Sunday, March 31, 2019

Les Miles’ recruiting strategy helping program within ‘the Kansas footprint’

Kansas head coach Les Miles greets new signee Jayden Russell who was in attendance for football practice on Wednesday, March 6, 2019 within the new indoor practice facility.

Kansas head coach Les Miles greets new signee Jayden Russell who was in attendance for football practice on Wednesday, March 6, 2019 within the new indoor practice facility.


From the day he first flew to Lawrence and was introduced as the new head football coach at the University of Kansas, Les Miles made clear his intention to recruit as much in-state talent as possible.

His plan of attack, Miles shared months later, after KU signed three high school standouts from the Sunflower State in its 2019 recruiting class, was to identify local recruits as soon as possible.

“When I first got to town, before I hired my staff, I looked at 15 of what were the best prospects that there were here in Kansas,” Miles said. “Three of those are on our signee list. So we went first to Kansas.”

Miles had only been on the job for three weeks when Jayden Russell, a safety from St. Thomas Aquinas, and Mason Fairchild, a tight end from Andale, became in early December the first high school players to commit to the former LSU and Oklahoma State coach.

In February, Blue Valley North running back Amauri Pesek-Hickson signed with KU, giving the new head coach three in-state signees even though he and his just-assembled staff were in scramble mode on the recruiting front.

“We got a nice start from this state and this area,” Miles would say during his National Signing Day press conference, describing Russell as a versatile defensive back with a long body, Fairchild as a big tight end who can run and catch, and Pesek-Hickson as a big back.

Miles and his staff have remained at work in what the head coach has dubbed “the Kansas footprint” while piecing together KU’s 2020 recruiting class.

In late March, the Jayhawks picked up nonbinding verbal commitments from Shawnee Mission South tight end Will Huggins and Topeka quarterback Da’Vonshai Harden Jr.

Even before those recruits pledged to one day sign with KU, Miles spoke of the importance of winning over local and in-state prospects.

“In the past, they’ve not necessarily recruited high school players from the state of Kansas. And we felt like that was exactly what we needed to do for a bunch of reasons,” Miles said during an appearance on his “Hawk Talk” radio show recently. “I think it was exactly the right thing. And we also ended up with — I don’t know that the team before us had taken that many guys from a high school team in Kansas for their entire time here.”

In fact, it took Miles’ predecessor, David Beaty, some time to pick up steam when it came to signing high school players from the state of Kansas. In 2015, the Jayhawks signed Bishop Miege QB Ryan Willis, originally a Charlie Weis recruit. The only in-state scholarship player for KU in that recruiting cycle, Willis transferred to Virginia Tech after two seasons.

In 2016, Free State High standout Bryce Torneden, now a senior defensive back, was KU’s only scholarship athlete from the Sunflower State.

Finally, in 2017, Beaty and his staff began bringing in more recruits from their own backyard, with the signing of Derby tight end Kenyon Tabor, Wichita offensive lineman Joey Gilbertson and Wichita linebacker Cooper Root. Though Beaty repeatedly described Tabor as one of the most talented recruits KU had signed, the coach said back issues stopped Tabor from participating in football activities. And by the summer of 2018, it was deemed that Tabor’s condition would keep him from ever being cleared to play football at KU. Presently, according to 247 Sports, Tabor has entered his name in college football’s transfer portal to find a new opportunity.

In what proved to be Beaty’s final recruiting class at KU, the Jayhawks signed Wichita fullback Mac Copeland, hometown Free State O-lineman Jalan Robinson and Wichita linebacker Nick Channel (as a walk-on).

It hasn’t taken Miles nearly as long to make inroads within the state, a strategy that has benefited KU’s rival, Kansas State, for years.

This year, KU signed three of the top 15 rated prospects in the Sunflower State, per composite rankings from 247 Sports, while rival Kansas State, also transitioning to a new head coach in Chris Klieman, signed four.

The K-State signing class included two standouts from Lawrence, Free State High’s Keenan Garber and Jax Dineen. While Miles and his staff tried to get both Garber, a three-star athlete, and Dineen, a three-star fullback, to attend KU, multiple sources told the Journal-World that Dineen wasn’t offered a scholarship, and instead was recruited as a walk-on.

Even though the two Lawrencians are headed to Manhattan and Bishop Carroll tight end Clay Cundiff, once committed to KU when Beaty was still the head coach, signed with Wisconsin, by signing Pesek-Hickson, Russell and Fairchild, the Jayhawks successfully recruited three in-state talents in Miles’ first few months on the job.

The team's Junior Day events in February brought in numerous recruiting targets from within the state, coaches have recruited the Kansas City metro area, too, and Miles' staff has proven proactive in extending offers to top in-state and local prospects — the biggest of which is 2020 offensive tackle Turner Corcoran, a four-star prospect at Free State.

“I’m excited about the Kansas footprint,” Miles said this past week, “and getting in those homes, and recruiting those young men and those families, because that family gets to come be at Kansas, too. What a wonderful advantage that is.”

Top-15 in-state prospects who signed with KU, since 2002

[Per 247sports’ composite rankings, these prospects were rated in the top 15 in Kansas as high school seniors. Each KU recruit is listed with his ranking among Sunflower State players that year. As a point of reference, the number of top-15 players signed by Kansas State each year also is provided.]


2019 — KU signed No. 6 Amauri Pesek-Hickson, No. 8 Jayden Russell and No. 15 Mason Fairchild. K-State signed four from the top 15.


2018 — KU signed No. 5 Mac Copeland, No. 6 Jalan Robinson and No. 7 Nick Channel (as a walk-on); No. 2 Miles Emery would have signed with KU, but ended up at Butler Community College. K-State signed three from the top 11 and had another prospect go the junior college route, as well. (Only 11 in-state prospects ranked.)

2017 — KU signed No. 13 Kenyon Tabor, No. 14 Joey Gilbertson and No. 15 Cooper Root. K-State signed six from the top 15.

2016 — KU signed No. 12 Bryce Torneden. K-State signed five from the top 15.

2015 — KU signed No. 4 Ryan Willis. K-State signed seven from the top 15.


2014 — KU signed No. 2 Traevohn Wrench, who ended up at Butler Community College instead, and No. 14 Joe Dineen. K-State signed one from the top 15.

2013 — KU signed No. 4 Jordan Darling, No. 5 Ben Johnson, No. 6 Montell Cozart and No. 14 Peter Gallo (as a walk-on). K-State signed three from the top 14.

(Only 14 ranked.)

2012 — KU signed No. 3 Brian Beckmann and No. 6 Tre’ Parmalee. K-State signed three from the top 11. (Only 11 ranked.)


2011 — KU signed No. 4 Dreamius Smith, No. 6 Michael Reynolds, No. 8 Dylan Admire, No. 10 Victor Simmons, No. 14 Phil Ford and No. 15 Ben Heeney. K-State signed two from the top 15.

2010 — KU signed No. 7 Pat Lewandowski. K-State signed six from the top 15.


2009 — KU signed No. 3 Darian Kelly, No. 4 Kevin Young, No. 6 Huldon Tharp and No. 8 Riley Spencer. K-State signed two from the top 14. (Only 14 ranked.)

2008 — KU signed No. 3 Tanner Hawkinson, No. 4 Darius Parish, No. 5 Kale Pick and No. 6 Duane Zlatnik. K-State signed two from the top 15.

2007 — KU signed No. 7 Ryan Murphy and No. 9 Steven Foster. K-State signed five from the top 15.

2006 — KU signed No. 1 Jake Sharp, No. 2 Jamal Greene and No. 5 Tyler Lawrence. K-State signed three from the top nine. (Only nine ranked.)

2005 — KU signed No. 1 Kerry Meier, No. 3 Caleb Blakesley, No. 4 Darrell Stuckey and No. 5 Adam Welty. K-State signed four from the top 14. (Only 14 ranked.)

2004 — KU signed No. 3 Mike Rivera, No. 7 Todd Haselhorst and No. 9 Scott Haverkamp. K-State signed six from the top 15.

2003 — KU signed No. 4 John Randle and No. 5 Brandon McAnderson. K-State signed four from the top 14. (Only 14 ranked.)

2002 — KU signed No. 2 Jerome Kemp and No. 5 Nick Reid. K-State signed six from the top 10. (Only 10 ranked.)


Armen Kurdian 3 years, 10 months ago

More in-state talent I think will help with this team's identity. Winning begets more winning, so I'm hopeful we can get additional talent with potential that aren't in the top 15 either.

Brad Avery 3 years, 10 months ago

“In the past, they’ve not necessarily recruited high school players from the state of Kansas. And we felt like that was exactly what we needed to do for a bunch of reasons,” Miles said during an appearance on his “Hawk Talk” radio show recently. “I think it was exactly the right thing. And we also ended up with — I don’t know that the team before us had taken that many guys from a high school team in Kansas for their entire time here.”

Hallelujah, a coach with brains enough to figure out the core of the program should be instate kids.

Brian Wilson 3 years, 10 months ago


KU has plenty of in state talent in the Sophomore and Freshman classes next year. Over 50%!

Beaty recruited transfers to the upper classes and local players to the younger classes. In fact, IT APPEARS that he intentionally redshirted local players to group them into the Sophomore and Junior classes for next year. When next year's senior class graduates, which is almost entirely made up of out of state players and transfers, KU will go from primarily having Juco transfer players from outside states to a team of more than 50% local recruits. Just saying.

Dirk Medema 3 years, 10 months ago

Not sure it is necessarily accurate to say they didn't try to recruit instate. At least one of the 3 this year said he only listened because it was Miles.

It is also abit deceptive to only talk about players that came on scholarships which is not to say that every walkon should be included with scholarship players. To Beaty's credit he did an amazing job of getting players to walkon and not count against the annual limit but still ended up being key contributors. That is even what some people here have said needs to happen; find the diamond in the rough. Beaty found them and even turned many into gems. He just couldn't make jewelry.

Brett McCabe 3 years, 10 months ago

Amazing job of getting walk-ons to be key contributors? Overstate much?

The bottom line for every coach since 2002 is that KSU has had a far better football brand in the state, and that shows in in-state recruiting, especially in a sport where there are a lot of numbers involved.

The problem with all of these coaches is that they wouldn't grind, and that includes Mangino. Beaty reluctantly took the one Weis recruit and then chased him off, then they offered Tornedon at literally the last minute the following year. And about that Kansas Crusade idea where they went to schools that din't have football programs? Literally the worst recruiting idea in the history of bad ideas.

Miles is showing signs of a guy who is actually committed to the work. It's not going to happen overnight, but nothing that last ever does.

Dirk Medema 3 years, 9 months ago

Haven't done exhaustive research on it, but the infrequent comment from announcers about players that started as walk-ons leads me to believe that it is a rare occurrence for CFB in general. When Coach Beaty accomplished it multiple times, that would seem to at least approach amazing just on probabilistic basis. IIRC, at one point, the majority of the OL was comprised of non-traditionally recruited players; walk-ons and players that were discovered after the NSD.

It is understandable that you wouldn't find it amazing. Even the things others find cause to celebrate you find reasons to complain about. Just recently, weren't you even the one that was outspokenly calling for Coach Self to be fired?

"Beaty reluctantly took one of Weis recruit" is an interesting (of course also negative) spin on things. With only 40 players, Coach Beaty gladly took every player he could, and if the one player you are referring to is Willis, he also elevated him to starting QB. I'm not certain, but I highly doubt that Coach Beaty had any part in Willis breaking his wrist during an offseason pickup BB game which caused him to miss the very crucial spring practice after that freshmen year. I will admit that INT's are not just to be blamed on QB's, but 7 in less than 2 games would be hard for any coach to tolerate, though you love to blame those on Beaty.

Also, weren't you the person that commented that the KU D wouldn't amount to anything if Tornedon was starting? While the D didn't amount to much the first year that Tornedon started, it obviously wasn't his fault when he received post-season awards. And regardless of when they recruited him, they still got him to come to KU.

It's also interesting that you be little the Kansa crusade, when others are commenting on the number of quality athletes in KS HS's that don't get to play FB simply because of geography. Part of that crusade was simply to renew interest in KU and our program after it was ignored by those before him. To Coach Miles credit, he is building on what Coach Beaty started, and unlike you, he has commented on there being a good foundation.

But you are more than welcome to go back to being negative. It's what the rest of us have come to expect from you.

Steven Haag 3 years, 10 months ago

I’m glad that he is recruiting Kansas kids as well......but......we need to be selective. We generally have between 12-15 in the State that even show up as Div 1 worthy. K-State has won that battle most years. Add a “one in a million” hall of fame coach like Snyder and they make a lower tier bowl game, or don’t go bowling at all. Bottom line is we will need to go outside the State for the upper 3 start and some 4 star, or we will win 5 games a year....maybe 6. But then I said that before they ever even hired Les. Don’t get me wrong, we need some Kansas kids and I’m glad he is committed to getting some, but that alone will not get us in the top 25% of the Big XII standings

Brian Wilson 3 years, 10 months ago

Kansas has a lot of 3 and 4 star players that are ranked as 2's! There is a bunch of talent out there. Problem is Kansas doesn't get much attention, some schools play 8 man, etc., and so it takes work to go out and evaluate the talent. KU probably does and I don't know it, but it might be a good idea to hold open combines and invite all in state athletes - wrestling, track, etc.,

Dirk Medema 3 years, 9 months ago

A KU combine sounds like a cool idea; perspective on recruiting. I'm not sure, but that might be something they already do through the Jr Day program. I don't know that you have to be a football player to attend, and HS athlete could definitely attend one of the camps if they wanted a shot at D1 FB.

Chris DeWeese 3 years, 10 months ago

I don't know if recruiting in state kids was Beaty's Achilles heel. He just couldn't coach or develop the in state kids he had. I think Joe Dineen was just naturally talented. Another coach might have turned him into an All-American or first round draft pick. Maybe these new coaches can turn Bryce Torneden into one. I realize I'm not being totally fair, but the proof was in the pudding.

Kevin Robert Fest 3 years, 10 months ago

I think the thing here is that you want to have the right mix of players. Get some in state players, get some JC players then recruit the best you can get to fill needs. Some Kansas hs players may not see any reason to play in state so whether the Jayhawks are a top 25 team or a 500 team, some in state kids may not want to play in state. I think KU can get some top 10 Kansas talent but l dont think anyone would complain if Miles can turn things around no matter where the players come from.

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