🏈 Second-Year Players Eager to Make Jump

LAWRENCE, Kan. — As the Kansas football team made its way through the 2020 season, no team in the nation played more true freshmen than the 27 that suited up for the Jayhawks.

Fast forward a few months from the completion of the season, and those true freshmen are now going through their first spring practice, ready to build on their respective debut seasons.

The consensus among all the soon-to-be second-year players is that it was fun getting their feet wet in year one, but now they’re ready to turn it up a notch and expand their roles. They want to be leaders. They want to be counted on both on and off the field and they want to win.

That has been the message this spring from several true freshmen from the 2020 class who have spoken to the local media after practice.

“Coming in, I learned a lot,” quarterback Jalon Daniels said. “Coming in from high school, being able to play my first college game, learning about the defenses and what they’re doing…My comfortability and my decision making; that has been a big improvement from last year. I’m more decisive and see it in practice.”

The younger Jayhawks on the roster who earned that valuable playing time last year are now trying to take the lessons they learned from those games last year into their improvement on the practice field this spring. For Daniels, that’s been his decision making.

Other players, of course, had different objectives, tailored to their different experiences on the field. For running back Amauri Pesek-Hickson, a priority was becoming more of a student of the game, in addition to following the guidance of the strength and conditioning staff, headed by Ben Iannacchione.

“Coach Ben did a great job with us in the weight room,” Pesek-Hickson said. “I feel like I’m stronger, faster, and I understand the game more than I did before the spring. I would sum (last season) up as positive in the aspect of growing up, understanding football more and really understanding to be great, you have to put your all into it, on the field, in the classroom, and just being consistent in everything you do.”

For some of the first-year players on the team last year, the adjustment to college football also consisted of a position change, adding more to the transition from high school to college. Running back Daniel Hishaw played quarterback in high school, while linebacker Taiwan Berryhill moved inside last year after being an outside linebacker prior.

“I’ve grown as a linebacker,” Berryhill said. “I switched toward the end of the season. I had never played inside before. That was a new position for me. My goal (this year) is just to dominate and have fun.”

He’s not the only one on the defensive side who got first-hand experience last year as a freshman. Cornerback Duece Mayberry also played extensively and has seen improvement in himself this offseason.

“I feel like I made a lot of progress,” Mayberry said. “I feel like I’m getting stronger. My feet are getting faster and the game is slowing down to me. I’m going to go out there and every day work as hard as I can and compete.”

Some freshmen, like receiver Lawrence Arnold, had their seasons cut short because of injury. Arnold, now 100-percent healthy is re-starting the momentum he had at the start of last season when he started the team’s Big 12 opener against Baylor.

“I would describe my season as a learning process,” Arnold said of 2020. “I learned from the veterans that were here. They’re teaching me the game, teaching me how to read coverages. Coach (Emmett) Jones taught us a lot in the four games I got to play. It was a learning process and a good experience for me. The main thing that stood out to me is everyone’s energy on the field. Coming from high school, playing as a freshman, the energy and speed was a different level. Everything sped up.

“For me to be able to play and be on the field with those guys was a blessing and a great opportunity for me to do something great; I finally got to experience college football, so now I know what to expect.”