The Les Miles brand grew to the height of its powers in Louisiana.
It’s where Miles coached the football team at the state’s flagship university, LSU, from 2005 to 2016. And it’s a place that he continued to call home for the past two years, during his hiatus from the sidelines.
His accomplishments there — see: Miles’ 114-34 record in 11-plus seasons at LSU, including two SEC titles and a 2007 national championship — are what made his arrival at Kansas this week so buzzworthy on the national college football landscape.
The hope among the suddenly energized KU football fan base is that the coach’s ties to the state affectionally referred to as “The Boot” will reinforce a recruiting pipeline from Louisiana that the program already has in place.
The Jayhawks’ current roster includes nine players from Louisiana: freshman running back Pooka Williams Jr., junior receiver Daylon Charlot, freshman cornerback Corione Harris, junior safety Mike Lee, redshirt freshman receiver Takulve Williams, sophomore safety Ricky Thomas, freshman running back Ryan Malbrough, redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Malik Clark and junior long snapper Logan Klusman.
Most of them relocated to Lawrence because of the connection they felt with KU’s third-year running backs coach, Tony Hull, a New Orleans native with immeasurable recruiting connections down south, in The Pelican State.
Since signing his five-year contract with KU, Miles has appeared open to the idea of retaining members of David Beaty’s current staff.
“When I took the job at both Oklahoma State and at LSU, I kept guys because I wanted to work with them and I wanted to see what their conversation would be about their room, the guys that they coached,” Miles said at his introductory press conference. “I wanted to see how the recruiting end was going.”
Miles plans to sit down and “interview” every current assistant, presumably early next week, after KU finishes its season.
Although Miles told the Journal-World he never directly crossed paths with Hull while at LSU, he definitely heard about the head coach at New Orleans’ Warren Easton High, where Hull’s reputation blossomed.
“I know Tony Hull — not necessarily so much him, but I know guys that know him and I did research on him,” Miles told the Journal-World. “He’s a very quality person.”
Hull, also currently KU’s associate head coach, was the lead recruiter for three of the team’s most heralded signings from the past few years: Williams, Harris and Lee.
According to Miles, he didn’t have any prior relationship with those talented Louisiana prospects when he was at LSU.
“No, I think that they got recruited when I was disposed,” Miles said. “But I can tell you that I watched those guys and they're quality men, and the corner, Corione? Yeah, he's, in my opinion, he's going to grow up to be a really good player.”
During the past several months, Miles repeatedly was spotted at high school games in Louisiana.
And Lee, who remains in touch with those he knows back in his home state, thinks KU’s coaching move created some excitement there, as well.
“Coach Miles, he’s caught a lot of Louisiana guys’ attention. And most of them are going to either commit here or they’ll be thinking about committing here just because Coach Les Miles got the head coaching job,” Lee said, speaking generally on the new KU coach’s name recognition in “The Boot.”
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.
Though the program must first survive several more months in the good favor of some of the country’s most talented high school prospects for it to become official, at this still-fluid stage the Kansas football team’s 2018 recruiting class has to be considered a massive success.
And thanks to the tireless efforts of head coach David Beaty and his staff, there’s potential for KU to add even more coveted recruits to their list of commitments.
Predictably, the biggest potential target resides in the home state of the Jayhawks’ associate head coach, Tony Hull. The Louisiana native already has inspired two of Rivals’ top 100 rising seniors in the nation — New Orleans’ Devonta Jason (No. 25) and Corione Harris (No. 70) — to verbally commit to Kansas. Now Hull and the staff aim to add a third.
Though he currently stands as an LSU commit, four-star cornerback Kelvin Joseph tweeted on Monday his intentions to visit three other programs: Alabama, Florida State and Kansas.
A 6-foot, 185-pound corner from Baton Rouge, La., Joseph is ranked 39th in the Class of 2018 by Rivals.
KU received more good news on the recruiting front this week when Josh Walker, a three-star defensive tackle at IMG Academy, in Bradenton, Fla., announced through his Twitter account his top seven college destinations: Arizona, Minnesota, Kansas, Nebraska, North Carolina, Rutgers and Wake Forest.
According to Rivals, Walker also had offers from Michigan State, Cal, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, UCLA and many other Power Five programs.
Obviously, the interest in Kansas from Joseph and Walker doesn’t guarantee anything. But it does indicate the growing approval rating for Beaty, Hull and KU as a program in the cutthroat world of college football recruiting.
Headlined by four-star commits Jason, a 6-3 receiver, and Harris, a 6-1 corner, the Jayhawks’ 2018 recruiting class currently stands at eight players, and ranks 20th in the nation 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
According to the most important numbers — the ones corresponding with wins and losses — 2016 didn’t look too remarkable for the University of Kansas football program, as the Jayhawks won two games and lost 10.
Using only those digits, the season seemed similar to the six before it for KU, during which three head coaches and one interim coach led the team. In a seven-year stretch from 2010 to 2016, Kansas never won more than three games in a season, and finished with an average record of 2-10.
So it’s easy to lump the latest campaign with the rest of the ugly falls that preceded it. However, doing so doesn’t take into account the context of watching David Beaty’s second KU football team far outperform his first in terms of competence and competitiveness. The numbers 2 and 10 don’t factor in the many talented players who improved this past season, positively impacting the product on the field and giving the fan base some signs of real progress
Here is a look at the 10 Jayhawks who made the biggest impact for KU football in 2016 — a year that could end up marking a turning point for a long-struggling program.
No. 10: Running backs coach Tony Hull
For all the work assistant coach Hull put in during practices and with game preparation for the team’s running backs, he also quickly established himself as an important individual in KU’s recruiting strategy during his first year with the program.
A former high school coach in New Orleans, Hull’s ties to the region already have helped Kansas bring in talents such as safety Mike Lee, who became a key defensive starter, and quarterback Tyriek Starks, who took a redshirt season. Hull also served as lead recruiter on Class of 2017 commitments Takulve Williams (two-star receiver) and Travis Jordan (three-star athlete). Plus, his presence has helped the Jayhawks earn consideration from still available touted prospects, such as Brad Stewart, a four-star defensive back.
With Hull in place, Kansas seems in position to target quality recruits in a part of the country where it otherwise might not have been able to get involved.
No. 9: Offensive tackle D’Andre Banks
During his senior season at Kansas, the 6-foot-3, 305-pound offensive lineman played anywhere position coach Zach Yenser needed him. Banks began the year playing left tackle, because Jordan Shelley-Smith was injured and true freshman Hakeem Adeniji wasn’t ready yet. The Killeen, Texas, native even started a game at right guard at Memphis, as KU continued to tweak its O-line combinations.
The final eight games of the year, Banks returned to his rightful spot at right tackle, and down the stretch KU’s O-line became more effective, with the help of the senior leader.
No. 8: Quarterback Carter Stanley
True, the redshirt freshman quarterback only started three games for Kansas this past season, but Stanley’s presence on the field coincided with by far the best stretch of 2016 for the Jayhawks.
Stanley, of course, controlled the offense during the team’s overtime victory over Texas — KU’s lone Big 12 victory. The 6-foot-2, 196-pound QB actually had better individual numbers in KU losses against Iowa State (26-for-38, 171 yards, TD, interception) and at Kansas State (24-for-44, 302 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions).
With Stanley at QB, KU consistently competed, and that couldn’t be said for other stretches of the season.
No. 7: Defensive coordinator Clint Bowen
In 2015, the Kansas defense routinely blew tackles and coverages, contributing mightily to a woeful 0-12 campaign. A year later, Bowen and his assistants turned the Jayhawks’ defense into a strength.
In Big 12 play this past year, KU ranked first in the conference in third-down conversion defense (37.4 percent), second in pass defense (248.0 yards allowed a game), third in red-zone defense (78 percent), and fifth in interceptions (eight), sacks (22) and opponent first downs (24.2 a game).
The work Bowen, linebackers coach Todd Bradford, cornerbacks coach Kenny Perry and D-line coach Michael Slater did with their players set the tone for a season highlighted by headway.
No. 6: Safety Mike Lee
When the true freshman safety graduated early from high school and arrived on campus ready to play a year ahead of schedule, no one expected Lee to transform so quickly into a play-maker.
The 5-foot-11, 176-pound defensive back from New Orleans came off the bench in his first three appearances for Kansas and did not play at all in Week 2. But Lee’s hard hits became one of the consistent bright spots for Kansas, beginning with the team’s Big 12 opener at Texas Tech.
From that point on, while at times learning on the fly, the first-year safety started the final eight games. Lee, whose overtime interception versus Texas will be remembered for a long time at Memorial Stadium, finished second on the team in total tackles (77), while tying KU’s leader in that category, senior safety Fish Smithson, for the most solo tackles (70).
No. 5: Wide receiver Steven Sims Jr.
The Kansas offense often didn’t look pretty this past year, but when it peaked Sims often played a prominent role. The 5-foot-10, 176-pound wide receiver became someone opposing defensive coordinators had to game-plan to stop.
Sims’ breakout sophomore season included four games of 100-plus yards, as he led KU in receptions (72), yardage (859) and touchdowns (seven). His confidence and maturity showed on the field and off, as he worked to become an impact player as an underclassman while operating in a system that used three different starting quarterbacks and ranked eighth in passing (231.9 yards per game) and last in scoring (17.8 points a game) in Big 12 play.
No. 4: Head coach David Beaty
The head coach’s first season doubling as offensive coordinator might not have gone as well as he wanted, but ultimately the notable overall progress within the program happened under his watch, and Beaty deserves credit for the strides made by the players and in recruiting.
Beaty’s undying positivity trickles down throughout the team, and that showed during the final month of the season. Although the Jayhawks struggled much of the year, they finally began playing at a higher level in the final weeks, when players under a lesser leader could have mentally and physically checked out.
Day after day, Beaty found ways to win over players and prospects, building momentum for a 2017 with increased expectations.
No. 3: Safety Fish Smithson
Speaking of positivity, you won’t meet many more upbeat players than Smithson, a defensive captain and outgoing senior. Week after week for the past couple of seasons, the safety had to answer media questions about KU’s shortcomings, and never did he let it impact him negatively.
Smithson’s personality helped his production on the field, too. Even when he made a mistake on one snap, the 5-foot-11, 190-pound safety would come back the next ready to demand more of himself.
As he walks away from the program, the Jayhawks will not only miss his 93 total tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, four interceptions, two forced fumbles and seven pass breakups, but also his leadership and ability to get his teammates in the right spots.
No. 2: Defensive tackle Daniel Wise
When the Kansas defense needed a stop, the man breaking through with a crucial push at the point of attack tended to be Wise, the powerful, 6-foot-3, 285-pound defensive tackle form Lewisville, Texas.
The talkative sophomore had the sills to back up any in-game (or pre-game) chatter he sent in the direction of the opposition, thanks to an offseason filled with work toward vastly improving his strength and technique. Playing a position where it can be difficult to accumulate much statistical proof of one’s worth, Wise finished seventh on the team in total tackles, with 38, while making 10 tackles for loss and three sacks, and even blocking two extra points.
Wise’s presence made it easier for his teammates around him to do their jobs, too, as offenses game-planned to limit how the tackle could impact the line of scrimmage.
No. 1: Defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr.
In his sophomore season at KU, Armstrong transformed into one of the most feared defensive ends around, easily making him a consensus All-Big 12 first-teamer.
Fittingly, the 6-foot-4, 246-pound lineman from Houston’s most complete performance came in the Jayhawks’ victory over Texas — the program’s beacon of better things to come. Armstrong not only made 11 total tackles, but aded two sacks, three tackles for loss, while both forcing and recovering a fumble.
Armstrong’s 20 tackles for loss on the season made him the Big 12’s leader in that category, and he finished second in sacks (10) to Kansas State senior — and fellow all-league D-lineman — Jordan Willis (11.5).
If Kansas, under Beaty, can start climbing out of the ditch it has lived in since Mark Mangino left, Armstrong is the type of star player the coach needs to make it happen.
This is a strange new world for Kansas football.
Former Alabama players are transferring to play for the Jayhawks. Like THE Alabama. Not South Alabama. Not Alabama-Birmingham. The Alabama with Nick Saban and all those national championships.
Charlot already has participated in preseason practices at KU and Baldwin is expected to do so soon. While neither Alabama transfer will be able to help Kansas win games until the 2017 season, they join junior receiver LaQuvionte Gonzalez (Texas A&M), junior running back Denzell Evans (Arkansas) and senior linebacker Marcquis Roberts (South Carolina) as former players from the mighty SEC who have relocated to KU.
So what are we to make of this? Do we need to pay attention to every single SEC player who decides to move on?
No. But it’s at least an intriguing trend and another reminder that second-year coach David Beaty and his staff are doing the right things in recruiting.
Which brings us to the case of former LSU receiver Tyron Johnson. On Thursday, Johnson announced on Twitter he’s transferring from LSU. What does this have to do with Kansas? Funny you should ask.
Johnson, a sophomore who had nine receptions, 150 yards and two touchdowns for the Tigers as a freshman, was a five-star receiver at Warren Easton High in New Orleans. If that school sounds familiar to you, it’s because first-year KU running backs coach Tony Hull used to coach there.
So a 6-foot-1 receiver ranked 11th nationally in the Class of 2015 who received scholarship offers from LSU, Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Oregon and others is available.
I wonder if Kansas would have any interest in that kind of talented player?
Obviously this doesn’t guarantee anything for KU. Johnson seems to be the type of athlete who could choose to go just about anywhere in the country at this point, even if things didn’t work out for him at LSU.
But given Johnson’s connection with Hull and the way recruits seem to believe in Beaty and his staff, it’s definitely a plot worth watching.