The University of Kansas football program generated an explosion of unexpected buzz this past February by adding intriguing prospects to its 2018 recruiting class.
But 10 months later, with the NCAA’s new early-signing period for college football beginning Dec. 20, the vibe surrounding KU’s potential signees could shift drastically in the opposite direction.
Over the weekend, the biggest name tied to the Jayhawks, four-star New Orleans receiver Devonta Jason, decommitted from David Beaty’s program. Meanwhile, the only quarterback in KU’s class, Texas prep Clayton Tune, visited Ole Miss and currently describes Kansas as “still in the picture” for the quickly approaching signing day.
KU fans now have to hope Beaty and his staff can hold on to the high school commitments they have, with the biggest concerns being four-star cornerback Corione Harris — Jason’s prep teammate at Landry-Walker (La.) — and the group’s other remaining “Louisianimal,” running back Anthony “Pooka” Williams.
Harris announced recently he will chose between KU and Mississippi State. Williams, though, appears to have a number of programs to consider.
Sam Spiegelman, a recruiting reporter for SEC Country, spoke with Williams after his Hahnville High team lost in Louisiana’s Class 5A state title game on Saturday. The 5-foot-10, three-star running back explained how his recruitment has picked up during his remarkable senior season, capped by rushing for 1,403 yards and 14 touchdowns in five playoff games.
The speedy all-purpose back told SEC Country he not only has an offer from LSU but also Miami. Plus, Williams related, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Alabama and Auburn have shown interest in him, as well.
“A lot of schools have come here,” Williams told SEC Country. “When you do big things, big schools come in. Nebraska, Auburn, LSU, Alabama, Miami. … I can keep naming schools.”
Williams had stated previously he planned to sign with Kansas on Dec. 20, but Spiegelman reported the Louisiana standout is considering delaying signing until February.
If the increasingly popular running back had to make a choice now, he told SEC Country he would pick the Jayhawks, to whom he committed in February after hitting it off with running backs coach Tony Hull, a Louisiana native.
“It’s still Kansas, because I’m committed to them and I gave them my word,” Williams said. “It would be hard for me to flip my word on them. It’s about loyalty and it’s like a family, so if I go somewhere, I have to feel comfortable and it’s where I can play. We’ll see who can build a family [relationship] with me and we’ll take it from there.”
Pretty much since the day New Orleans prep teammates Devonta Jason and Corione Harris shocked the college football recruiting world by committing to Kansas, people have openly wondered about the chances the Jayhawks have of actually signing two such highly-coveted recruits.
Much more successful programs remain in the hunt for Jason, rated a five-star receiver by Rivals, and Harris, a four-star cornerback. But, like their former high school teammate at Landry-Walker, Mike Lee, these Class of 2018 prospects have been sold on KU as a a legitimate landing spot thanks to the efforts of Louisiana native Tony Hull, the associate head coach on David Beaty’s staff.
The Kansas staff, as well as the program’s supporters, have followed Jason and Harris closely, and now that the new NCAA early signing period is in effect, we could know just what their futures hold by Dec. 20.
In order to get a different perspective on KU’s recruitment of the so-called “Louisianimals” and perhaps a better feel for whether Jason and Harris will end up playing for the Jayhawks in 2018, I reached out to Sam Spiegelman, who covers LSU and the Louisiana recruiting scene for SECCountry.com.
What did you and others who follow LSU recruiting make of Devonta Jason not making an official visit this past weekend to LSU as planned?
“This was a complicated situation,” Spiegelman said. “Jason has a tight window to get three official visits in and had only four weekends to do it. He had planned on making his way to LSU for Nov. 25, Kansas on Dec. 2 and Mississippi State on Dec. 9. That left Dec. 15 open, but he has plans with his family on the weekend right before the early signing period.”
According to Spiegelman, Jason told him and other reporters the plan all along was to make an official visit to LSU for this past weekend’s Texas A&M game. However, some miscommunication with the LSU staff led to it falling through, as the Tigers were hosting a couple of other receiving prospects, five-star Terrace Marshall Jr. and four-star Justin Watkins. The coaches didn’t want Jason to have a subpar visit because they couldn’t spend as much time with each recruit as they hoped with so many big names there at once.
“LSU’s New Orleans area recruiter Mickey Joseph spent Monday morning at Jason’s high school to try and mend fences,” Spiegelman said. “He will go in-home with the wideout on Thursday, too. Between then, expect Joseph to try and find a time for Jason to officially visit LSU, whether it replaces another visit or is a mid-week official.”
How important is this official visit Jason is making to KU this coming weekend?
“The one edge Kansas has is the level of comfort between Jason and coach Tony Hull, and that Jason’s former teammate, Mike Lee, is having so much success in Lawrence. Beyond that, Jason is very cognizant of the state of the team and the lack of on-the-field success,” Spiegelman replied.
“Jason has made his way from New Orleans to Kansas several times over the past few months, so I’m not so sure if an official visit is really going to sway him in one direction or another,” he added. “This will be about talking to the coaches, getting an idea for the direction of the program and having a chance to re-connect with Lee for a weekend.”
Other potential advantages for Beaty, Hull and KU, Spiegelman suggested, are not only the recent visit mishap with LSU, but also the coaching change at Mississippi State, where Dan Mullen left to become the head coach at Florida, and Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead took over.
“If LSU can’t lure Jason back on campus, Kansas is all of a sudden emerging as a bigger threat than even a month ago,” Spiegelman said.
Who among Jason’s other finalists — Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Tennessee, West Virginia and Miami — are the biggest threat to beat out LSU and Kansas?
“Easily Mississippi State. I was close to picking State as Jason’s most likely destination after the LSU official visit went awry, but with Dan Mullen now embedded as Florida’s head coach, we need to see which members of his coaching staff will leave Starkville, Miss., and head to Gainesville, Fla.,” Spiegelman said.
“Like Kansas, State holds an edge with some of Jason’s former high school teammates on the roster. Most notably, Keytaon Thompson, Jason’s former quarterback who he won a Class 5A state championship with a year ago,” he explained. “If specific members of the coaching staff stay put on the new-look Mississippi State staff, they may emerge as the favorite leading into a Dec. 20 decision date.”
Is Jason still expected to graduate from Landry-Walker in December and enroll somewhere for the spring semester?
“Yes. He has worked very hard for more than a year to get ahead of schedule in order to graduate in December and be on campus somewhere in January,” Spiegelman responded.
What was the initial reaction in Louisiana when Jason and Harris committed to KU in February, and how, if at all, has that changed in the months since it happened?
“Initially, it was shock. Maybe even a little bit of awe,” Spiegelman revealed. “Jason, a former LSU commit, is one of the top-five prospects within the state of Louisiana. Hull made an even bigger splash landing the tandem of Jason and Corione Harris, along with Pooka Williams, Ja’Marr Chase and Aaron Brule’ in one junior day function. Later, he added Nelson Jenkins, who is now committed to LSU, and Josh Smith, another teammate of Jason’s at Landry-Walker High School, in New Orleans.”
Williams, a three-star running back per Rivals, remains part of KU’s class, as does Smith, a three-star defensive end. Chase, Brule’ and Jenkins backed out of their verbal commitments.
“It led to some early frustration among the LSU fan base, for sure,” Spiegelman related of KU’s recruiting haul. “LSU fans were calling for Hull to replace Joseph as the team’s New Orleans area recruiter and made fans envious of the Jayhawks. Jason has long been a fan favorite for his spectacular, highlight-reel catches. Chase and Williams are also big-time performers that LSU fans are craving to find their way into the Tigers’ 2018 recruiting class.”
The rabid LSU fan base, he added, probably has toned it down since, and wouldn’t lose too much sleep if both Harris and Smith end up playing at Kansas.
“Jason and Williams — not so much,” Spiegelman made clear. “I fully anticipate Williams will wind up at Kansas, assuming he qualifies academically. I can’t say the same for Jason, but if he did, the LSU fan base would not be pleased.”
Do you think it’s likely Harris and Jason are a package deal — wherever they end up?
“If they are, the I’d circle Kansas and Mississippi State as the only schools in the mix for the two,” Spiegelman said. “Jason has been a priority for the LSU coaching staff, whereas Harris — another former commit — has certainly fallen down the board a bit over the past year following his de-commitment in July, 2016.”
Jason and Harris are not just close, he added, but best friends.
“Over the past few months, it seems as if they would be comfortable going their separate ways in order to find their own best fits at a college program. However, LSU is the only school where both wouldn’t be takes,” he said. “At Kansas or State, both could be a part of the plan.”
Is Harris more likely than Jason to end up at KU?
“Absolutely. It’s probably a coin flip between Kansas and Mississippi State,” Spiegelman began. “I know he officially visited Texas and had eyed a visit to Florida, which may be in the mix now that Mullen has landed in Gainesville, Fla. But I’d say Harris has been rather loyal to the Jayhawks and is weighing a future at Kansas versus State for the most part.”
How easy is it for other coaching staffs to use KU’s record the past several seasons as an argument to get Jason and Harris to back out — and do you think that will ultimately be the result?
“That definitely is on the table, but more so other coaching staffs are going to push the proximity from New Orleans or Louisiana,” Spiegelman suggested. “Kansas is a plane ride away. You can’t drive an hour up I-10 West to Baton Rouge or three hours through Mississippi to get there. The distance from home and their families cannot be overstated, especially when schools like LSU can preach playing for your home state and for your hometown school.”
According to the Louisiana-based recruiting reporter, both Jason and Harris seem unbothered when KU’s lack of success gets brought up.
“They are very bright kids and are well aware of the records at Kansas. They have also been reprised of the fact that they could play as true freshman in the Big 12 and perhaps spearhead a turnaround for the Jayhawks,” he said. “Coach Hull has done a terrific job prioritizing both Jason and Harris and keeping them on board for this long. Whether that sticks is out of his control and more will be a product of LSU’s and Mississippi State’s continued push.”
If Jason and/or Harris ultimately flip, Spiegelman thinks it would have less to do with KU’s record over the past several seasons and more to do with the overall stability of a more prominent program.
“There are more constants at, say, an LSU or a Mississippi State or a Florida, because of the program’s football history,” he offered. “Both prospects are going to go where they are wanted the most and they have done a great job entertaining all of their options, Kansas included, leading into Dec. 20.”
Class of 2018 wide receiver Devonta Jason became the most discussed prospect in recent Kansas football memory when the New Orleans native verbally committed to David Beaty’s program in February.
Despite some skepticism on whether Jason, rated the No. 22 prep senior in the nation and a five-star talent by Rivals, will indeed end up playing at KU because commitments are non-binding, the athletic, 6-foot-3 receiver coveted by LSU and a number of other high-profile programs remains on board some five months away from his anticipated December graduation and the NCAA’s new early-signing period.
Associate head coach Tony Hull, responsible for recruiting Jason and other Louisiana standouts, such as KU sophomore safety Mike Lee (also an early Landry-Walker grad), might deserve another raise if Jason and his high school teammate, four-star cornerback Corione Harris, actually end up at Kansas and aren’t stolen away by a more successful program before they sign their letters of intent.
In a new video feature for NOLA.com, recruiting analyst Jimmy Smith explains why Jason is so intriguing for Kansas and the many other programs from which he has received offers, such as Alabama, Georgia and Florida.
“He’s 6-3, 205 pounds and he has the leaping ability of most NBA guards,” Smith says of Jason. “His athleticism, explosiveness, leaping ability — I mean, the kid’s been impressive from Day 1 of his prep career and he’s been a dominant force throughout high school.”
The way Smith, who first watched Jason as a freshman, describes the KU pledge, the receiver has the character to succeed, as well.
“Devonta has a desire to be great, and so he’s got that work ethic and that drive, and that will help propel him through his future. He’s doing it for a lot more than just himself,” Smith says. “He puts his family on his back, his community on his back.
Jason told NOLA.com the drug scene and violence he has witnessed in his community while growing up served as a form of inspiration.
“It just keeps me going,” Jason says in the video. “I don’t want to be in that predicament. To not put my life in danger.”
He began playing football at 11 as an offensive lineman, Jason reveals, but his athleticism and hands made him a natural at receiver. Not to mention his competitive nature.
What kind of play does he enjoy most, while trying to beat a defensive back (or backs) in coverage?
“Most times I like to go up top and make them feel like even less of a DB,” Jason says.
The prep star showed off some of those skills this past weekend at the USA Football 7v7 National Championship Series Tournament, in Frisco, Texas. In a highlight video from the event produced by Scout.com, Jason displays his open-field speed and footwork, as well as his ability to out-muscle or out-leap his defender to make a play.
He’s a long way from officially becoming a Jayhawk, but Jason could be a program-altering recruit for Beaty and his staff.
The first five-star prospect to ever commit to the University of Kansas football program, New Orleans prep receiver Devonta Jason has heard the murmurs and seen the skepticism floating around the recruiting world in response to the non-binding pledge he made back in February.
That much was clear in Jason’s comments to Bleacher Report, for a feature titled: Do You Believe 5-star WR Devonta Jason is Kansas-bound? LSU and Alabama don’t.
"People were asking me if they gave me something," Jason told Bleacher Report’s Adam Kramer. "Everybody was going crazy. They wanted to know what I was thinking. I'm just going to be me."
A 6-foot-3 rising senior at New Orleans’ Landry-Walker High, Jason, of course, is the marquee prospect in third-year KU head coach David Beaty’s Louisiana-heavy 2018 recruiting class. Rivals ranks Jason as the 22nd-best player in the country, and considering KU’s current seven-year streak of winning three games or fewer, many outsiders scratch their heads or scoff at the idea of Jason officially signing with the Jayhawks months from now.
According to Jason, a coach from another program texted him “really?” upon hearing of his verbal commitment to Beaty, associate head coach and Louisiana native Tony Hull and Kansas.
"It really didn't get to me," Jason told Bleacher Report. "I know they went 2-10 and 0-12 the year before. It's really not about what school you go to or being a big fish in a big pond. It's about your future and making an impact on your life. It's about being known and recognized."
Given that most prospects of Jason’s caliber typically sign with the likes of Alabama, Florida State, Clemson, Ohio State or some other renowned program, Rivals’ national recruiting director Mike Farrell characterized Jason as a “unicorn.”
Farrell explained: “I’ve never seen one in person, and I don't know if they exist. If this sticks, it will prove that they do."
Hull, who also helped lure commitments from Jason’s current Landry-Walker teammates, four-star cornerback Corione Harris and three-star defensive end Josh Smith, as well as former L-W standout Mike Lee, gets credit for making this unique recruiting situation possible. Jason said he connected with Hull when he visited Lawrence.
“Being as far away as I was,” he told Bleacher Report, “it still felt like home.”
As Jason had stated previously, he intends to graduate from Landry-Walker early and enroll in college for the spring semester of 2018, ahead of his freshman year of college football.
David Beaty’s already hyped 2018 recruiting class for Kansas football now has a five-star prospect in its midst.
The Jayhawks haven’t snagged another commitment from a coveted rising high school senior. The boost, instead, comes courtesy of one of the young men who ignited the so-called “Louisianimal” frenzy in the first place. A four-star wide receiver when he first announced in February his intentions to sign with KU, New Orleans’ Devonta Jason has since impressed enough within the recruiting world for Rivals to bump him up to five-star status.
The latest Rivals 100 rankings for 2018, unveiled Tuesday, list Jason, a 6-foot-3 wideout from Landry-Walker High, as the No. 22 senior in the country, with an extra star next to his name. Jon Kirby of Jayhawk Slant said this makes Jason the first five-star prospect ever to commit to KU.
When Jason visited Kansas nearly four months ago and — along with prep teammate Corione Harris, a four-star cornerback — committed to Beaty, Louisiana native Tony Hull and the Jayhawks, Rivals rated the talented receiver as the 35th-best player in the country.
So what has changed since then, considering Jason’s senior year at Landry-Walker is still months away?
“The Kansas commit spent the spring making highlight reel catches at camps and 7-on-7 tournaments across the country, proving that he belongs in the five-star class,” Rivals’ Woody Wommack explained. “Jason has everything from measurables to on-field and camp production on his résumé, and his size and catch radius makes him one of the nation's best. Kansas has never signed a five-star prospect in the Rivals.com era, but now has a chance to do so.”
Only three Class of 2018 receivers in the country are currently ranked ahead of Jason in the Rivals 100.
“His ability at his size to go up and get the ball and really outplay defenders has been really impressive,” Wommack detailed in a Rivals video highlight package of Jason. “You know, he’s not the quickest wide receiver in the world, and that’s what some people are concerned about, but we feel like he can get enough separation, especially when he needs to be. And he’s a guy that may not light it up on the clock, but when the lights come on in a game situation, he’s super-productive. We’ve seen it on film, we’ve seen it in person and now we’ve seen it at several elite camps.”
Jason and many of the country’s other top high school seniors will soon converge to compete and prove themselves at the Rivals 100 Five-Star Challenge, June 9 and 10, in Indianapolis.
KU’s 2018 recruiting class, highlighted by Jason and Harris, currently ranks 21st nationally, according to Rivals.
It’s been less than three months since four-star high school receiver Devonta Jason — one of the top 25 juniors in the nation according to Rivals — shocked the football recruiting world by committing to Kansas, along with his Louisiana prep teammate Corione Harris, a four-star cornerback.
While the news helped introduce KU fans to the term “Louisianimals” and doubled as a sign of associate head coach Tony Hull’s strength as a recruiter, Jason’s verbal commitment doesn’t mean he will definitely play for the Jayhawks in 2018. That won’t become official until he and other members of a Kansas recruiting class that currently ranks 14th in the nation sign their national letters of intent.
As of this week, Jason, a 6-foot-3 receiver now playing at more than 200 pounds, has received 27 scholarship offers — coming from programs in each of the Power Five conferences. The most recent two came Monday, from an old Kansas rival, Missouri, and the Pac-12’s Arizona.
Initially an LSU commit, Jason has much to ponder ahead of his senior season at Landry-Walker High, in New Orleans — the same school from which KU safety Mike Lee graduated early before turning into an impact freshman in the Big 12.
Earlier this month, Jason told SEC Country he is on pace to graduate from high school in December, and enroll at the university of his choice (possibly Kansas) for the 2018 spring semester.
That has to qualify as good news for KU head coach David Beaty and Louisiana recruiting guru Hull. The less time powerhouse programs have to try to sway Jason away, the better the chances for Kansas to get Rivals’ No. 25 player in the nation on the field in Lawrence. National Signing Day isn’t until Feb. 7, 2018. But if Jason graduates in December, the Jayhawks could already have him on campus by then — similar to what the staff did a few months back, with freshman linebacker Kyron Johnson, a three-star prospect from Arlington, Texas.
Open about his ongoing recruitment in interviews since committing to Kansas, Jason told SECCountry.com all the programs going after him have a chance.
“I’m going to be fair about it. I’m committed to Kansas, but LSU, Mississippi State and Ole Miss are all tied in second,” Jason said a few weeks ago.
According to Jon Kirby of Jayhawk Slant, Jason is the highest-rated receiver ever to commit to KU.
It’s not a done deal now. Not even close. But just the idea of a wideout as talented as Jason one day suiting up for the Jayhawks and operating in the Air Raid offense should be enough to get an at times disinterested fan base excited about what Beaty, Hull and company are doing.
In the meantime, we’ll have to watch from afar and see if even more offers come in for the coveted receiver. One thing is certain: coaches from far more renowned programs will continue to do everything they can to get Jason to back out of his KU commitment.
Below is a timeline of Jason’s college recruitment.
- Nov. 4: Commits to LSU
April 9: Offer from Mississippi State
April 29: Offer from Kansas
May 2: Offer from West Virginia
May 4: Offer from Georgia
May 5: Offer from Nicholls State
May 6: Offer from Florida
May 11: Offers from Arkansas and Ole Miss
May 13: Offer from Jackson State
May 14: Offer from Delta State
May 17: Offer from Alabama
June 24: Offer from Miami (Fla.)
- July 9: De-commits from LSU — as does Landry-Walker teammate Corione Harris
July 13: Offer from Tennessee
Dec. 12: Offers from Auburn, Arkansas State and Memphis
Jan. 2: Offer from Texas A&M
Jan. 12: Offer from Florida State
Jan. 17: Offer from Oklahoma
Jan. 18: Offer from Iowa State
Jan. 21: Offer from Indiana
- Feb. 4: Commits to Kansas — as does Landry-Walker teammate Harris
Feb. 9: Offers from TCU and Louisiana-Lafayette
Feb. 21: Offer from Tulane
April 24: Offers from Arizona and Missouri