Monday, September 20, 2021

Reports: RB Velton Gardner leaving KU football via transfer portal

Kansas running back Velton Gardner (0) takes off on a run against South Dakota during the second quarter on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021 at Memorial Stadium. (Photo by Nick Krug/Special to the Journal-World)

Kansas running back Velton Gardner (0) takes off on a run against South Dakota during the second quarter on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021 at Memorial Stadium. (Photo by Nick Krug/Special to the Journal-World)


Three games into his junior season, running back Velton Gardner is ready to move on from the Kansas football program.

According to various reports Monday, including from Rivals and 247 Sports, Gardner, the Jayhawks’ starting running back each of the past three weeks, entered his name in the NCAA’s transfer portal.

Though Gardner came into the season as KU’s No. 1 running back, the junior from Dallas had yet to produce much out of the backfield. This past weekend, the 5-foot-9, 195-pound veteran only carried the ball twice for 4 yards in the Jayhawks’ blowout home loss to Baylor. That brought Gardner’s season totals to 56 yards on 29 rushing attempts (1.9 yards per carry) with no touchdowns.


Kansas running back Velton Gardner (0) gets past Coastal Carolina safety Mateo Sudipo (13) for a 61-yard touchdown run during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Lawrence, Kan., Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020. Coastal Carolina defeated Kansas 38-23. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

Having played in just three games for KU, Gardner could potentially use 2021 as a redshirt season and join another program next year with two years of eligibility remaining.

With Gardner on his way out, true freshman running back Devin Neal is likely to become the new starter. Neal, the former Lawrence High star, already was the only KU running back with a rushing touchdown in the first three weeks. Neal enters KU’s game at Duke this Saturday (3 p.m., ACC Network) with 74 rushing yards on 22 carries (3.4 yards per attempt) — almost all of which came in the past two games.

While Gardner had yet to show the flash in 2021 that he did at times during his first two seasons with the program, his departure marks another blow to the depth in KU’s running backs room.

The position projected as one of the rebuilding program’s strengths in Lance Leipold’s first season. But sophomore Daniel Hishaw Jr. suffered a season-ending injury in the preseason and Gardner, KU’s leading rusher in 2020 (4.5 yards per carry, two TDs in six appearances), is moving on.

That leaves Neal, redshirt freshman Amauri Pesek-Hickson and now former reserve quarterback and receiver Torry Locklin as the Jayhawks’ top running backs.

Pesek-Hickson missed the opener due to injury and has five carries for 13 yards in his two appearances. Locklin has 10 carries for 19 yards.

This is the third year in a row that one of KU football’s top running backs moved on from the program during the season. In 2019, Khalil Herbert left after four games, ultimately transferring to Virginia Tech. Last year, Pooka Williams opted out of the season after four games, and eventually entered the 2021 NFL Draft.

Herbert, after rushing for 1,183 yards at Virginia Tech, became a sixth-round draft pick of Chicago. He’s currently a reserve running back with the Bears.

Williams went undrafted, but he remains with the Cincinnati Bengals on their practice squad.


Glen Miller 9 months, 2 weeks ago

I'm guessing the writing was on the wall for Gardner and he's too weak to stick it out. Make better reads, don't take 10 yard losses trying to run sideways. Yeah, we don't have a great O-line and our offense will struggle at times....... Still, it's pretty pathetic that players these days have that little fortitude inside of them that they just quit so easily. I hope he goes somewhere and sits on the bench 5th on the depth chart. It would serve him right. Grow some balls, be a man, honor your commitments. Hopefully Leipold will bring more of those type players in here.

Dirk Medema 9 months, 2 weeks ago

There's really no reason to be nasty towards the young man. It doesn't do him, his former teammates, coaches, or anyone else associate with the program any good. While you appear to have no regard for Velton, the current players likely consider him a friend. Those friends of Velton's, our team, are also struggling, and hearing criticisms from fans probably aren't motivating. Yes, your criticisms of Velton are at least partially criticisms of the other players as well. Being a man is more than having testicals. Even a dog has testicals. Being a man includes showing honor in speech as well as commitments.

Glen Miller 9 months, 2 weeks ago

I talked about one player and one player only, because of his lack of intestinal fortitude. I appreciate the players that stay and stick it out. I don't think the "new age" way of doing things is worth a damn. I'm just being real and honest. Not everyone likes that and that's fine. I won't lose any sleep.

Brian Wilson 9 months, 2 weeks ago

Dirk for he most part you are spot on. But, I have to say the guy QUIT and he could have waited until the end of the season. I may be remiss if there is something else going on here, if he is abe to attend classes this semester at the other school. But if he is finishing his classes this semester at KU he could have kept quiet. There really is no reason for a player to QUIT mid-semester and disrupt team atmosphere. So from this article I get the feeling Gardner is miffed he wasn't just handed the job and he is leaving to start somewhere else.

Glen Miller 9 months, 2 weeks ago

Got this from an interview with Coach Leipold today....

"Velton's not in the program anymore. I guess the best way to say it is, he didn't show yesterday," Leipold said Tuesday. "We are going to focus on the guys in the program. Wish him the best in the future."

If he really cared about his teammates, he would have at least been man enough to face his teammates. GOOD RIDDANCE!!!!

Brett McCabe 9 months, 2 weeks ago

As several commenters on this site have noted, the portal may be the biggest challenge we face in the rebuild. At the end of the day, though, you’ve got to go with guys who are bought in. KSU lost a lot to the portal. They are 3-0 and ranked. Maybe they lost the right guys.

This is a much bigger challenge than the Snyder rebuild. Heck, it’s not really even close. Leipold and company will have statues if they can guide this program back to competitiveness.

Dirk Medema 9 months, 2 weeks ago

Same thought on the transfer portal being an added challenge for the rebuild. You definitely need everyone to have bought into the process to be successful, and it will definitely be a lot of extra work by everyone to dig out of the hole we're in.

The RB position is getting thin so early in the season, but at least it doesn't seem it will be as impactful as the previous 3 D transfers.

John Strayer 9 months, 2 weeks ago

I too agree with the portal being a big new challenge. It is just going to make it more difficult for poor programs to improve, while at the same time make it easier for the strong programs to remain so. It's just a parallel to our current self-centered culture...a culture that has no allegiance or willingness to follow through on commitments or patience to wait for improvement. This is not just about Velton who very well may not be a good fit...but just look how many prior year starters KU has lost to the portal. Just when KU starts to make some small progress, the portal is going to rise up and knock KU back. I'm probably too pessimistic, but I just see an impossible road for KU right now.

Eliott Reeder 9 months, 2 weeks ago

Optimistic side of that same coin: IF we are able to get a little momentum going under Leipold next year or the next, there may be some solid 3rd/4th string players in big-name programs who would be interested in coming to a place like KU to get more playing time, make a difference, join the upstart squad. Could possibly work in our favor, eventually...

Brian Skelly 9 months, 2 weeks ago

I'll be curious if we find out more about this. I have to assume this is Gardner choosing to leave, and not Leipold running him off. But maybe not.

Irregardless, this can't be good. We don't have enough good players as is. It seemed he would be one of them.

I agree about the transfer portal. But it is what it is now. All teams deal with it.

Andy Godwin 9 months, 2 weeks ago

They should set deadlines for which a player can enter their name into the portal. This is reminiscent of Pooka who decided to walk away from the KU football team because he didn't want to take a beating with a substandard offensive line. The way it is currently set up, some player gets disgruntled about moving down the deep chart, or losing playing time, or their interactions with a coach(es), or the quality of the offensive line and instead of working through the issues and earning more plays they decided to leave. Read an earlier article about how excited Mr. Gardner was regarding the running scheme Leipold was bringing from Buffalo. This college free agency is worst than the pro sports - at least there are hard and fast deadlines. The NCAA (or whomever) needs to set deadlines for player movement, otherwise the idea of a student-athlete becomes an even bigger joke and struggling teams will continue to struggle since they will have a much harder time developing players over time. Benton, please clarify. Players who enter the portal mid season (whatever season that might be, football, basketball, baseball, etc.) has to sit out the rest of their given season (you indicated Mr. Gardner could redshirt)? Please enlighten some of us who remain confused about the college transfer portal rules.

Michael Maris 9 months, 2 weeks ago

And, the bleeding continues..........

Player's leaving (when agents start whiapering in their ears).........

Rodney Schulz 9 months, 2 weeks ago

If Leipold and Company can’t build a .500 team within five years KU should shut down their football program and bail out of college football. The chancellor who fired Mangino was a complete idiot and probably indicative of the overall cerebral weakness at the upper echelon level of KU.

Brian Wilson 9 months, 2 weeks ago

Yeah Rodney, you would QUIT just like Gardner. If everyone would just leave Leipold alone for the next 5 years you will get a football team on the rise!

Dirk Medema 9 months, 2 weeks ago

Rodney - It’s been a while but you apparently are forgetting that the Mangino program had digressed to a 7 game losing streak where the most prolific QB in KU history was publicly and outspokenly upset with him and he chose not to even speak with him about it. Reports at the time indicated there were plenty of others in the athletic department that weren’t too happy with Coach Mangino either. The hires that followed certainly were career building moves by the administration, but the firing wasn’t their problem.

12-1, 8-5, 5-7 was just the beginning of the slide we have continued to live for the past decade.

Rodney Crain 9 months, 2 weeks ago

Wishing you well V. Gardner.

The portal can give, Mens BB, or take away. We will miss his 1.9 yards a carry.

Replacing his touchdowns though, well that will be impossible.

We will soldier on game after game as we have done for so very long.

Is there any of that Ham left from the Governer of Virgina for that bet we won for winning the Orange Bowl in 2008?

Jim Stauffer 9 months, 2 weeks ago

Regardless of what anyone thinks of Velton Gardner, running backs see their future behind an offensive line that can allow them to run free. Our OL seems to be at least a year, maybe two away from being that. As has been said, the kids who decide to be a part of the rebuild versus deciding for their own persona stats and performance will be the kids we grow to love and respect here at KU. This staff will find the necessary men to rebuild this program. What fans need to do at this point is realize we have finally put the main piece in place. We have a coaching staff that is solid and frankly as good as anyone in the league. Now, our facilities and coaching staff are Big 12 ready. All we need to do now is develop the players and this staff will do that.

Doug Merrill 9 months, 2 weeks ago

Jim, this is well put. We need to not predict the demise of the program based on one player's decision to leave. We all knew this would be a challenging year, as will two or three more. I admire the players who will stick it out and grow with the program. Others who leave will do as well as they do, but aren't Jayhawks, so I am fine with their departures.

Brian Wilson 9 months, 2 weeks ago

Well, the facilities...the stadium, needs replacing or a major mjor upgrade.

Spencer Goff 9 months, 2 weeks ago

So my buddy and I have had debates over the transfer portal and if it is a good or bad thing. He believes its positive and I argue its negative.

His argument is that it will keep schools like Alabama and Clemson from lying to kids and saying they will play, signing then, then stashing them to keep talent from playing for opposing teams.

My argument is that it will make schools like KU unable to rebuild because kids will simply leave before any significant improvement occurs.

To be honest, I think we are both right. Kids will leave schools from sitting them on the bench, but they won't be coming here, they will be going to Wisconsin, BYU, etc. Programs that are established and at least competitive. For us, it is going to be a drain.

I think we can all agree, there needs to be dates set though. One month into a semester is not working out.

Charlie Gaughn 9 months, 2 weeks ago

The ability to play in four games and still redshirt combined with the transfer portal makes it nearly impossible to build a program as down as this one. I'll be very surprised if Gardner is the only one. We still have a week to go.

KU is going to have to start recruiting more local kids passionate about the school and the program. The obvious problem is that the local talent pool does not provide a lot of players that can step right in. Most will need to redshirt and be developed. Even then there's no assurance that they will ever be impact players. However, this approach would at least let us get our scholarship numbers up and we'd have kids in the program for four or five years. Quite honestly the outcome on the scoreboard couldn't be any worse than it's been in the last ten years.

Spencer Goff 9 months, 2 weeks ago

Oh I absolutely agree with you, for programs at our level it will be near impossible to keep kids around. We are opposite end spectrum of an Alabama, they will lose a four star running back they have stashed to Penn State, we'll lose anybody that gets disgruntled or shows promise to just about anybody that can give the kid a better spot.

It's not good for us, at all.

Matt Lindaman 9 months, 2 weeks ago

Need to round the corner and provide a culture worth staying for. At ISU, nearly everyone came back for this year despite many looking at a good draft position. I think Leipold can create this culture, but will take some time.

Glen Miller 9 months, 2 weeks ago

Let's stop calling it the "transfer portal" and call it what it really is....... Free Agency. Because schools who can offer more money (NIL) and wins just like in major sports are landing the better players. I didn't like that coaches could leave without penalty and players couldn't......... but there has to be some kind of guidelines for eligibility without having to sit a year out. How is college football going to continue to grow if all the little teams and less Championship worthy are constantly having to replace their best underclassmen.

Jeff Coffman 9 months, 2 weeks ago

I'm glad that KU is able to get recruits and develop them. They take risks on some players in the hope of their upside. I look at Gardner as a RB that had upside, but he ran for 1.9 yards per carry and the majority of that was against a D2 school. There is an offensive scheme and we saw consistently that he was not able to follow it. He likely was going to get benched and as the old saying goes...he took his ball and went home (or entered the transfer protocol).

I get it, his time is limited and leaving now preserves the year. I don't foresee a lot of teams that will knock on his door, but he will land somewhere and I think all of us hope he develops, but under the current system; he was struggling.

Robert Brock 9 months, 2 weeks ago

LOL. Not sure how we overcome the loss of a one-yard-and-a-cloud-of-dust rusher.

Dirk Medema 9 months, 2 weeks ago

The discussion of the transfer portal is interesting because it wasn’t long ago that people were complaining that players were being unfairly treated when coaches could switch schools without impunity.

Also, whether he enters his name now or sits for a couple months before entering his name doesn’t seem particularly significant.

As Brett said first, at the end of the day, you want kids that are committed to your program. If they’re not, then wish them well as you open the door for them.

There’s plenty of observations that Coach Leipold has the character that will attract young men (& old) to work with him. It takes more than 3 games.

Spencer Goff 9 months, 2 weeks ago

I am not saying, nor do I think most people are, to throw out the transfer portal. But it needs tweaked. However, I recognize this would require that the NCAA 1) have any authority over any of this (they don't), and 2) have some creativity and foresight as to how to best manage the good and bad that something like a transfer portal inherently creates.

So, basically, with the NCAA being the "governing body" in charge of reform.... we're boned.

Jay Chervil 9 months, 2 weeks ago

a jump to the missouri valley conference would be an appropriate response.

Matt Lindaman 9 months, 2 weeks ago

Can someone put up a graphic/list of KU running back recruits starting with the same entering class as Mitch Lightfoot. In theory, any from that list could still be here.

Glen Miller 9 months, 2 weeks ago

2021 - Devin Neal, Kevin Orange (transfer)

2020 - Daniel Hinshaw Jr.

2019 - Velton Gardner, Amauri Pesek-Hickson

2018 - Pooka Williams Jr.

Those are just recruits and transfers off of 247 sports. I am sure there have been some walk on's and position changes as well.......

Brett McCabe 9 months, 2 weeks ago

Dirk, there is no question that the portal is fair, finally, to the players. It’s just bad timing for KU because they wasted so many years, hiring so many idiots.

Fairness is the key issue. It seems to me that once the season kicks off, the player should be bound to that team or forfeit that year. That is not an unfair expectation. Using it as a redshirt year while transferring is not fair to the program you are leaving. When the ball is kicked for the first game, that should be it.

The redshirt rule, if you stay at the school, is good. It allows coaches and players to evaluate and build for the future.

Dirk Medema 9 months, 2 weeks ago

Brett - But to your initial comment, we need kids that are committed to the program. Otherwise, it’s 8 games worth of distraction. I’m with Coach Leipold on this one. Open the door and wish him well so you can focus on the team; the players that want to work with you.

In some ways it’s parallel with firing a coach with 1, 2, 3, … weeks to go in the season. The writing is on the wall. Get a head start on the replacement process.

This hopefully is seen as condoning quitting, but it is a bit hypocritical of us as fans to criticize him for it given our past performance.

Dirk Medema 9 months, 2 weeks ago

Charlie - Kansas and KC area definitely don’t have the volume of recruits in some other states but there’s plenty of quality talent here. Our problem has been not being able to give them enough reason to stay home. A few right off the top of my head are starting QB at Wisconsin (?), starting RB at ISU, starting LT at NU, and I’m sure there are many more.

Jeff Kallmeyer 9 months, 2 weeks ago

I have felt sorry for our running backs since 2010. Hard to pick up much yardage when you have a very poor O-line.

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