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What caught my eye at Day 1 of KU football's fall camp

KU coach Charlie Weis (right, in gray sweatshirt) watches the D-Line go through drills during the initial fall practice of the 2013 season on Thursday.

KU coach Charlie Weis (right, in gray sweatshirt) watches the D-Line go through drills during the initial fall practice of the 2013 season on Thursday. by Matt Tait

Seeing how today marked the official beginning of the 2013, I figured I better make my first “What Caught My Eye” blog of the season one that's dedicated to beginners.

We'll have plenty of time to get into some more position-specific stuff and talk about the Jayhawks you already know about, but here's a quick first-look at a few of the newcomers, guys we got to see in a KU uniform for the first time today.

Remember, media members are not allowed to attend the entire practice, just the first 20-30 minutes, so what we see is somewhat limited. But instead of just mailing it in and pretending like it's all the same, I'll spend the month looking for the little things that stand out — at least to me — and I'll try to interpret them and analyze them as best I can.

Here goes.

• First, it's worth pointing out that there was a ton of energy all over the field today. That's to be expected from a first practice — I don't care if it's the first day of middle school football or the first day of NFL training camp — but it's still nice to see, considering that the last time we were invited to practice during the season, we saw a team that always worked hard but lost its bounce week after week, loss after loss. The energy did not just come from the players today, though. Tons of juice from everyone including coaches, managers and anybody else associated with the program.

• As you might have guessed, my first glances went toward defensive tackle Marquel Combs. I wanted to see how he worked, how he moved and how he carried himself. I'd give him high marks in all three areas and the best part was, he looked like he was having fun the entire time. Combs has a chance to impact this team in a bigger way than just about anybody this season and it was good to see him out there in his element.

• On the offensive line, Zach Fondal (pronounced Fawn-doll, I've been told) looks like he could jump out there right now. Great size, good feet, fluid movement. There's no doubt that he has some work to do, both in getting in better shape and in learning how to play D-I football, but the framework appears to be there. Fondal opens camp as the second-string left tackle and he'll work at both left and right tackle throughout camp to give the Jayhawks better depth at both spots.

I know I said this was about beginners today, but this would be a good time to toss in my impressions of left tackle Aslam Sterling. In a word, I'd say, 'Wow.' Not only does he look to be in much, much, much better shape than the guy who started for the Jayhawks last season, he moves like a running back. The coaches have been singing the praises of his transformation for weeks now and after seeing it with my own two eyes I can plainly say that they're not making too much of it. He's a new man. And he looks like he has a chance to be a force.

The new-and-improved Aslam Sterling at Day 1 of KU football fall camp.

The new-and-improved Aslam Sterling at Day 1 of KU football fall camp. by Matt Tait

• Another guy who jumped out at me was linebacker Samson Faifili, who opens camp as a back-up to Jake Love at the Will linebacker spot. Know this about Faifili: If Love holds him off, he'll have earned it and it'll make me think even more of Love than I already do. Faifili is non-stop energy who likes to bounce around the field, talk constantly and elevate the energy level whenever possible. He's easy to spot because he's got that Troy Palamalu hair sticking out of the back of his helmet. Before too long, I'm guessing you'll notice the guy (No. 51) for something other than his hair.

• Just because we can, let's throw Jake Heaps into the “new” grouping. After all, he is new as a starter on this squad. I've seen him plenty of times now, both in practice and in game-type settings, but I still walk away impressed every time. The ball just zips off his hand. We talked with him a little earlier today and he said he wasn't going to change anything about how he does things now that camp has started. The only change you might see is a louder, more energized, more excited guy in the No. 9 jersey. He's been waiting a long time for a chance to get back out there.

• Here's another one that's in that quasi-new category. Remember former defensive lineman Max Onyegbule? He's back with the program in a coaching role and, from the looks of things today, he'll help a lot. He's young enough to relate to these guys and spent most of the stretching portion of the practice bouncing in the faces of his D-Linemen. Any guesses on the guy who got the most attention from Max? Yep. Combs.

New KU assistant Max Onyegbule tries to hype up KU defensive lineman Marquel Combs during stretching at the first practice of the 2013 fall camp Thursday.

New KU assistant Max Onyegbule tries to hype up KU defensive lineman Marquel Combs during stretching at the first practice of the 2013 fall camp Thursday. by Matt Tait

• Finally, one quirky thing I thought was funny came when the Coach Weis song of the day came on. Yes, they're still doing it with the second song of each practice and, yes, it sounds like it's still going to be Bruce Springsteen or Bon Jovi every day. Today's song was Springsteen's “Born to Run” but when it came on, even the players went nuts. I never saw that last year. Like I said, there was a lot of energy out there today and nothing showed that more than a bunch of 18-20 year-olds getting fired up about a song by the Boss. One other musical mention came four or five songs in, when a track by Drake filled the air. It's name? “Started from the Bottom.” It's hook? “Started form the bottom, now we here.” Sounds like a decent way for the KU football program to kick off the 2013 season.

More to come tomorrow. See you then.

Check back with KUsports.com throughout the afternoon for more from practice, as both Jesse Newell and I got some video from the first day.

Comments

Ron Prichard 1 year, 4 months ago

How many more days until the first game? I can't wait!!

Thanks for the info, Matt. A lot of us literally can't get enough of KU football right now. I'm glad to hear Heaps continues to impress. I think much of the season will hinge on how he performs. Everyone else could do great, but if he can't consistently complete passes we will be hard pressed to win this year.

Thanks again!

texashawk10 1 year, 4 months ago

Holy crap, that definitely does not look like Aslam Sterling. Kudos to him and staff for getting him into shape.

clevelandjayhawker 1 year, 4 months ago

Thank you Mr. Tait....I didnt even realize that your articles and the Royals distracted the dog days of summer away all the way until camp.

I have made today all about football articles and the interview with Coach, and its been a fun day. I am pupmed!

May seem odd, but can you take a look at the kickers? I think it is our biggest need by far. Thanks again.

Sdubb02 1 year, 4 months ago

8-5 and an Insight Bowl was far from disappointing compared to what this program had ahead.

Dirk Medema 1 year, 4 months ago

CW was basically immobile from getting trucked on the sideline years ago. I think it was the first half year in Lawrence he got bionic legs and has been on his own workout program. Lots of respect to him for also pushing himself physically.

BayPark 1 year, 4 months ago

I love reading these reports and watching the videos. Thanks, Matt. Keep 'em coming.

Jonathan Allison 1 year, 4 months ago

Sterling is jacked. That dude looks like he could push a train backward. I know that not everyone is built like Sterling, but Lewandowski looks a litte bit soft in the photo gallery, I'd like to hear about how he stacks up against Keon Stowers in practice next week.

Ron Prichard 1 year, 4 months ago

At the same time, Christian Matthews looks ripped! Maybe we should give him more credit for being listed as first string instead of just assuming it's because everyone else must suck.

HAWKS1 1 year, 4 months ago

By the looks of some of these returning players, Coach Holsopple may be the single most important ingredient to the success of this year's football team. The players appear to be in much better physical/strength condition and it sounds like cardio condition too. Come on boys, let's turn some heads in this league! Exciting times again for Jayhawk Football! RCJH

Randy Bombardier 1 year, 4 months ago

Heck yeah. Football is won in the trenches. If the other guy is stronger or has more endurance you are toast. Dawson wasn't it with MM was supposed to be very good. Gill's guy, not so good. And we all hear about Huddy for roundball. I think Holsopple's role is foundational. You have to have a strong one and build on that.

Greg Ledom 1 year, 4 months ago

My only issue is that Dawson was fantastic. One of Gill's more stupid plays was to get rid if him, and who snatched him up but one of the best coaches in the game two hours west of Lawrence where he contnues to work magic. That said, I think Holsopple is every bit as good.

Brad Farha 1 year, 4 months ago

Yep. The very fact that Snyder snatched up Dawson immediately is further proof of how good he was for us.

tulhawk 1 year, 4 months ago

Thanks for a great start to your "What caught my eye..." series this year. I can't wait until tomorrow, and the first game can't get here soon enough!

jaygibbs 1 year, 4 months ago

Mr. Tait, despite some of your hype, even you might agree that last season's team was pretty forgettable by the third or fourth week. So, to acquaint some of us with this year's group, and old and new names, could you please inject such adjectives as "freshman," "sophomore," "junior" or "senior, or "juco transfer," or "returning letterman?" To especially write a "depth chart" story without those phrases seems to me -- how do you sports writers say? -- a rookie mistake.

Dirk Medema 1 year, 4 months ago

If you haven't followed the team enough to know who the players are, then do your own research and click on the roster or depth chart link so you can catch up to the rest of the team. Stop being a slacker.

Greg Ledom 1 year, 4 months ago

I would also suggest that last years team was NOT forgettable after the third/fourth week. The record (as pure numbers) was, but this team never stopped improving and never gave up. That was memorable.

jaygibbs 1 year, 4 months ago

Mr. Tait, despite some of your hype, even you might agree that last season's team was pretty forgettable by the third or fourth week. So, to acquaint some of us with this year's group, with old and new names, could you please inject such adjectives into your copy as "freshman," "sophomore," "junior" or "senior, or "juco transfer," or "returning letterman?" To especially write a "depth chart" story without those phrases seems to me -- how do you sports writers say? -- a rookie mistake.Thanks.

milehighhawk 1 year, 4 months ago

Two identical posts?

Seems to me as though it were--how do you say--a rookie mistake?

Thanks.

bad_dog 1 year, 4 months ago

Well, he did say "Thanks" the second time...

Greg Ledom 1 year, 4 months ago

The second time was as forgettable as the first........

Dan Pawlowski 1 year, 4 months ago

I don't think Mr. Tait needs defending but I will do it anyway. If you have followed Matt Tait at all you would know that he writes with a style much different than a boilerplate sports wonk. He is a writer and as such his voice is unique and all his own. I am not sure why you think this is a "depth chart" article. He said this article was focusing on the newcomers "guys we got to see in a KU uniform for the first time today." A first time observation of 20-30 minutes would not yield enough information for even a surmise. Any speculation on their position in the depth chart would be a WAG without any validity. He did mention some of the returning players standings going in to camp but with those guys there is more information to go on. Matt Tait is far from being a rookie. His writing goes to a level that one would expect when covering the home team. He gives us a much more in depth look at individual players and that is what we like about him. As a reader you made the "rookie mistake" of expecting to read the standard formulaic dronings of many sports "reporters". But Matt Tait is a writer who covers sports and does it well. He brings a unique voice and gives us Jayhawk fans information we would be hard pressed to find elsewhere.

Matt Tait 1 year, 4 months ago

Not only do I appreciate the kind words but I also dig that you're screen name includes the town I was born in. Two gold stars for you, my friend. But, seriously, thanks for the comments.

Brad Farha 1 year, 4 months ago

Matt -- you are a rock star. If you won't run for President, at least form a heavy metal band.

Dan Pawlowski 1 year, 4 months ago

Your welcome. I've been living in Boulder for 13 years. Love it.

Andy Tweedy 1 year, 4 months ago

I'm pretty pragmatic, so they'll have to prove it to me. But one thing Matt said that is definitely true is that if Combs pans out, he will make a HUGE difference. James McClinton type difference!

SEsco10 1 year, 4 months ago

Max is back!!!!- he was one of my favorite players!

Randy Bombardier 1 year, 4 months ago

It seems to me that bringing in all this JUCO talent has infused the team with a different mindset. The thing about freshmen coming in is that they all take their cue from the upperclassmen. If the juniors and seniors are down emotionally they will be too. The JUCO guys have been winners and are not intimidated by the upperclassmen who have been there. I think the team attitude has just gotten better, expectations higher and of course the competition more fierce. Some people here on this site said they didn't like Weiss going JUCO. I am glad he did not do it piecemeal but in a big way to bring about this transformation. I am getting more optimistic by the day.

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