RCW: Excitement Builds for 2017 Football Season
Beaty and crew have worked hard to bring some excitement to the table heading into the 2017 Kansas football season.
Each year, in the six weeks following spring football, all nine full-time assistant coaches hit the road on the recruiting trail searching for the next class of Jayhawks. Head coaches are not permitted to go out on the road during that period, so Kansas head coach David Beaty makes great use of that time to get out and about and visit Jayhawk fans and alumni.
After hitting a couple of big cities and several towns across Kansas in the first two spring tours, Beaty decided to make the 2017 tour about engaging KU fans across the nation with Houston, Dallas, Phoenix, Atlanta and New Orleans pinpointed on the map.
Now entering his third season leading the Jayhawks, Beaty and his staff have laid a solid foundation for the program to grow upon. With 48 letterwinners returning to the field for the 2017 campaign, including 14 starters, it was easy for KU fans along the path of the tour to have enthusiasm for the upcoming season.
“We took a chance going out into these big cities,” Beaty said. “We weren’t totally sure what to expect, but in each city we had a great crowd of Jayhawks who came to support us and get to know us better.”
In years past, Beaty has done some meeting and greeting with those in attendance, but the majority of the event was spent by him giving a presentation before taking a few questions. This year, he was able to veer away from that format—taking more time to engage one-on-one with the Jayhawks on site.
“In the past, I felt like I needed to spend a good chunk of time explaining our plan and what we were trying to establish for the program,” Beaty said. “This year, there is a different feeling. We finally have some legit playmakers to talk about and as it turned out, we were able to bring some of them with us. I really wanted those guys, and myself too, to be able to really get to know the people who came out to support us.”
The first of those “legit playmakers” is standout junior defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr., who had the opportunity to see about 25 family members and friends on the first stop of the tour in his hometown of Houston. Armstrong ranks among the top defensive players in the NCAA as he enters his third season at KU as the returning Big 12 leader in sacks, tackles-for-loss (TFLs) and forced fumbles, while ranking second fumble recoveries.
In Houston, a great crowd of Jayhawks, including former football players Quinton Smith (WR, 1986-89) and Austine Nwabuisi (FB, 2001-04) had the opportunity to listen to Beaty speak briefly about what is behind his excitement for the upcoming season—in addition to having Armstrong, KU’s first-ever unanimous All-Big 12 First Team selection, back in the Crimson and Blue.
“It hasn’t been easy these first two years,” Beaty said. “Our numbers situation that we have struggled with is no secret. But we have recruited and developed the players in our program, and I am excited because our babies are growing up.”
While Armstrong is the highest-touted returning Jayhawk, he is not alone when it comes to players who have already found some success and are looking for more. Fellow junior defensive lineman Daniel Wise returns as an All-Big 12 honoree, ranking 10th in TFLs, while sophomore safety Mike Lee comes back for his second season as the fifth-best tackler in the league. Lee earned freshman All-America honors in 2016 after producing several big hits and ranking fourth in the NCAA in solo tackles per game.
On offense, junior wide receiver Steven Sims Jr., is the top returning player in the conference in receptions per game and is fifth amongst the same group when it comes to receiving yards per game. Senior wide receiver LaQuvionte Gonzalez returns as the second-rated player in the league in all-purpose yards.
Beaty handed over the mic to Armstrong, who had the chance to say a few things to the crowd before both men took questions from the Jayhawks in attendance.
“I was just happy to be there, but really wasn’t sure what to expect,” Armstrong said. “I had the chance to really tell all of our fans there how much we appreciate their support and truly need it to be successful. It was a good experience to be able to look people in the eye and let them know how much they mean to us.”
Dallas was the next stop on the tour, and it felt like as much of a reunion as it did an opportunity to meet new faces. With Beaty being a native of the Dallas area, he had several family members in attendance, most notably his mother, Bobby. In addition to family members, Beaty also had numerous former players from his days as a high school coach in the Metroplex come out to support him.
The icing on the cake in Dallas was seeing so many Jayhawk football alums make their way to the event. Headlining the crew of KU players of the past was four-time NFL pro-bowl and Super Bowl champion cornerback Aqib Talib (CB, 2005-07). Joining Talib at the event were Dezmon Briscoe (WR, 2007-09), Greg Brown (CB, 2009-12) and Daymond Patterson (WR, 2008-10, 12). Each of the four KU alums took a turn on the mic, giving Beaty, Armstrong and the entire football program support and encouragement.
“That was probably the highlight of the tour for me,” Armstrong said. “To get to hang out with Aqib, Dezmon and Daymond, and all of those guys and hear them say they know we are getting better and how much they are looking forward to watching us play this year—it meant a lot. They were at KU when the team was going to bowl games every year, so they know what successful teams look like.”
Next up was a trip to Phoenix, current home of Jayhawk and NFL great Kwamie Lassiter. Beaty was able to again speak to pieces that are in place as to why he is excited, which also includes the coaching staff he has put together. He was able to touch on how crucial the addition of offensive coordinator Doug Meacham and quarterbacks coach Garrett Riley are to the KU offense taking the next step. He also spoke about the technical savvy that newly hired defensive line coach Jesse Williams possesses, before closing with his glowing first impressions of the most recent addition to the staff, Zac Woodfin, who is KU’s new Director of Football Strength and Conditioning.
After Beaty gushed about his staff and returning players, and took some questions, he was able to hand the mic over to Lassiter, whose son Kwamie Lassiter II is currently a redshirt-freshman wide receiver for the Jayhawks.
“Over the years, since I left KU, I have not always felt comfortable coming back to Lawrence,” the elder Lassiter said. “With David Beaty leading the program, I just know it is in the hands of the right man. Not only does he make it a place where all alums of the program feel welcome and important, but I get to see as a parent of one of his current players just how much he cares about them as people first and then coaching them into great football players. Now you cannot keep me away from Lawrence. I could not be more excited about the direction this Kansas program is going.”
Fresh off the fun outing in Phoenix, the KU plane jetted off to Atlanta—this time with Lee and junior quarterback Peyton Bender in tow—along with Beaty and Armstrong. For Bender it was an opportunity to see some familiar faces in his original hometown, while both he and Lee were enthusiastic about meeting and greeting some of their most die-hard fans.
The three players, Armstrong, Bender and Lee, stepped up to the plate in Atlanta, controlling the mic from the start before opening it up to the crowd for questions for themselves and Beaty. Although the Jayhawks in attendance wanted all of their starting quarterback questions answered due to Bender being on site, Beaty steered the talk back to the wealth of experienced, proven players returning to the field. The 2016 Kansas team saw 11 players receive all-conference honors, the most since 14 Jayhawks earned the nod in 2007. Beaty made sure to point out that seven of those 11 players will be back this fall.
“It was a great chance to let Peyton get out and meet some faithful Jayhawks,” Beaty said. “However, he being on this trip doesn’t mean anything when it comes to the quarterback competition. While I am pumped about what both he and Carter (Stanley) bring to the table for us there, I wanted to make sure the Atlanta crowd wasn’t just focused on that position. We are starting to build quality depth across the board and that is huge for us.”
The last stop on the tour came in Lee’s hometown of New Orleans. You could not wipe the smile off of his face the entire day as he was able to show Armstrong and Beaty some of his favorite places and get them to sample some food in his city. Beaty, Armstrong and Lee were joined in New Orleans by associate head coach and running backs coach Tony Hull, also a native of the Crescent City.
The final event of the tour was a huge success as both Lee and Hull had a chance to explain to the many locals in attendance just how happy they are to be Jayhawks and what it means to live by those core values.
Hard working, blue collar, unentitled, resilient. Those are the words Hull and Lee used to describe what it means to them to be a Jayhawk and those are the same words that should have Jayhawk nation excited about the 2017 Kansas football campaign.