As the start of the college football season inches closer by the minute, here at KUsports.com and the Lawrence Journal-World we are counting down to kickoff by each day revealing a new KU player on Benton Smith’s list predicting the top 11 Jayhawks for the 2019 season.
Les Miles will lead the Kansas football team onto the field for the first time on Aug. 31 versus Indiana State.
I know what you’re thinking.
“Wait a minute. Two players for one spot on the countdown? Isn’t that kind of cheating?”
You make some great points here. But, ultimately, this is a list that I decided to put together. So I’m just going to break the rules. This is tyranny at its worst. (Not really. It’s just a football list. You’ll get over it.)
Besides, it’s hard to think about either Malik Clark at left guard or Hakeem Adeniji at left tackle without picturing them in tandem.
Both started throughout the 2018 season and now they head into Year 1 of the Les Miles Era at KU as the two O-linemen most likely to succeed.
Adeniji has singled out Clark as one of the most improved players in their position group over the course of the offseason. Clark, meanwhile, doesn’t want to take much personal credit for that.
“I think it’s just the chemistry me and Hakeem have,” Clark said of a major factor in his development. “Like on our double teams, our communication and all of that, that’s making us better.”
Clark, now a 6-foot-4, 315-pound junior, and Adeniji, a 6-5, 300-pound senior, actually arrived at KU in the same class, ahead of the 2016 season, before Clark took a redshirt in 2017. The two were roommates their first two years in the program, which contributed to how well they work together now.
“We used to have long talks,” Clark shared, “about where our heart is with football, where we’ve got to get at and how we’ve got to turn this program around. I’d say that’s how he helped me. Just having a heart to heart conversation with him. And us being close.”
However, Clark hesitates to lump himself in with Adeniji when it comes to who is setting the tone for the group of blockers up front.
“I’d say Hakeem and Api (Mane, a center) are like the voices of the O-line,” Clark said. “I’m just the guy in the back that just follows directions. That’s all.”
Miles, who has often complimented the O-line as a group, called Adeniji one of the top tackle prospects in the Big 12, and said Clark is “going to be a big, strong man” for the KU offense.
“There’s some talented, talented guys there,” the head coach added.
Their position coach, Luke Meadows, thinks highly of both Clark and Adeniji, as well. Meadows said Clark has shown significant growth just since the spring.
According to Clark, a New Orleans native who played for KU running backs coach Tony Hull at Warren Easton High, he put in a lot of monotonous work in order to improve.
“My footwork, of course, and my hand placement,” Clark said of his areas of focus for the offseason. “And keeping my eyes in my gap. You know, just the little things I wasn’t doing as good until (Meadows) came here.”
Adeniji hasn’t missed a game — or a start — since joining the program in 2016. The left tackle from Garland, Texas, wants to make sure this season is memorable.
“It’s my last year. I want to go out with a bang, on a personal level but more on a team level,” Adeniji said. “I think we have the right pieces, the right coaches and everything to do that. So I’m very excited.”
Predicting the top Jayhawks for 2019 season
This week’s Q&A is with sophomore left tackle Hakeem Adeniji, from Garland, Texas, who has started all 14 games of his college career heading into the Kansas football team’s road opener at Ohio.
Q: Obviously Saturday night’s loss against Central Michigan was disappointing, but then you come back Sunday and get right back to work. How intense are those meetings with offensive line coach Zach Yenser as he breaks things down for you?
A: Coach, he’s not really an ‘I’m gonna yell at you and chew you out type of guy.’ Because he knows what we’re about and that we know what we want to get done. So we just kind of go over things and go over our mistakes and what we need to focus on in practice in the upcoming week.
Q: So it’s more of a learning environment in that setting. Is Yenser more fired up on the sidelines?
A: During practice coach gets pretty fired up, but he does a good job of keeping his cool for the most part.
Q: What proved to be the biggest issues against Central Michigan when you reviewed the video? What areas of concern kept popping up for the O-line?
A: It’s a lot of mental stuff, I feel like. We’ve got some younger guys on the line and we’ve got to do a better job of encouraging them and keeping your composure, because we’ve got some talented guys there. It’s going to take a little bit of time, because experience is probably the most important thing in playing. I feel like as they continue to get more reps and more snaps then I think their game will just elevate.
Q: That right side of the line is less experienced, with right guard Chris Hughes and right tackle Antione Frazier each having started just two games. As a leader, how do you try to help those guys along?
A: When I’m watching film I like to give them a little breakdown here or there if I see something, if I see certain tips. When we’re out practicing, especially Antione, I’ll try and tell hims something he can tweak, whether it’s in his stance or technique-wise that he can do to make himself better.
Q: Right now are you all finding more success in pass-blocking or run-blocking? Is it close?
A: It’s hard to really say. I feel like we’ve had ups and downs in both of them. But I feel like we’re continuing to improve.
Q: What are the biggest challenges going to be for the offensive linemen this week at Ohio? How much have you all got into their defensive front and the kind of things they might try to do?
A: We played them, obviously, last year (a 37-21 home loss), and it’s the same front pretty much. And I’m probably going to get in touch with Coach (Jesse Williams, KU’s defensive line coach who left Ohio to join David Beaty’s staff), since he recruited pretty much all of those guys. I feel like that could be a really huge advantage for us. But they’re a really good D-line from what we’ve watched, and we’re just going to have to come ready, for sure.
Q: How much have you all discussed being the team that finally ends the program’s road losing streak — 41 consecutive in opponents’ stadiums, 44 overall away from Lawrence?
A: We really don’t discuss it at all. But it definitely would be really good to do that. To go out there in another environment and win would be great, especially for the plane ride home. At the end of the day it’s about winning and coming back with that win. Regardless of if it’s at home or on the road, it’s something we need to do.
Tom Keegan and I collaborated on a list of 25 potential difference-makers for the Kansas football team in 2017 and will release one each weekday leading up to the Sept. 2 season-opener vs. SEMO, at Memorial Stadium. We will list them in reverse order of how indispensable/potentially impactful they are for KU's hopes of having a more competitive season.
It takes a special kind of true freshman offensive lineman to start 12 games at tackle, and that’s exactly what Hakeem Adeniji did for Kansas in his debut season.
The 6-foot-4 blocker from Garland, Texas, solidified himself as the left tackle of the present and future for the Jayhawks in 2016. Aiming to play at around 295 pounds in his upcoming sophomore year, Adeniji might not be as heavy as some of the Big 12’s most notable O-linemen, but he’s sturdy, nimble and a natural at his position.
KU’s O-line coach, Zach Yenser, says Adeniji is the rare kind of lineman who can be shown something once and immediately pick it up.
And as Adeniji described earlier this summer, in an interview with KLWN’s Rock Chalk Sports Talk, he also benefits from practicing against Dorance Armstrong Jr., KU’s star defensive end.
“He brings so much that you’re not going to see on a Saturday. Outside of maybe a Jordan Willis from K-State, you’re not gonna find many guys of his caliber in the country,” Adeniji said of Armstrong, a consensus All-Big 12 end as a sophomore and the conference’s Preseason Defensive Big 12 Player of the Year.
“Personally, I love it, because as a competitor I want to be as good as I can be and going against him every day is just fun,” Adeniji added. “I’m always on my heels and I always have to be ready, because he’s going to come at me with something new. We just go back and forth and make each other better.”
Listed at only 265 pounds when he first joined the program just over a year ago, Adeniji takes conditioning and nutrition very seriously to avoid becoming so heavy he can’t move well and pick up his blocks. He said his mother, Semia, always made sure when he and his brother, Moshood (former Air Force O-lineman), were growing up they didn’t eat fast food or things like that. As a result, Hakeem says his body always feels good and that allows him to compete at a high level.
That approach has only developed further this past offseason, with the help of new KU strength and conditioning coach Zac Woodfin. Adeniji said he and the rest of KU’s offensive linemen are reaping the benefits of their offseason work.
“I think we’ve taken another step as far as our strength and conditioning. Personally, I just feel a lot stronger, a lot more powerful,” Adeniji shared. “Just pure strength is one thing, but your ability to unlock that and use it in certain ways, I mean, that’s one thing Coach Woodfin’s done a real good job of, taking us to the next level.”