During the recruitment of Kansas University freshman JaCorey Shepherd, one man led the charge.
His name is Darrell Wyatt, and, although KU’s former wide-receivers coach now works at the University of Texas, where KU will play at 6 tonight, he has hardly been forgotten.
“When I found out he was leaving, he actually called me and told me, ‘Hey, just because I’m leaving doesn’t mean you have to change your mind,’” Shepherd said of a conversation between him and Wyatt last winter. “He didn’t want me to think he was the whole reason I was coming up here. Once he told me that, I was just like, ‘Cool, I’m gonna stick with my commitment.’”
While Wyatt was credited as the lead recruiter for Shepherd, who ranks third in yards (249), fourth in receptions (13) and is tied for the team lead in receiving touchdowns (three), the freshman from Mesquite, Texas, acknowledged the important roles played by KU coach Turner Gill and offensive coordinator Chuck Long in bringing him to town. Still, it was Wyatt, a man who also served on Terry Allen’s coaching staff at KU in the late 1990s, who helped build the relationship between receiver and school that made Shepherd want to become a Jayhawk.
“I felt like we were getting close,” Shepherd said. “He came to a couple of my basketball practices, and we talked then. He just told me some of the things he expected from me when I got it up here.”
Once Wyatt left, Shepherd said he never had second thoughts about his commitment to Kansas.
“Not really,” he said. “Just because he did call me and made sure I was OK. It was a good situation. Right after that, when (new KU receivers) coach (David) Beaty came in, he just picked up right where coach Wyatt left off. Coach Beaty said he was actually looking at me at Rice, but they never offered me because they thought I’d get bigger offers.”
There are a lot of guys on the Kansas roster, players and coaches alike, who have similar stories regarding Wyatt. Some, such as junior receiver Kale Pick, recall Wyatt’s work as a teacher, friend and mentor. Others, such as Long, reflect on the camaraderie and good times.
For Pick, a former quarterback, Wyatt’s guidance during the Dodge City native’s transition to wide receiver is something for which he’ll always be appreciative.
“He just helped me out with the basics, starting out,” Pick said. “Just the stances as a receiver, some route techniques, getting off the line against press coverage, stuff like that. He also told me just to run. And just to be quick and fast out there. We only had two weeks left in the season, and he said we could smooth everything out in the offseason so he just wanted me to go out there and be my own player.”
Though Wyatt was not around to help him through it, Pick took that message to heart and was regarded as one of the Jayhawks’ top performers throughout the offseason. Today, he’s listed as a starter at wide receiver, and he’s looking forward to showing his former coach a thing or two during tonight’s match-up.
“Absolutely,” said Pick, when asked if he was excited to face Wyatt. “He’s on the other side of the ball, and that’s kind of spiced things up a bit. I want to go out there and show him how much I’ve improved as a receiver.”
Although Wyatt’s second stint at KU lasted just one season, Pick said he always sensed that Lawrence and KU were special to Wyatt.
“I think it meant a lot to him,” Pick said. “And he really worked hard. He was always in his office when I would knock on the door for his keys to get in the film room. He was a really dedicated coach. I’m looking forward to seeing him after the game and seeing how he’s doing. It was only two weeks, but I formed a pretty quick relationship with him.”
While the Wyatt reunion has a warm and fuzzy feel for those on the Kansas sideline, Texas coach Mack Brown sees it as an advantage for UT.
“He was at Kansas last year so he knows this team very well,” Brown said. “This will be a very important game to him. I laughed (and asked him), ‘Will this be any more special for you?’ (He told me) ‘I’ve coached at Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Baylor, Kansas, all of these are special to me because I know every coach in this league.’ He’ll be excited to see a lot of those kids he recruited last year and see the coaches, as well.”
Judging by the way some of KU’s coaches talked about Wyatt, the feeling’s mutual.
“I just hope he doesn’t give those guys all my secrets,” said Long of his old pal. “We have a few things up our sleeve that he hasn’t seen before. I had to go deep, deep down in the playbook to find things he hadn’t seen in a long time. He keeps every playbook from everywhere he goes, and he’s gonna have to go down deep in his box to figure out what we’re doing.”