Devin Neal: A Love Letter to Lawrence

I still remember what the skeptics told me during my recruitment. As they tried to talk me out of committing to KU, their message always sounded the same: “Why are you doing this? You have a chance to go somewhere else, somewhere that’s established. You don’t have to do this.”

Here’s what they never understood: There’s nowhere else I’d rather be than right here, right now.

For me, Lawrence is more than just the city I’ve lived in my whole life. It’s part of who I am. I love walking up and down Mass Street, something that can be worth your time even if you don’t end up buying anything. I love devouring a plate of wings at Jefferson’s, but still leaving enough room for a scoop or two of cookies and cream ice cream from Sylas and Maddy’s. I love explaining to people — or better yet, showing them — how cream cheese and bacon can come together to create the perfect slice of pizza. If you’re skeptical on that last one, I invite you to just trust the process (shoutout to Pizza Shuttle — I wouldn’t know what to do without you).

Even more than its places, though, Lawrence is about its people.

Have you ever heard the term “Midwestern nice”? I’m here to tell you it’s real. Through random acts of kindness, the folks who live here go the extra mile for complete strangers. They’ll hold the door open for you. They’ll strike up a conversation with just about anyone. For someone who isn’t from here, seeing just how friendly the people are can be a bit of a culture shock, but in a good way.

The other thing you should know about Lawrence? The people who live here bleed crimson and blue. My introduction to that came on April 7, 2008, the date the KU men’s basketball team won the national title. I was only seven years old, but I remember how Mario’s shot got my parents out of their seats and running around the house. Like pretty much everybody else within the Lawrence city limits that night, we made our way down to Mass Street. I bet I saw a thousand smiles.

Of course, the story of why I chose KU couldn’t be told without mentioning my mom and dad, Freda and Ryan — though maybe not for the reason you’d think. Don’t get me wrong: My parents are both diehard Jayhawk fans, so much so that the workout room in our home has framed copies of just about every Sports Illustrated issue that’s featured KU. But they didn’t push me here — nor anywhere else, for that matter.

Only recently did I learn that they were “silently praying” for me to stay home. They didn’t want to put that extra weight on my shoulders, so they kept that opinion to themselves and let me choose my own path. They’re phenomenal people for that (and about a million other reasons).

Want to know something else the naysayers didn’t get during my recruitment?

The adversity this program has been through over the last decade was never going to turn me away; in fact, it’s one of the biggest reasons why I signed with KU. I accept this challenge. I know it’s not going to be easy but make no mistake: We’re going to get this thing turned around.

I’m already dreaming about the day I’ll be able to say I was part of the group that brought bowl games, sellout crowds and winning football back to KU. That, truthfully, is exactly why I came here.

From a world-class support staff to the opportunity to be a dual-sport athlete, the list of reasons why I chose KU goes on and on. I went on other visits, sure, but if I’m being honest with myself, I think I always had that feeling in my gut that this would continue to be the place I call home. And that’s something that will remain true no matter where my post-collegiate career takes me. Whether it’s an opportunity to help KU, do something in the community or just have a good time, I’ll always make my way back to Lawrence.

After all, you can’t get cream cheese bacon pizza just anywhere.