the Jayhawks’ family.
KU players and coaches have rallied around the determined boy, wearing #TeamCole bracelets and doing everything they can to support him and the Hayden family.
Now former players are letting Cole know they have his back, too. Tampa Bay safety Bradley McDougald reached out via video this weekend to the Haydens.
“I’m definitely pullin' for ya down here in Tampa,” McDougald said.
Monday morning, Shanda shared another video message, this one from the top two Kansas players in the NFL, Denver Broncos cornerbacks Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib.
“Cole, man, stay strong,” Harris said. “We’re prayin’ for your family, prayin' for Miss Shanda. Just hope everything goes well.”
Second-year Kansas football coach David Beaty often mentioned Cole’s fight and the Hayden’s throughout the season, dating back to KU dedicating its opener to #TeamCole.
“Man, that dude is a tough dude,” Beaty recently said of Cole. “He's fighting, and just want to let Shanda know how thankful we and our players are for her. I don't think people know how much she does for these guys, and I know not just the guys we have here but the ones that have came before them. Man, a lot of those kids have degrees because of her. She wears so many hats for us, and not the least of which is what she does for them academically. She's like a second mom for them while she's here.”
With Cole’s battle often keeping Shanda away from the team of late, a number of Jayhawks went to visit the Haydens after their season ended to check in and help out with some holiday decorations.
Sophomore receiver Steven Sims Jr. recently said the Jayhawks used FaceTime at one of their final practices to check in with Shanda, and players regularly get updates on Cole’s progress through Beaty.
“She’s a strong woman,” Sims said of Shanda Hayden, “and we’re fightin' for her, and she’s gonna keep fightin' for us.”