Do your best to hide your shock after reading this, but former Kansas University quarterback Jake Heaps is getting another shot at the NFL.
Earlier this week, Heaps revealed that he had signed a free agent contract with the Seattle Seahawks — his hometown team — and will attend minicamps and attempt to make the Seahawks’ roster or practice squad this offseason and preseason.
It’s a long shot, sure, but it is a shot and I’m well aware that many people — mostly likely many of you reading this — never believed that Heaps would do much after leaving Kansas following his junior season.
In reality, he didn’t, but you have to give the guy credit for continuing to chase his dream and play the game he loves.
After leaving KU, following one season as the Jayhawks' starter — as it goes around here lately, he was benched for the final three games of 2013 in favor of Montell Cozart — Heaps played his senior season at Miami, Florida, where he appeared in four games and completed just 6 of 12 passes for 51 yards while serving as the back-up to freshman Brad Kaaya.
That reality continued a trend for Heaps, who saw his production dip every season after his freshman year at BYU, where the former five-star QB began his promising career by setting several BYU freshman passing records.
That 2010 season, in which Heaps threw for 2,300+ yards and 15 touchdowns went down as easily the best of his college career. During his lone season at KU, Heaps threw for 1,410 yards with 8 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while completing just 49 percent of his passes.
Sure, Heaps’ ability was some of the problem, but the bigger issue, at least the way I always saw it, was KU’s inability to protect him and surround him with quality playmakers who could catch the football.
That’s not to put all of the blame for that poor offensive season on Heaps’ supporting cast. It definitely was a shared effort and both parties played a big role in the Jayhawks watching their struggles continue.
But I always thought both Heaps and Dayne Crist got a little too much blame for the KU offense's inability to produce. So it goes with the quarterback position.
Despite not playing much at Miami, Heaps received his first crack at pro football with the New York Jets. He made a couple of cuts, appeared in a preseason game or two and almost made the team. The reason? The guy can throw the football when the offensive line gives him time to do just that. He’s got a live arm and understands offenses very well. He’s just not that great at improvising on the fly and getting out of trouble, which makes Seattle’s decision to add him a head scratcher at the very least. Heaps’ skills in no way remind me of Seattle starter Russell Wilson, unless you’re talking about how both are quality young men with a serious competitive drive and passion for the game of football.
Regardless, it’s cool to see Heaps get another shot just the same as it was to see Crist get his crack at the NFL with the Baltimore Ravens after his rough one-year run at Kansas.
Both are great dudes who did all they could to help Kansas and truly committed to the cause while they were Jayhawks. Both also made some lifelong friends at KU and have nothing but good things to say about their experience here, even with the record and the stats not being what either of them hoped.
That’s the sign of quality individuals and that, along with his rocket right arm, probably has as much to do as anything with Heaps getting this second chance.
Best of luck to him and what a cool opportunity to try out for the team you grew up rooting for.
Another NFL Draft has come and gone and, not so surprisingly, no Jayhawks were selected in this year’s seven-round draft.
That’s a far cry from a year ago, when three former Jayhawks — Ben Heeney, JaCorey Shepherd and Dexter McDonald — were drafted in the seven rounds.
As is the case just about every year, a handful of former Jayhawks who finished their college careers in 2015 were signed as undrafted free agents following the draft, so there is the possibility that the number of Jayhawks in the NFL could go up by the time August rolls around.
But going the free-agent route makes all of those guys longshots to stick so the better way to examine this year’s draft is through the lens of what the teams with Jayhawks did that might impact the former KU players already in the NFL.
The good news on that front is the answer, in just about every case, is not much.
Here’s a quick look.
Denver Broncos — The Broncos did pick up a pair of defensive backs in this year’s draft, but both were safeties and neither will threaten the status of starting cornerbacks Chris Harris and Aqib Talib. Let’s face it; even if the Broncos had drafted a corner, even that would not have threatened Harris and Talib, the former KU teammates who have become two of the top corners in the league and, in many eyes, the top cornerback duo in the NFL.
New Orleans Saints — Former KU running back Toben Opurum has spent the past couple of seasons with the Saints, primarily on their practice squad and he appears to be doing enough in that role to keep his bosses happy. The Saints did add a running back in the draft but not until the final round.
Oakland Raiders — The Raiders added two defensive ends and an outside linebacker, but none of those players should impact Heeney, who had a stellar rookie season playing inside and in the heart of the Oakland defense. The talk out of Oakland both immediately after the 2015 season and in the offseason sure made it sound a lot like the Raiders were thrilled with what they had in Heeney and that his role would only increase from here on out. This draft definitely indicates that. The Raiders also stayed away from the cornerback position, good news for Dexter McDonald.
Philadelphia Eagles — I’ve heard nothing but good things about JaCorey Shepherd’s recovery from a torn ACL last preseason as well as the Eagles’ feelings on him as a big part of their future. The Eagles’ draft certainly would lend support to that claim. Phily did add a pair of DBs in the 6th and 7th rounds and one of them, Blake Countess of Auburn, seems to have some steal-type potential. But even at that, Countess seems more like a true cover corner and the Eagles were looking at Shepherd as more of a nickel back. All in all, in could have been worse for Shepherd and he has to be feeling good that the franchise did not feel as if it needed to use a high pick on a player in the secondary.
Pittsburgh Steelers — Steven Johnson signed with the Steelers this offseason mostly because of the opportunity to not only make the roster but also impact the team. The Steelers added two linebackers in the draft — a sixth-round pick from Washington and a seventh-rounder from Temple — and it’s entirely likely that Johnson, who has spent time with the Broncos and Tennessee Titans after landing in the league as an undrafted free agent, will have to compete with those two players for a possible spot on the 53-man roster. Competing and being in that underdog role is nothing new for Johnson, so don’t expect him to shy away from the challenge. When I caught up with him at this year’s spring game, he seemed ecstatic about the opportunity in Pittsburgh and no doubt will be ready for the battle.
San Diego Chargers — No safeties in the draft for the Chargers is excellent news for former KU standout Darrell Stuckey, who not only has entrenched himself as a key part of the Chargers’ special teams — he earned a Pro Bowl nod for that role two years ago — but also may be in line for more time in the secondary now that stud Eric Weddle, who mentored Stuckey, is no longer with the team.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers — The Bucs added two cornerbacks but no safeties, which should inspire former Jayhawk Bradley McDougald to release a sigh of relief. McDougald has been rock solid for Tampa during his years with the franchise and continues to improve each season. He’s still young but now trending toward veteran status and seems to be a big part of their defense.
There are, of course, a handful of other former Jayhawks still trying to hang around with this team or that team, but as for the players who have carved out key roles in pro football, this draft did not seem to hurt any of them.
One quick note about Tanner Hawkinson, who was drafted by Cincinnati and then spent time in Phily before getting picked up by Jacksonville... I saw Hawkinson before this year’s spring game, as well, and he said he was not completely sure what his future held. There’s no doubt that he could still make a roster, but his time in the NFL might have come to an end and he might have been a victim of not catching on in quite the right situation. We’ll keep an eye on it and see what he ends up doing.
For the past couple of years a lot of the talk surrounding Kansas quarterback Montell Cozart focused on what other position Cozart could play as much as it did on his qualities as a quarterback.
And given the Bishop Miege graduate’s elite-level athleticism, that type of chatter made perfect sense.
However, as things stood entering the 2016 season — spring football wrapped up last week — I was one of the rare people who still believed that Cozart, incredible athlete or not, actually served this team best as a quarterback.
After all, even though freshman quarterback Ryan Willis showed a ton of potential last season and appears to be poised for big things in the future, he missed most of the spring with an injured wrist and the rest of the position behind him is wildly inexperienced. Therefore, Cozart, even in a back-up type role, can still bring something of value to the roster as a passer. Besides, if he were to move to wide receiver, he’d be plugging himself into a deep and talented position and competing for playing time with teammates who have been running routes and catching passes their entire lives.
Those were my thoughts before Wednesday.
But now, in the wake of the news that Cozart, along with fellow KU quarterback Deondre Ford, had been granted a hardship waiver that came with an extra year of eligibility, my mind is starting to go to that place that so many other minds already have been.
Should Montell Cozart switch positions?
Cozart himself was asked this question earlier this spring and, as much as the young man fancies himself a quarterback, he proved that he truly is a team player by saying he inquired about switching positions if that was what the coaches thought was best for the team. It wasn’t then. But it might be now. And that extra year of eligibility has a lot to do with it.
See, with just one year left, it would be tough for Cozart to fully make the jump from QB to wide receiver or DB or wherever else they thought he might be able to help. After all, even former Jayhawk JaCorey Shepherd, who went on to become a sixth-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Eagles, needed a full year and then some to make the transition from wide receiver to cornerback. And that switch is a much easier transition than going from quarterback to anywhere.
So that’s what is so intriguing about that extra year that Cozart now has at his disposal. If they make the move now, he could spend the summer, preseason camp and all of the 2016 season easing into the transition and then be ready to truly make some noise at his new position heading into next spring.
With young QBs Carter Stanley (red-shirt freshman) and Tyriek Starks (incoming freshman) in place and ready for action — along with Ford and Keaton Perry on the roster for QB insurance — the Jayhawks have the bodies behind Willis to give Cozart a shot somewhere else. Besides, it's not like he couldn't move back if something happened to Willis or the need popped up.
That’s not to say Cozart could not move at a faster pace and contribute in a different role as soon as the 2016 season, but the extra year takes some of the pressure off and gives him time.
The only thing left to do now is to figure out the best spot to move him and then pull the trigger.
Having said all of that, don’t count Cozart out of the QB race just yet. Willis did next to no throwing this spring because of that wrist injury and Cozart has never been anything but supremely confident in his skills.
Like it or not, there exists the real possibility that Cozart could be lined up under center for the first offensive snap of the season just as he was in each of the past two seasons.
The good news, though, is this: If he’s not, it now looks as if there’s time to find him somewhere else to contribute.
Tuesday afternoon’s two-hour practice, which came three days after the annual spring game, represented our final chance to see the 2016 Kansas University football team until preseason camp.
And, at least through these eyes, the 14th session of spring ball offered a much better look at this group of Jayhawks, mostly because we had more time and did not have to worry about trying to keep up with that strange scoring system that decided the spring game.
The biggest difference between Saturday and Tuesday was the fact that the Jayhawks were wearing shorts, shoulder pads and helmets on Tuesday instead of full pads and it sounds like that’ll be the case again Thursday, when the Jayhawks close out their spring schedule.
From there, they’ll focus on finishing school, getting through finals and then jumping into the always-grueling summer session, which will be run by the players themselves and strength coach Je’Ney Jackson and his staff.
With that in mind, here’s a quick look back at a few things that caught my eye on Tuesday, both the good and the bad...
• As I wrote in a short article after practice, sophomore QB Ryan Willis was throwing — albeit with a Nerf football — during the early portions of practice and, from the looks of things, the Jayhawks can’t get him back soon enough. Maybe it was just a bad day, but all four of KU’s other quarterbacks showed accuracy issues and failed to consistently put the ball where it needed to be in team drills, on everything from short throws to the flat to deep shots down the field. Willis is not perfect, but he’s got a great arm and he just might believe he is.
• One thing that really jumped out during the entire two-hour session was how much KU’s coaches emphasized good footwork. Sure, fundamentals are stressed every day. And let’s face it; when you’re in the position that KU football is in, you sure better be focusing hardcore on fundamentals. But the specific nature of how much they drilled footwork was interesting to me.
• You know those tomahawk and buckeye stickers that Florida State and Ohio State players (and several other teams with their stickers) put on their helmets when players reach certain goals? It looks as if the Jayhawks are joining the club? I don’t know yet if this is just a practice thing, just a spring thing or something more permanent. But I do know that it’s just a reward for KU’s defensive players right now and that could be the result of the defense getting the better of the offense on a pretty consistent basis throughout the spring. Either way, the tiny Jayhawk stickers look pretty cool.
• Minor detail here, but it definitely stood out: DC Clint Bowen was not at practice because, as Beaty said, he was "as sick as a dog." You know he'd have to be to stay away from one of 15 spring practices that are so valuable to the team. That said, the defense seemed to move fine and work with a business-as-usual attitude and effort without their leader their. Good sign.
• Now for some individual notes.... I’m telling you what, man. This walk-on freshman receiver named Keegan Brewer can really play. He’s physical enough to play right now, runs great routes, has good hands and just oozes confidence. I don’t think there’s any doubt that we’ll see him playing plenty of snaps this fall and during the next four years. And he looks like a pretty dynamic player with great drive and work ethic.
• Return man and former Wichita State sprinter Ryan Schadler was back working with the running backs on Tuesday. Because of a minor injury Schadler did not get any carries (or snaps) during last weekend’s spring game, but him working with the RBs certainly is no surprise. It’s a thin position and Schadler has some skills, so don’t be surprised if that role sticks. One other quick note here: The thin and inexperienced nature of the position should provide a good opportunity for incoming freshman Khalil Herbert to get some carries right away, provided he reports in good shape and picks up the offense quickly.
• I love the look of Fish Smithson and Tyron Miller at safety. Both guys look like natural leaders and bring confidence to the KU secondary. Miller looks about the same, physically, but he appears to be so much more comfortable at his position of choice.
• Remember Chase Harrell? The big, athletic wide receiver who graduated high school early last year and came to KU in time for spring practice? There was a lot of hype around him early on because of that (which might have been unfair) but Harrell went on to red-shirt the 2015 season. I haven’t heard or seen much from him this spring and I can’t help but wonder if he’ll be one of those late bloomers, especially when you consider how many talented receivers are already taking snaps ahead of him. This group of wideouts might not wow the folks at Alabama, but I think there are at least three or four receivers on this team that could play at just about any school in the country. That’s what makes finding the right QB all the more important.
• At the top of that list — though he’s not all that young — is transfer wideout LaQuvionte Gonzalez. You all saw what “Quiv” can do during the spring game, but watching him school the young DBs in KU’s secondary with his quickness and route-running savvy is good entertainment.
• Red-shirt freshman Jace Sternberger is a horse. He came in with good size and appears to have gotten much bigger but, and here’s the important part, he does not seem to have lost his athleticism and speed. I think this guy is going to have a big and very versatile role in KU’s offense this season and beyond. He really seems to be a coach’s dream, too — always attentive, always ready, locked in from start to finish.
• Curious about the first-string offensive line? Well, this was the way it looked during the spring game and it stayed consistent during Tuesday’s practice. From left to right: LT Clyde McCaulley, LG Jayson Rhodes, C Joe Gibson, RG Jacob Bragg, RT De’Andre Banks. It’s hard to know whether that’s what it will be this fall or not, especially when you consider last year’s left tackle (Jordan Shelley-Smith) is currently nursing an injury. But that’s the way it looks right now. Having said that, I was surprised to see how many little details the coaches still had to remind these guys about during Tuesday’s practice. I don’t know if this group has worked together most of the spring or not, and that could’ve been part of the problem. But for all of the good things we’ve heard about how far this group has come in the weight room and conditioning, it seems there’s still more than a little work to do on the field.
• One of the strangest things I saw at Tuesday’s practice came in the final 15 or 20 minutes, when it was offense against offense and defense against defense. What I mean by that is this: Wideouts Shakiem Barbel and Steven Sims alternated between receiver and defensive back. Ryan Schadler played some safety. Offensive lineman Will Smith played some linebacker. Weird, huh? Now, it’s important to note that none of these offensive players “playing defense” of the defensive guys posing as point-producers on the other side of the field actually were running things. It seemed to me as if going offense vs. offense and defense vs. defense was merely a way to keep more players engaged and learning, instead of having the offense go against the defense and putting half of the team on the bench or sideline. Can’t hurt, right?
Friends and teammates of former Kansas University running back Brandon Bourbon (2010-14) have become concerned about Bourbon’s safety after attempts to reach his phone for the past two-plus days have been unsuccessful.
Monday afternoon, a missing persons report was filed with the Missouri State Highway Patrol that indicated Bourbon had not been heard from since 7:30 p.m. on April 2.
The former four-star prospect from Potosi, Mo., who came to Kansas after initially committing to Stanford, suffered through an injury-plagued five-year run at KU and finished his career at Washburn University in Topeka.
During a mid-February phone interview with the Journal-World, Bourbon sounded like his usual full-of-life self and expressed excitement about plans to start up a training business for young athletes in and around his hometown, similar to the one former KU running back Jake Sharp has started in Salina.
Several friends, family members and former teammates took to social media on Monday to help locate Bourbon.
Oakland Raiders linebacker Ben Heeney sent out a handful of Tweets. Former KU wide receiver Josh Ford posted a message on Facebook that was shared by dozens of former Jayhawks. And Bourbon’s mother, Janet, posted the following on her personal Facebook account:
“Looking for my son Brandon K. Bourbon. He's not been heard from by anyone who knows him since Saturday evening. There is some incorrect information on Facebook that he was active a few hours ago. That (he) was on his computer. Please keep an eye out for him!”
According to a Tuesday update from The Associated Press, Washington County Sheriff's Capt. Zach Jacobsen said that Bourbon's family last saw him Saturday evening in the Potosi area, where his family lives. He says Bourbon's car, a silver minivan, is also missing, and that Bourbon's phone is off.
Jacobsen also said, since leaving college, Bourbon had been living in the Potosi area. He said authorities don't suspect foul play but are concerned because it's out of character for Bourbon to leave without contacting his family.
Anyone with information on Bourbon is asked to contact the Washington County Sheriff’s Office at 573-438-5478.
There are two ways to look at the recent departure of three of Kansas University football assistant coaches who spent just one year in Lawrence working for head coach David Beaty.
The first is the glass-half-full approach and it says: "It sure is a bummer to lose these coaches after just one season, but the fact that they’re leaving says an awful lot about Beaty’s ability to put together a staff since, even after going 0-12, other coaches wanted to add KU’s coaches to their staffs.”
The second is the glass-half-empty approach and it says: “What in the heck is going on over there and why is KU losing this many assistants after just one season? Is this a sign that the program is a mess and people who come work here realize that and are bailing for better opportunities before things get even uglier?”
Both are valid viewpoints and certainly worth concerns, and I have heard both uttered dozens of times by the KU fans who still care about football at this point.
However, I’m not sure that either one actually answers the question of what’s going on in the KU football complex.
The reality is this: Each one of the three coaches who left KU did so for a better opportunity. All three got raises. One, linebackers coach Kevin Kane, was promoted from position coach to coordinator. The other, running backs coach/recruiting coordinator Reggie Mitchell, was promoted from 0-12 in the Big 12 to 8-5 in the SEC. And the most recent, receivers coach Klint Kubiak, was hired by his dad, who just so happens to coach the defending Super Bowl champions.
A fourth, former special teams coach Gary Hyman, initially stayed with the program after being reassigned but now has taken a job at Indiana State.
Say what you will about how it looks for Beaty to lose all three in a short span. And there’s no denying that, overall, it’s not a great look.
But a closer glance at the circumstances shows that each departure was a no-brainer and neither Beaty nor the current state of the KU program should be considered the sole reason that any of these assistants left.
Beyond that, although it's clear that continuity is so key at all levels of development in the game of football, the Kansas program remains stable in that the head coach (Beaty) and both coordinators (DC Clint Bowen and OC Rob Likens) — as well as both line coaches (Zach Yenser and Calvin Thibodeaux) who need to help KU make up the most ground — are expected to be back with the program for Year 2 of the Beaty era.
It should be noted here, however, that Thibodeaux's name has surfaced in Oklahoma, where Bob Stoops is in search of a new defensive line coach. Multiple sources at KU recently told me they were confident Thibodeaux would remain on Beaty's staff, but heading home to an alma mater of the caliber of OU is an awfully tough thing to turn down, so this is worth tracking.
I know it’s easy for coaches on their way out the door to say flattering things about the place they’re leaving simply because it does them no good to trash the place and also out of a sense of loyalty to the people who just paid their bills. And that’s probably some of what’s going on here.
But in my conversations with all three coaches, as well as others closely tied to the football program, I did not get the sense that this is a case of rats fleeing a sinking ship.
People, both still on board and departing, believe that, in time, Beaty will get things turned around at Kansas. One of the coaches leaving even went as far as to tell me that he almost did not leave, even with the wonderful opportunity sitting in front of him, and said Beaty was the main reason. “The work environment he has created at KU is second-to-none,” the coach said. “Between that and the facilities, it really is a great place to be.”
Time will tell if that holds true. But the most important thing to find out now is if Beaty can do as good of a job replacing these coaches as he did putting together his staff in the first place.
The results of that will determine just how damaging these moves are for Kansas football.
Sunday night was a good night for fans of Kansas University football.
However short the moment might have been, the few hours that made up and followed the Denver Broncos’ 24-10 victory over Carolina in Super Bowl 50 gave KU fans an opportunity to brag on a couple of their own.
Former Jayhawks Chris Harris and Aqib Talib, starting cornerbacks for the Broncos’ dominant defense, played a big role in knocking off the Panthers and delivering the third world championship to Denver.
Sunday’s Denver victory marked the first time since offensive lineman Justin Hartwig won Super Bowl XLIII with the Pittsburgh Steelers that a former Jayhawk stood on top at the end of an NFL season and just the second time ever that a pair of teammates who played their college ball at Kansas won football’s top prize together, joining Don Davis and Rod Jones, who helped St. Louis win Super Bowl XXXVI.
Obviously, Talib and Harris winning a Super Bowl does not erase the misery of the past six KU football seasons. Nor does it automatically make the outlook for the next year or two suddenly sunnier than it once was.
But bragging rights are bragging rights and when you’re a fan base as starved for success and feel-good moments as KU’s, you take ‘em where you can get ‘em, and this was certainly a place where you could get it.
For starters, Harris is as good of an ambassador for KU football as there is on the planet. He’s proud of his time at Kansas, still keeps up with the program regularly — even going as far as to watch and Tweet about most of KU’s games on Saturdays — and every time I’ve talked with him in the past five years has spent a good 5-10 minutes of each conversation drilling me on the ins and outs of the KU program and the Jayhawks’ chances at turning things around. He lives that whole “Once a Jayhawk, always a Jayhawk” thing.
And he deserves every bit of the success and credit he is getting for helping Denver win it all. Mostly, because he created it for himself.
Undrafted out of college, Harris worked his butt off to make the Broncos’ roster as a free agent and made his way up through the ranks by standing out on special teams. There came a point, early on, when his passion, heart and effort spoke so loudly that the coaches had to put him on the field on defense to see what he could do. The only thing that has pulled him off since then is injury.
And now Harris and Talib, who started in KU’s secondary on that Orange Bowl championship team back in 2008, can put a little NFL hardware next to their college accolades. Knowing these guys, you can bet that simply tasting that kind of success is only going to make both guys even more hungry for more in the future.
Most of this you know. I’m aware of that. But one of the things that seems to be missing from the feel-good narrative of the former Jayhawks turned NFL champs is the incredible amount of work both players have put in to get to this point.
Give former Kansas coach Mark Mangino plenty of credit for recruiting both of them. For different reasons, each player was an overlooked or unwanted two-star prospect with few other options and Mangino saw enough in both of them to roll the dice. I know these guys love the man and appreciate everything he did for them and their careers.
But to say Mangino developed them into the players they are today is wildly underselling the commitment to excellence that both players have displayed throughout their post-KU careers.
Talib, the former All-American, possessed such raw talent and incredible ability — not to mention all of the confidence in the world — that he parlayed his stellar KU career into becoming a first-round pick in the NFL Draft and has been highly sought after throughout his pro career, even if his antics on and off the field have given him less than a sterling reputation. Still, put away all of the extra-curricular activities and trash talk and Talib’s talent is undeniable.
For Harris, it’s been a little bit different. Jerked around throughout college, some by Mangino and a lot more by Mangino replacement Turner Gill, Harris had to overcome way more than going undrafted to get to this point. And he’s done it with a huge smile and even bigger chip on his shoulder every step of the way. Not that you’d ever know about the second part. Harris is one of the genuinely nicest players in the game today and his passion for helping people has earned him all kinds of well deserved recognition in Denver and his native Bixby, Oklahoma.
No one but Harris (along with a handful of his closest friends and personal trainers) helped him make the Broncos’ roster that summer in 2011 after the NFL lockout — another obstacle that made Harris’ path to pro success more difficult — and no one but Harris put in the work to become bigger, stronger, faster and flat-out better to the point where he soon would become one of the top-paid and most respected cornerbacks in today’s game.
During my time covering Kansas, Harris is by far the one athlete, in any sport, who blew my mind with the way he improved by leaps and bounds after he left KU.
Was he a fantastic player at Kansas? You bet. But Harris made himself a future Super Bowl champion and top-tier NFL cornerback by putting crazy amounts of work after he left.
Sunday night it paid off and I don’t doubt for a second that Harris was thrilled to bring KU fans along for the ride.
Total signees: 17
High school players: 14
Junior college players: 3
From Texas: 10
From Kansas: 2
From Oklahoma: 2
From Florida, Louisiana, California: 1 each
Defensive backs: 6
Offensive linemen: 4
Wide receivers: 1
Defensive linemen: 3
Running backs: 1
Depending on where you look, this KU football class of 2016 is ranked somewhere between 80-100 nationally.
Now before you throw your papers and spit out your coffee, you should remember that the class only has 17 signees in it and that hurts KU in these rankings. Even adding eight more two-star players would probably help KU jump 20-25 spots, so keep that in mind as you digest the class.
Regardless of where they are and/or would be, I realize that KU’s current standing in the recruiting world is not a lot to brag about. And that only further hammers home the point that, given the state of Kansas football, getting this thing turned around is not going to be about the rankings and star ratings, it's going to be about coaching and development of the athletes KU is able to land.
A couple of months ago, before well over half of this class had even been secured, KU coach David Beaty told me he felt good about the direction they were headed in with recruiting because the players they were in on were Big 12-caliber athletes.
Now, KU didn't get them all and that does not mean that the ones they did get had other Big 12 schools on their lists (some did, some didn't). But I trust that Beaty and this staff know what Big 12 athletes look like and his words, based on that, sounded at least a little encouraging.
Again, though, if these coaches don't develop the athletes they do get and coach effort and maximization of their potential, none of it will matter and KU will continue to occupy the Big 12 basement.
That's why you've got to give them time, though.
With that in mind, here’s a quick breakdown of the 2016 class.
• Houston’s North Shore High linebacker Maciah Long. Long not only had the most big time programs after him, but he also is one of the best athletes in the class. Despite standing 6-foot-2, 240 pounds, the future KU linebacker led North Shore to a state title as the team’s quarterback. That speaks to his athleticism and ability to move and when you add that to his size and fearless nature, you’re looking at a guy who could have a very bright future in the KU program. The odds are good that he’ll get playing time right away and even better that he could be on his way to becoming a three-year starter in the middle of that Kansas defense.
• DB Stephan Robinson — The coaching staff was very excited to get Robinson back in December, mostly because they see his D-I potential on the defensive side of the ball. An accomplished receiver throughout his high school and juco career, Robinson has the raw tools needed to play defensive back and already has some experience on defense. Given KU’s need for talent and depth at corner, Robinson will get a chance to play right away if he can pick up KU’s system and bring maximum effort. His arrival in time for spring football only increases his chances of making a splash.
• It’s probably a coin flip between LB Maciah Long and CB Kyle Mayberry, with WR Evan Fairs right there. Because of the demands of playing linebacker against Big 12 offenses, I’d lean toward Mayberry or Fairs, with Mayberry having the slight edge simply because he plays at a position with far less depth. All three are talented players and I expect each of them to make an immediate impact while also upgrading the talent level at their positions over what KU was playing in 2015.
1. CB Kyle Mayberry – Extremely confident and very mature for his age, Mayberry also has the skills to back it up and should be a fixture at the corner position for years to come.
2. WR Evan Fairs – His frame alone (6-3, 182) will open your eyes and when you see him run, it won’t take you long to visualize him making big plays for the KU offense.
3. LB Maciah Long – With his combination of size, speed and tenacity, it’s going to be hard to keep this guy off the field, especially since he plays a position that already is pretty thin.
4. DB Stephan Robinson – At the very least figures to give KU quality depth at the corner spot. But given that he’s here in time for spring practices, working his way into a starting role is not out of the equation.
5. DT Isi Holani – Juco transfer from Riverside Community College arrived in time for spring practices and steps into a situation where KU needs bodies. The physical and explosive D-tackle is not only likely to play right away, but he also very easily could wind up starting.
1. DE Isaiah Bean – Undersized for now, Bean has the look of a player who, with 25-35 added pounds, could become a beast in a couple of years. He was KU’s answer to losing Lawrence High prospect Amani Bledsoe and even though he’s not physically ready to contribute the way Bledsoe would’ve been, he’s probably a better athlete overall and, like many players in this class, will be driven by the underrated/overlooked card.
2. OL Chris Hughes – The No. 2 rated player in this class, according to 247Sports, Hughes has a great pedigree, comes from a family of big time athletes and already at 6-4, 260, has the kind of frame that could add weight easily without impacting his athleticism. Ranked as the 68th best offensive tackle nationally, Hughes just missed cracking the Texas 100.
3. DB Ian Peterson – The 5-11, 175-pound cornerback ranked as the 152nd best player in Texas might not be ready right away, but his blend of top-end speed and extreme physicality make him a name to stash away in the back of your mind. If given a year to red-shirt and adjust to the college game while working in the weight room to add to his already impressive build, Peterson could emerge as a quality option at safety in the years to come.
• All O.J. jokes aside, Florida running back Khalil “Juice” Herbert has to get the nod here. I’ve also heard to him referred to as “Juicy” but either one has a nice ring to it, especially for a running back who will have the ball in his hands and
• Maciah = Ma-kye-uh
• Isi = Ee-See
• Antione = An-twon
• Khalil = Ka-lil
• Torneden = Tore-Nay-Den
• Dagan Haehn = Day-gun Hawn
• Shola Ayinde = Show-la Eye-In-Day
• I think KU did a fantastic job in the secondary, bringing in a handful of defensive backs who seem to be poised to play right away, with Mayberry and Robinson leading the charge. In terms of the future, KU did a nice job up front on the offensive line, adding three or four quality players who should be given the opportunity to red-shirt and develop, the way offensive linemen are supposed to.
After years of being stacked at the running back position, KU is all of a sudden pretty thin in the backfield. Ke’aun Kinner is back and he performed well when he was healthy in 2015. Behind him, however, is a host of unproven players, including sophomores Taylor Martin and Ryan Schadler, who was used primarily as a kick returner last season. KU added Heritage High tailback Khalil Herbert in the class and he looks like a decent player, who certainly could develop, but KU remains thin at the position and could’ve used another back. The low number of available scholarships likely cost them the opportunity to add another alongside Herbert.
• I’m going with New Orleans quarterback Tyriek Starks, who has good size (6-2, 188), is a great athlete and seems to be pretty underrated, with only Tulane and Georgia Southern going hard after him. KU got in on Starks late — when they were in the area recruiting some players from nearby powerhouse Neville High — but once they saw him, they went after him with the full-court press. David Beaty was one of the first to go down to see him and, just a few days later, Starks picked Kansas. He told me the other day that the system they ran at Warren Easton High in New Orleans was very similar to what KU runs under Beaty and OC Rob Likens and he absolutely looks the part of the type of QB KU is looking for. The funny thing about Starks that makes him fit this category even better was that KU was not even looking for a quarterback in this class, but simply could not pass him up when they found him. The extra benefit here is that, if for some reason Starks does not pan out at QB, he’s got the size and athleticism to be tried at a number of other positions and he said he would be willing to play wherever if it wasn’t working out at quarterback. But he’s a QB first and wants to give it all he’s got there before moving.
• It’s early, and you can bet more are coming, but I’ll go with another QB here, Lake Dallas, Texas, prospect Dagan Haehn. If not for an injury the summer before his senior season, Haehn likely would’ve landed a scholarship offer to a Power 5 program. The injury cost him some exposure, but he was still able to turn in some solid stats during the second half of his senior season. He moves well, has a strong arm and is well versed in the type of offense KU wants to run. If he comes all the way back from that injury without losing speed and athleticism, he becomes a very intriguing prospect for down the road.
I’ll give the KU coaching staff a C+ for this class and mostly because it only includes 17 players. Part of that was this staff’s fault, for counting eight players forward last year, but part of that was because they were trying to make up for the numbers crisis they stepped into. Numbers aside, Beaty and company addressed several needs with the group, added a bunch of versatile athletes with the potential to play multiple positions and also somehow found the room to take a couple of high-upside athletes such as Starks and Lawrence prospect Bryce Torneden, whom I’m absolutely convinced will be on KU’s two-deep depth chart by his red-shirt sophomore season at the latest. The three mid-year transfers all filled serious needs and the class includes a good mix of ready-made players and future projects, many of who should be given the necessary time to red-shirt, develop and contribute down the road in Year 2 or 3.
11:26 a.m. Update:
I didn't want to copy and paste this here because it would've made this blog one that you could scroll down on forever. But I wanted to make sure you all caught my breakdown of the 2016 class that I posted in another blog.
It includes some of the top players to watch, the biggest need addressed, the steal of the class and an overall grade.
So be sure to check out my complete breakdown of the 2016 KU Football recruiting class and stay tuned in to this blog for any breaking news and/or further feedback I get from the players in the class.
KU coach David Beaty will have a press conference at 2 p.m. to talk about the class and we'll have the presser available to watch right here.
From everything I've been told, there are no expected surprises ahead, so I'm gonna grab some lunch and get prepped for the press conference.
9:49 a.m. Update:
Kyle "Money" Mayberry promised me the other day when I talked to him that he had a fresh look lined up for signing day. He just sent me this photo of his signing this morning and I think the bowtie got the job done.
9:33 a.m. Update:
Just took another glance at the updated 247Sports recruiting rankings for 2016. KU is still listed 82nd (a big reason for that is the 17-man class being 8 players shy of most other classes) with Kansas State, in 68th, as the next closest Big 12 team.
You have to go all the way down to Baylor at No. 15 before you bump into a Big 12 program, but there are four in the Top 24 — Baylor at 15, Texas at 17, TCU at 18 and OU at 24.
Some notable programs that KU is actually listed ahead of are: San Diego State (87), Purdue (94), Louisiana Tech (96) and Air Force (108). Not exactly a list to brag about there, which only further hammers home the point that, given the current state of Kansas football, it's not going to be about the rankings and star ratings, it's going to be about coaching and development of the athletes KU is able to land.
A couple of months ago, before well over half of this class had even been secured, Beaty told me he felt good about the direction they were headed in with recruiting because the guys they were in on were Big 12-caliber athletes. Now, they didn't get them all and that does not mean that the ones they did get had other Big 12 schools on their lists (some did, some didn't), but I trust that Beaty and this staff know what Big 12 athletes look like and his words, based on that, sounded at least a little encouraging.
Again, though, if these coaches don't develop these guys and coach effort and maximization of their potential, none of it will matter and KU will continue to occupy the Big 12 basement.
That's why you've got to give them time, though.
Much more to come today...
9:16 a.m. Update:
While this blog recaps all of the scholarship players signing with Kansas in the 2016 class, it's important to remember that KU also has landed a number of impressive walk-ons who, eventually, could play an important role in the program.
The development of a quality walk-on program was one of KU coach David Beaty's first and biggest priorities upon arriving at Kansas and, although he has barely had a full year to get it off the ground, the early returns are good and KU keeps adding to it and trying to entice quality athletes to join the football program via the walk-on route.
For some, the idea behind joining up is that it gives them a chance to keep playing the game they love. Those guys are happy with practice reps, running scout team and doing their part to make the other guys better.
For others (and this is the majority of KU's current walk-ons) the idea behind signing up for the walk-on role is to take advantage of the opportunity to prove yourself, with the hope that what you do during your first year or two in the program will lead to a scholarship offer down the road.
Those walk-on-to-scholarship guys are far from a guarantee, but Beaty already has shown that he is not afraid to reward guys who work hard, especially if he believes they can help the program.
Having said that, the 2016 also includes a few walk-ons who are worth noting and Beaty himself did a nice job of making them feel like a part of the program this morning, as well.
The walk-on thing can be pretty fluid, so it's best to wait until after spring football to come up with an actual list of all of the names added to the roster via walk-ons. But the players listed above are a few future Jayhawks who you can count on to stick it out and possibly contribute down the road.
Still working on that superlatives list about this year's class. Stay tuned...
8:17 a.m. Update:
Just got this photo of new KU offensive lineman Hunter Harris, who was one of the first to sign this morning and then got cleaned up and decked out in his KU blue.
Here's a look at Harris' highlight film...
8:11 a.m. Update:
Offensive lineman Antione Frazier Tweeted out "It's official now," at 7:58 a.m., making it exactly 57 minutes from the time KU opened for business until the time it received its last letter of intent.
This class, regardless of what it does on the field, will always go down as one of the favorites of the KU coaching staff for making what can be one heck of a stressful day an absolute breeze.
I'll have a lot more reaction and will continue to track these guys throughout the morning, so be sure to keep it right here for updates. Then, at 2 p.m. today KU coach David Beaty will host a signing day press conference where he'll get to talk about these cats and answer questions about a light but solid KU football class.
Here's a quick look at some highlights from the last man to hit send, Mr. Frazier...
OL Antione Frazier – 6-5, 250, 2 stars, Hargrave High, Huffman, Texas
Don't forget, the 12 athletes who sent their letters today join the three mid-year transfers (DT DeeIsaac Davis, DT Isi Holani and DB Stephan Robinson) and two former 2015 commitments who were delayed a year (OL Cam Durley and DB Shola Ayinde) to make up a 17-man class for KU football.
More to come, so keep it right here...
8:01 a.m. Update:
For those interested in tracking some of the fun yourself throughout the day, here's a list of 15 of the 17 Twitter handles for the newest Jayhawks in the class of 2016. The only ones I could not find were O-Lineman Chris Hughes and DB Shola Ayinde.
Tyriek Starks — @saucytj9
Ian Peterson – @Dash_Era
Hunter Harris – @bearcats75
Antione Frazier – @antionekfrazier
DeeIsaac Davis – @DeeIsaac99
Isi Holani – @TheIsiHolani
Julian Chandler – @The_RealNumber1
Bryce Torneden – @_nado
Evan Fairs – @_EvoOcho
Kyle Mayberry – @moneymayberry
Maciah Long – @Godss__giftt
Isaiah Bean – @IsaiahBean_8
Khalil Herbert – @JuiceHerbert
Stephan Robinson – @Stephanrob11
Cam Durley – @CamDurley31
Still waiting on official word from Frazier...
7:55 a.m. Update:
Less than an hour after lines officially opened for national letters of intent to be sent in, KU football is almost finished announcing its 2016 class.
That's not to say a couple of surprises could not come up in the coming hours and/or days, but of the guys who were committed, KU has landed just about all of them and it's not even 8:00 a.m.
Regardless of what you think about their ability or the overall strength of this class, that has to be considered a good sign, (a) because these kids were so fired up to sign with Kansas that they wasted no time in doing so, and (b) because so many of these guys fill immediate needs for the Jayhawks.
That does not mean that they're all going to step right in and play like all-Big 12 caliber studs. Most of them are going to need (and get) time to develop. But there are a few guys you can expect to see contribute right away and when all of the letters are officially in, we'll get into that and much more on this, an incredibly smooth national signing day for KU football
Updated commitment list:
RB Khalil "Juice" Herbert
OL Hunter Harris
DB Ian Peterson
OL Chris Hughes
DB Julian Chandler
WR Evan Fairs
CB Kyle Mayberry
LB Maciah Long
DB Bryce Torneden
QB Tyriek Starks
DE Isaiah Bean
The only known commitment not accounted for yet is O-Lineman Antione Frazier and I don't think there's anything to worry about with him.
More to come...
7:47 a.m. Update:
Remember all that energy, passion and enthusiasm second-year KU coach David Beaty is known for? Yeah, it's showing up hardcore today as he announces this class on Twitter. Here's a taste of some of Beaty's best intros...
He's been Tweeting like this for every letter that has come in this morning.
7:44 a.m. Update:
For those of you gunning for a little perspective on all these names we're throwing at you, here's a nice look at how this class stacks up according to the composite rankings from the guys at 247 Sports.
7:39 a.m. Update:
A few more highlight reels of KU's newest commitments while we wait for pictures and instant feedback...
Here's the updated list, which, already, is nearly complete...
RB Khalil "Juice" Herbert
OL Hunter Harris
DB Ian Peterson
OL Chris Hughes
DB Julian Chandler
WR Evan Fairs
CB Kyle Mayberry
LB Maciah Long
DB Bryce Torneden
S Bryce Torneden – 5-10, 185, 2 stars, Free State High, Lawrence, Kansas —
OL Chris Hughes – 6-5, 260, 3 stars, Harker Heights (Texas) High —
DB Julian Chandler – 6-0, 170, 3 stars, Hightower (Texas) High –
7:33 a.m. Update:
Add Kyle "Money" Mayberry to the list of letters that have arrived.
Mayberry, one of the most confident recruits I have ever talked to, is all about KU and wants to do whatever he can to help rebuild this program. He played a huge role in coordinating the bond between this incoming class and figures to get as good of a shot as any of the newcomers at playing right away, given (a) KU's need at the CB position and (b) his advanced skills.
Here's a look at a few highlights from the man they call "Money," a nickname given to him way back in eighth grade because the confidence he carried himself with reminded so many around him of the boxer, Floyd "Money" Mayweather.
That's no small compliment.
Updated commitment list:
RB Khalil "Juice" Herbert
OL Hunter Harris
DB Ian Peterson
OL Chris Hughes
DB Julian Chandler
WR Evan Fairs
CB Kyle Mayberry
LB Maciah Long
7:27 a.m. Update:
The list of letters that have reached Lawrence continues to grow quickly....
RB Khalil "Juice" Herbert
OL Hunter Harris
DB Ian Peterson
OL Chris Hughes
DB Julian Chandler
WR Evan Fairs
Of this group, Fairs might be the one that KU fans should be most excited about. At 6-3, 182 pounds, he's already got the size and skills needed to play on the outside. He told me the other day that he prides himself on being a red zone threat but also is not afraid or unwilling to play inside and make tough catches over the middle.
He lists guys like Dez Bryant, Julio Jones and Calvin Johnson as WRs he likes to try to emulate and said he liked the idea of KU having two coaches for the WR position, returning coach Klint Kubiak and newly hired outside receivers coach Jason Phillips.
“I feel like it's an advantage," Fairs said. "Coach Phillips is the outside guy and it's good because we can work more in detail and get down to the nitty gritty.”
Here's a few highlights of this guy whose name you'll learn very quickly.
7:18 a.m. Update:
Starting to get some confirmations. Here's a list of the letters I know have been sent:
RB Khalil "Juice" Herbert
OL Hunter Harris
DB Ian Peterson
Peterson sent me this photo of his early-morning John Hancock.
And also a few Peterson highlights...
7:07 a.m. Update:
Now that we're in the 7 o'clock hour, the signings should be rolling in fast and furious.
Most are sent digitally these days, which makes the fax machine even more obsolete, but there are still some delays and small glitches that keep these things from being automatic.
That said, we know Herbert's letter has arrived and we're waiting word on the others.
6:53 a.m. Update:
While we wait for Herbert's letter to be confirmed, let's jump ahead a couple of minutes to Maciah Long (pronounced Ma-Kye-Uh) who, at least according to Twitter, seems to be the most jacked up of all to get that letter signed and sent.
Long, a 3-star LB from North Shore High in Houston, who also played quarterback and led his team to a state title, is one of the more confident recruits I can ever remember talking to. He believes he can step in right away and not only contribute but also provide leadership for his new squad.
KU D-Line coach Calvin Thibodeaux played a huge role in landing Long and, just recently, the 6-2, 240-pound athlete said he developed a great bond with new KU linebackers coach Todd Bradford.
"My first take on him was nice guy, nice coach, knows a lot about football," Long said. "He's been in the industry for a long time. It all changed this past weekend and now my take on him is, 'That's my coach,' and I'm ready to work with him. I like his vibe and we spent a lot of time bonding throughout the whole weekend."
Here's a quick look at some of Long's highlights, including a QB clip that shows how good his feet are.
6:46 a.m. Update:
According to 247 Sports' composite recruiting rankings (which has KU's class listed 82nd in the nation), Herbert is a three-star prospect with a score of .7986. He's listed as the 143rd best player at his position and 308th best player in his home state.
For a point of reference, Houston LB Maciah Long, who 247 Sports lists as KU's top prospect in this class, has a score of .8610.
6:36 a.m. Update:
Talked with Herbert the other day and he said he never in a million years would've believed he would wind up in Kansas for college.
"I thought maybe the ACC," the Fort Lauderdale-area prospect said. "But I'm just grateful for the opportunity."
Herbert, who spent a good chunk of his prep career training with former KU standout Tony Sands, said he met Sands after breaking his wrist his sophomore year when his dad sought out a trainer and found Sands. He knew nothing about Sands' playing career or former single-game rushing record and said he was shocked when he saw Sands' name on the list a couple of years ago (after Melvin Gordon and Samaje Perine set the new records) because Sands never had mentioned it.
Asked what his relationship was like with Sands, Herbert said it was simple: He doesn't talk a whole lot, he just keeps me focused on doing what I need to do.
As for how things went when he tolds Sands he was headed to KU: "He was excited," Herbert said. "He told me to go break all his records."
Here's a look at some Herbert highlights....
RB Khalil Herbert – 5-10, 190, 2 stars, Heritage High, Plantation, Florida —
6:06 a.m. Update:
Here's a quick look at RB Khalil Herbert (pronounced Ka-Lil) from his official visit while we await confirmation of his letter being sent to Lawrence.
Original Post, 5:39 a.m.
If everything goes according to plan, Plantation, Florida, running back Khalil Herbert will become the first member of KU’s 2016 football recruiting class to make his commitment official on national signing day.
The reason? Herbert lives in the Eastern time zone and that gives him the one-hour head start on the rest of this KU class that is eager to make things official at the first possible moment.
Having said that, Herbert, the 5-foot-10, 190-pound, two-star running back from the Fort Lauderdale area, will have to make sure his ducks are in a row if he wants the distinction of being the first player to get his letter in today.
That’s because there are a whole bunch of Midwesterners and Texas prospects who are dying to hit send on their signatures.
Eight of the 11 other commitments I spoke with during the past few days told me they planned to send their letters in at 7:01 a.m. In all the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve never heard of so many recruits using the exact time of 7:01 as the answer for when they’d be sending in their letters. Sure, some have been as eager as these athletes and have listed the first possible minute allowed by the NCAA as the time they would send their letter to KU. But many often said, “around 7,” or “first thing in the morning,” or other more general time frames.
The fact that so many guys mentioned 7:01 a.m. makes me think this is going to be a stress-free signing day for the KU coaching staff. These fellas are ready to sign and make their commitments official.
With that in mind, here’s our Class of 2016 recruiting page with the bios of the prospects in the class and links to the back story of how, when and why each athlete committed to KU.
And here are the specifics of the entire class, three of whom signed in December and two more who initially were members of the 2015 class but were delayed and bumped back to the Class of 2016.
You’ll note that there are only 17 names listed here and if you’re up this early and reading this blog, I’m guessing you already know why. But in case you don’t, here’s a quick recap.
Because KU coach David Beaty was in search of as much immediate help as he could find last season, eight players who arrived on campus prior to the start of the 2015 season wound up counting forward to the 2016 class. That trimmed the number of initial counters in the current class from the 25 maximum allowed annually by NCAA rules to 17.
Beaty and company, of course, remain dedicated to being as creative as possible in enticing talent to come to Lawrence via the walk-on route or other arrangements. And, from the sound of things, the walk-on program continues to attract talented athletes.
Because of the number crunch, I’m not expecting too many surprises today, if any. However, having said that, if Beaty were to come across an uncommitted athlete whom he thought could (a) upgrade the talent on the roster at a given position or (b) start for the Jayhawks as soon as 2016, you can bet he’d find a way to get him into the program, most likely the same way he brought those eight other guys to Lawrence last season.
Continuing to count players forward is not exactly the fastest way to dig out of the numbers jam KU football is in, but talent talks.
Without further ado, here’s a look at the class. Now, sit back, get comfortable and keep it right here as we track the letters coming in and the happenings of yet another national signing day.
DB Shola Ayinde – 6-0, 168, 2 stars, George Ranch High, Richmond, Texas – Originally a member of KU's 2015 class, Ayinde did not make it to campus last year and, instead, will add depth to the secondary in 2016. Known for range and speed, Ayinde once had committed to Tulsa but followed former TU assistant coach Calvin Thibodeaux to Kansas.
DE Isaiah Bean – 6-4, 210, 2 stars, Summer Creek High, Houston, Texas – Explosive prospect who has experience on both sides of the ball became KU's top choice at the position after local talent Amani Bledsoe chose Oklahoma. Picked KU over Tulsa and Fresno State.
DB Julian Chandler – 6-0, 170, 3 stars, Hightower (Texas) High – Had committed to Louisiana Tech but de-committed late in the game and picked KU over offers from Nevada, New Mexico and North Texas.
DT DeeIsaac Davis – 6-3, 290, 2 stars, Highland C.C. – A Wichita native, Davis played his first year of college football at Eastern Arizona and recorded 76 tackles before moving on to Highland C.C. and registering 76 tackles and five sacks. Signed with KU in December and is already on campus.
OL Cam Durley – 6-6, 275, 2 stars, Houston Chrisitian High, Houston, Texas – Originally a late addition to the 2015 class, the big, athletic, rangy tackle was delayed a year and is now in KU's 2016 class. Chose KU over McNeese State, San Diego State, TCU and Temple along with interest from Texas Tech.
WR Evan Fairs – 6-3, 182, 2 stars, Foster High, Richmond, Texas — A finalist for the Houston Touchdown Club offensive player of the year award in 2015, Fairs picked Kansas over Illinois after initially committing to Maryland and re-opening his recruitment when the coaching staff was fired.
OL Antione Frazier – 6-5, 250, 2 stars, Hargrave High, Huffman, Texas — A two-star offensive tackle, Frazier played both ways for Hargrave and committed to KU offensive line coach Zach Yenser in February of 2015, before his senior high school season. Picked KU over early interest from Houston, Iowa and Texas A&M.
OL Hunter Harris — 6-2, 257, 2 stars, Aledo (Texas) High, — A two-star offensive lineman from Aledo, Texas, Harris had offers from Cal, Princeton and Tulsa, as well, before committing to Kansas.
RB Khalil Herbert – 5-10, 190, 2 stars, Heritage High, Plantation, Florida — Herbert trained with former KU standout Tony Sands during his prep career. He committed to KU on his fifth and final official visit in January and picked the Jayhawks over offers Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Fordham, Georgia State and Mississippi State.
DT Isi Holani – 6-3, 300, 3 stars Riverside (California) C.C. – Kansas filled a need by adding the three-star juco defensive tackle shortly after the 2015 season ended. Holani also had offers from Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Boise State and others. Signed with KU in December and is already on campus.
OL Chris Hughes – 6-5, 260, 3 stars, Harker Heights (Texas) High — After spending a recruiting weekend in Lawrence in October of his senior year, Hughes cited the impressions David Beaty and Zach Yenser made on him as reason for committing to KU. Picked the Jayhawks over Cal, Houston, Texas Tech and Utah State, among others.
LB Maciah Long – 6-2, 240, 3 stars, North Shore High, Houston, Texas — Long is one of the top talents in the class and his size, speed and athleticism translate well on both sides of the ball. Brings great confidence and leadership to a thin position and picked KU over offers from Arizona State, Houston, Missouri, Ohio State, SMU, Texas Tech and UCLA.
CB Kyle Mayberry – 5-11, 163, 3 stars, Booker T. Washington High, Tulsa, Oklahoma — One of the top defensive backs in Oklahoma, Mayberry consulted former KU star Chris Harris before deciding to join Kansas football instead of pursuing offers from the likes of Kansas State, Houston, Washington State and others.
DB Ian Peterson – 5-11, 180, 2 stars, Cedar Ridge High, Round Rock, Texas — KU defensive backs coach Kenny Perry’s reputation helped land the versatile corner. Peterson committed to Kansas without making a visit and chose the Jayhawks over offers from Colorado, Wisconsin, SMU and others.
DB Stephan Robinson – 5-11, 173, 2 stars, Northeast Oklahoma A&M J.C. – Former wide receiver figures to have a future on KU’s defense. He’ll have three seasons of eligibility remaining as a Jayhawk after considering Virginia Tech, Iowa State and other programs. Signed with KU in December and is already on campus.
QB Tyriek Starks – 6-2, 188, 2 stars, Warren Easton High, New Orleans — Dual-threat QB who threw for 4,000+ yards and rushed for 1,000 more while leading his team to the state semis picked KU over Georgia Southern and Tulane.
S Bryce Torneden – 5-10, 185, 2 stars, Free State High, Lawrence, Kansas — Former North Dakota State commitment was one of the Sunflower League's most dynamic players during the past couple of seasons and a key component to the recent success enjoyed by the Firebirds. He said getting a chance to play in the Big 12 under another Lawrence native in KU defensive coordinator Clint Bowen was too appealing to pass up.
The NFL finally has caught up with what fans of Kansas football have known for years — Darrell Stuckey is one hell of a guy.
Stuckey, the sixth-year NFL pro and 2010 KU graduate who starred in KU's secondary and helped the Jayhawks win the 2008 Orange Bowl, recently was named the San Diego Chargers' representative for this year's Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year.
Each year, one player from all 32 NFL teams is nominated and this year the Chargers made Stuckey their selection.
Recognition and praise for his efforts beyond football certainly is nothing new for Stuckey. Since high school, the Kansas City, Kansas, native has done his part to give back to his community with particular interest paid to helping children and religion.
In 2010, Stuckey was named the Big 12 Sportsman of the Year for the 2009-10 seasons.
In addition to participating in numerous community outreach programs like visits to children's hospitals and free football clinics, Stuckey also started an organization known as "Living4One," an organization that aims to "help people discover that they were created to influence the world in a positive way" through living for Jesus."
Being nominated for an award as prestigious as the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award, however, takes things to a new level even for Stuckey.
Established in 1970 and attached to the late Chicago Bears running back's name since 1999, The Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award is given annually by the NFL to honor a player's volunteer and charity work as well as his excellence on the field.
Each of the 32 team nominees receives a $5,000 donation to their charity of choice. The two runner-ups will receive an additional $6,000 donation, and the winner will receive an additional $50,000 donation. Donations will be courtesy of the NFL Foundation and Nationwide.
"Serving their communities and philanthropic causes is a strong and long-standing tradition of NFL players," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a release. "These outstanding young men embrace and represent that important commitment of giving back to our communities. We salute and thank our players for their leadership."
Stuckey has chosen the organization "Teammates for Kids," founded by country star Garth Brooks, as his charity.
"The organization doesn't limit itself to helping one specific charity but branching out to help as many as possible," Stuckey said in a Chargers promotional video. "I've been involved with that cause, off and on, for the last three or four years and it's been an awesome opportunity."
Fans interested in helping Stuckey reach the finals can simply use the hashtag #StuckeyWPMOYChallenge on social media sites.
Finalists will be announced in January and the winner will be announced during the fifth Annual NFL Honors awards show, a two-hour primetime special airing nationally on Feb. 6, the night before Super Bowl 50 on CBS.