Kansas head coach Lance Leipold waves to his players during the second half of an NCAA college football game against TCU on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022 in Lawrence, Kan. TCU won 38-31. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
College football’s February signing day was forever changed by the transfer portal, turning what was once one of the biggest days of the year in the sport into all the more reason to review days gone by.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t things to celebrate when the first Wednesday in February rolls around every year.
KU head coach Lance Leipold on Wednesday officially announced the addition of two more newcomers: cornerback Jacoby Davis, of North Shore High in Houston, and Australian punter Damon Greaves, who has committed to the program this week.
But most of the work, in Kansas and across the country, is getting done earlier than ever these days. In December, KU announced 12 first signers in the high school class of 2023. Four of them are already enrolled at KU. In mid-January, the program announced 13 more midseason transfers, many of which were from other Division I schools.
Regardless of who signed on when, Leipold said Wednesday the program addressed some key needs with the incoming class. One of the biggest areas of emphasis has been an area that Leipold and his staff said throughout the 2022 season needed help.
“We tried to improve things defensively (and) put ourselves in a (good) position in depth,” he said. “It’s probably something we’ll be talking about until the first game and beyond. We have to be more defensive. Through graduation and attrition, we’ve had to deal with a few things there, and I like what we’ve been able to do.
Specifically, Leipold said the Jayhawks have added speed and physicality, both through the portal and with younger players. Those portal guys, however, will immediately be used to fill the void left by the departure of most of the Jayhawks’ defensive front from last season.
Leipold said players like inside linemen Gage Keys (Minnesota) and Devin Phiilips (Colorado State) along with edge rushers Patrick Joyner Jr. (Utah State) and Austin Booker (Minnesota) will provide “great competition and depth and people who have played in college football games and it can help us improve.”
Even if KU’s offensive line returns four starters from a season ago, the one player they’re losing — left tackle Earl Bostick Jr. — will be plenty to replace. KU already had former Louisville lineman Kobe Baynes in the schedule as a late pickup before last season, and they added “bigger bodies” like Spencer Lovell, of Cal, and Logan Brown, of Wisconsin, to provide depth and size in front.
The idea, Leipold said, was to bring quality pieces to the line that would promote competition and also allow the coaching staff to play boys at different points if the need or desire arose.
Of Brown, a former five-star prospect right out of high school, Leipold said, “Obviously, he was a pretty highly recruited guy. When he came to visit, a couple of other guys were like, ‘Holy shit, who’s that guy?’ He is a different looking body.
None of that matters, of course, without the players fitting the right profile for the culture Kansas created in Leipold’s first two seasons. Leipold said this has been a key part of the recruiting process over the past year and remains so as they move forward with prospects in the class of 2024.
“We’re definitely in a good position with respect to where this program was in terms of attrition,” he said. “And that’s something I’m proud of, something our staff is proud of, and something we want to continue.”
Leipold said Wednesday was “a cultural day” for the program and the only day of the week where the entire squad is together. They do conditioning drills, meet afterward and talk about things like proper goal setting and the importance of attention to detail and the expectations and standards that Kansas football now adheres to.
For old folks, it’s all a refresher. But for newcomers, it’s the first time staffers can see how well they did in their assessments of how those newcomers would fit into the building schedule.
“When they see it, there’s the first part which is an action (and they get to) see how we go about things,” said Leipold. “But then they gang up and talk and they get to see him. When we have many kids who have already been through it, it will definitely help. Help with this midyear group and we’re going to need it to happen again in June.”
Now that the new KU culture is firmly in place, Leipold said it gave people on the program something concrete they could use to show prospective Jayhawks and newcomers how things work in Lawrence.
“There’s nothing easy about this right now,” said Leipold. “There will be nothing we will ever take for granted. But these guys wanted to be here. We’re getting players who probably weren’t interested in talking before, who want to have conversations.
Two Lawrence brothers on the shortlist
KU may have only had two scholarship signees to announce Wednesday, but there were several more walk-on favorites that were added to the schedule.
Two of them were from city schools, with Lawrence High defenseman Lance Bassett and Free State defenseman Jaydon Brittingham elected to join the KU program next season.
Bassett and Brittingham were two of 13 PWOs announced Wednesday by the Jayhawks. Eight of the 13 were from Kansas high schools.
The rest of the roster included: Blue Valley North cornerback Noah Barber; Cole Ballard, quarterback at Westfield (Ind.) High; Dillon Mong, a tight end at Shawnee Mission East High; Carson Morgan, a running back at Bentonville (Ark.) West High; Ezra Vedral, a linebacker from Creighton Prep; TJ Crews, quarterback at Christ Prep Academy; Grady Seyfert, a defensive tackle at Beloit High; Jack Schneider, a wideout from Blue Valley West; Hunter Luke, a wideout from Westlake (Texas) High; Isreal Moses V, a star player from De LaSalle High in Minnesota; and Isaiah Coppage, a Bishop Miege High wideout.
Nothing official about juco security
Akili Hubbard, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound safety from Golden West College in California who committed to KU earlier this week after a campus visit, did not sign on Wednesday.
Earlier in the week, Hubbard told JayhawkSlant.com’s Jon Kirby that he made a commitment to KU during his visit and that having KU be the first program to offer him a scholarship weighed heavily.
Wednesday simply marked the first day that Division I prospects were able to sign with their new schools. Hubbard and countless others still have until April 1 to make their commitments official.
“The state of Oregon was trying to get me,” Hubbard told Kirby after his engagement. “They met with me the day before my flight to Kansas. But I’m busy in Kansas and that’s where I’m going.
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