In 2016, a rebuilding Kansas football team put a far more sound defense on the field than it did the year before, in head coach David Beaty’s first season. Still, KU’s offense couldn’t produce enough first downs or scoring drives to keep the Jayhawks competitive for much of the season. This coming fall, the Kansas offense will look a lot different. And it should be far more productive.
Over the next several days at KUsports.com, we will highlight some of the spring indications that signal better days ahead for the KU offense.
No one who watched Kansas football the previous two years would characterize the team’s running back production or depth as a strength. That could change this fall.
Before spring football began, it seemed reasonable to think KU’s starting running back might not even be on campus this semester. The headliner of Beaty’s 2017 high school recruiting class, after all, is four-star running back Dom Williams. The 5-foot-9 dynamo from Frisco, Texas, won’t report to Lawrence until the summer. What’s more, three-star junior college running back Octavius Matthews will officially join the roster at the same time.
This past fall, neither Taylor Martin (91 carries, 324 yards, four touchdowns) nor Khalil Herbert (44 carries, 189 yards, three touchdowns) showed enough to prove they should enter 2017 at the top of the depth chart. However, this spring both looked far more intriguing, exhibiting flashes as players who need to touch the ball and make an impact on offense.
During KU’s spring game, Herbert, a 5-foot-9 sophomore, displayed the speed and power he rarely got to show off as a true freshman due to a toe injury that slowed him down. On one fourth-and-1 play early on, Herbert made a slight, swift cut to avoid a head-on tackle and his muscular frame powered him through the contact for nine yards and a first down.
Herbert also helped create one of the more impressive offensive plays of the open scrimmage that Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium. Lined up to the left of quarterback Peyton Bender in the backfield, the promising back from Coral Springs, Fla., took a screen pass in the right flat, with center Hunter Saulsbury and right guard Larry Hughes hustling out in space to block for him.
As an aside: KU’s offensive linemen actually look more like Big 12 O-linemen now. Big guys with the ability to move their feet and execute blocks. Saulsbury (filling in for banged-up Mesa Ribordy) and Hughes did a nice job on this play, as they teamed up with tackles Hakeem Adeniji and Charles Baldwin and sophomore left guard Malik Clark.
Back to Herbert. Bender’s pass was a little high due to some QB pressure from All-Big 12 defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr., but Herbert made the grab look simple and then used key blocks from Saulsbury and Hughes to create a 26-yard gain. Going right-to-left off the blocks, he shot out of the running lane after a great cutback.
Speaking of impressive reads and reactions on the run, Martin, a speedy 5-10 junior from Fort Worth, Texas, made one early on in the spring game, too. Martin was headed right out of the backfield and could see the defensive line penetrating at the point he planned to attack. With one cut to the left Martin re-routed and sped ahead for a nine-yard gain.
In the past, Martin got himself and the offense into trouble by trying to make too many jukes and cuts rather than utilizing his sprinter’s speed on straight-away paths. During the second quarter of the spring game Martin proved he has made strides to address those habits that he used to get away with in high school.
On one carry, Martin made the slightest cut left in the backfield to avoid a bunch of snarled linemen, only to tear ahead, spin off a would-be tackler and go eight more yards for a 12-yard pick-up. He got the offense half-way to another first down on the very next play by surveying his blocks and jetting through them after one necessary left-to-right juke to put himself in position.
On his longest carry of the scrimmage, Martin didn’t need to cut, spin, leap or zigzag. He just followed the O-line as it shifted to the right, creating a lane for him to show off his track speed, which Martin harnessed to reach the secondary level of the defense on a 13-yard carry. In particular, senior left guard Jayson Rhodes stood out as a blocker, getting over quickly to seal the left side of Martin’s running-lane chute to a first down.
It was only a spring game, and neither Herbert (six carries, 27 yards) nor Martin (seven rushes, 43 yards) dominated by any means in KU’s Air Raid offense. But they both looked like Big 12 backs capable of playing at a starting level this fall.
The competition between Bender and Carter Stanley to become KU’s starting quarterback has the most attention. But with Herbert, Martin, Williams and Matthews all vying to reach the top of the running backs depth chart, that will be an even more challenging battle.
Regardless of who emerges as the starter, KU looks to have its best stable of running backs in some time, and the Jayhawks should have no problem out-performing their 119.1 rushing yards a game from a year ago, which ranked ninth in the Big 12 and more than 40 yards a game behind eighth-place Iowa State.
It’s been less than three months since four-star high school receiver Devonta Jason — one of the top 25 juniors in the nation according to Rivals — shocked the football recruiting world by committing to Kansas, along with his Louisiana prep teammate Corione Harris, a four-star cornerback.
While the news helped introduce KU fans to the term “Louisianimals” and doubled as a sign of associate head coach Tony Hull’s strength as a recruiter, Jason’s verbal commitment doesn’t mean he will definitely play for the Jayhawks in 2018. That won’t become official until he and other members of a Kansas recruiting class that currently ranks 14th in the nation sign their national letters of intent.
As of this week, Jason, a 6-foot-3 receiver now playing at more than 200 pounds, has received 27 scholarship offers — coming from programs in each of the Power Five conferences. The most recent two came Monday, from an old Kansas rival, Missouri, and the Pac-12’s Arizona.
Initially an LSU commit, Jason has much to ponder ahead of his senior season at Landry-Walker High, in New Orleans — the same school from which KU safety Mike Lee graduated early before turning into an impact freshman in the Big 12.
Earlier this month, Jason told SEC Country he is on pace to graduate from high school in December, and enroll at the university of his choice (possibly Kansas) for the 2018 spring semester.
That has to qualify as good news for KU head coach David Beaty and Louisiana recruiting guru Hull. The less time powerhouse programs have to try to sway Jason away, the better the chances for Kansas to get Rivals’ No. 25 player in the nation on the field in Lawrence. National Signing Day isn’t until Feb. 7, 2018. But if Jason graduates in December, the Jayhawks could already have him on campus by then — similar to what the staff did a few months back, with freshman linebacker Kyron Johnson, a three-star prospect from Arlington, Texas.
Open about his ongoing recruitment in interviews since committing to Kansas, Jason told SECCountry.com all the programs going after him have a chance.
“I’m going to be fair about it. I’m committed to Kansas, but LSU, Mississippi State and Ole Miss are all tied in second,” Jason said a few weeks ago.
According to Jon Kirby of Jayhawk Slant, Jason is the highest-rated receiver ever to commit to KU.
It’s not a done deal now. Not even close. But just the idea of a wideout as talented as Jason one day suiting up for the Jayhawks and operating in the Air Raid offense should be enough to get an at times disinterested fan base excited about what Beaty, Hull and company are doing.
In the meantime, we’ll have to watch from afar and see if even more offers come in for the coveted receiver. One thing is certain: coaches from far more renowned programs will continue to do everything they can to get Jason to back out of his KU commitment.
Below is a timeline of Jason’s college recruitment.
- Nov. 4: Commits to LSU
April 9: Offer from Mississippi State
April 29: Offer from Kansas
May 2: Offer from West Virginia
May 4: Offer from Georgia
May 5: Offer from Nicholls State
May 6: Offer from Florida
May 11: Offers from Arkansas and Ole Miss
May 13: Offer from Jackson State
May 14: Offer from Delta State
May 17: Offer from Alabama
June 24: Offer from Miami (Fla.)
- July 9: De-commits from LSU — as does Landry-Walker teammate Corione Harris
July 13: Offer from Tennessee
Dec. 12: Offers from Auburn, Arkansas State and Memphis
Jan. 2: Offer from Texas A&M
Jan. 12: Offer from Florida State
Jan. 17: Offer from Oklahoma
Jan. 18: Offer from Iowa State
Jan. 21: Offer from Indiana
- Feb. 4: Commits to Kansas — as does Landry-Walker teammate Harris
Feb. 9: Offers from TCU and Louisiana-Lafayette
Feb. 21: Offer from Tulane
April 24: Offers from Arizona and Missouri
After five weeks and 15 practices, one of the most crucial stretches of the Kansas football team’s offseason has come to a conclusion.
Spring ball is over, and the Jayhawks won’t reconvene for full team drills in helmets and pads with David Beaty and his position coaches again until August. It’s all strength and conditioning work with new assistant Zac Woodfin until then.
So who among KU’s many talented returning players had the most productive spring? Coaches don’t typically like to shower their pupils with too much praise, because they don’t want any individual thinking he’s in a position to ease up and stop improving.
But Kansas staff members over the past several weeks did give out player of the day honors for the team’s practice sessions, shouting out a representative from offense, defense and special teams.
The parameters for the acknowledgments, one can assume, are based around focus, consistency, effort and on-the-field impact. But you also can bet there was a classic Beaty “earn it” element to those practice awards, too. Veterans who have been around the program longer and established themselves as reliable and trustworthy tended to have their names and faces pop up on KU football’s Instagram account, the team’s vehicle for announcing the awards. For example: neither of the program’s transfers from Alabama, receiver Daylon Charlot and offensive lineman Charles Baldwin, picked up a player of the day nod.
Using the coaches’ public awards platform, we can get a sense of which players pleased KU coaches the most this spring. In total, 11 different Jayhawks won multiple practice distinctions, but the unofficial player of the spring distinction for Kansas goes to linebacker Joe Dineen, the only player to pick up the award three times.
Dineen missed most of the 2016 season due to a hamstring injury, but the good news for KU is he looked as fast and effective as ever this spring. What’s more, Dineen still has two years of eligibility remaining, thanks to receiving a medical redshirt for this past year.
As strong as KU’s defensive line projects to be in 2017, Clint Bowen’s defense needs play-makers behind the biggest Jayhawks up front to keep the program on its upward trajectory. Dineen is capable of being one at linebacker, with sophomore safety Mike Lee leading the secondary behind him.
Ten other Jayhawks won player of the day on two occasions: sophomore tackle Hakeem Adeniji, junior All-Big 12 defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr., junior receiver Jeremiah Booker, sophomore cornerback Hasan Defense, junior defensive end Josh Ehambe, sophomore receiver Chase Harrell, senior receiver Bobby Hartzog Jr., senior tight end BenJohnson, junior running back Taylor Martin and senior kicker Gabriel Rui.
The names that stand out most from that group are Defense and Harrell, because they’re un-tested underclassmen.
Cornerbacks coach Kenny Perry needs Defense, who played his freshman season at Kilgore College (Texas), to play like a starting Big 12 defensive back immediately, because KU lost two starters at the position. A solid spring is an ideal jumping-off point for the aptly named Defense as he continues his offseason. If he stood out against KU’s receivers, that’s an excellent sign.
Conversely, offensive coordinator and receivers coach Doug Meacham is in charge of the unit’s most talented position group. The man calling plays for Kansas already has Steven Sims Jr., Daylon Charlot, LaQuvionte Gonzalez and Ryan Schadler at his disposal. But none of those targets have Harrell’s size. The redshirt sophomore from Huffman, Texas, is 6-foot-4, strong and proved in KU’s spring game he can get up high and make spectacular catches. Harrell seems on target to have a breakthrough season and KU’s offense needs all the weapons it can get while it continues to play catch-up with the rest of the Big 12.
These standouts and others have more chances ahead of them to improve over the course of football’s lengthy offseason, but it’s interesting to see which Jayhawks the coaching staff chose to commend during the spring.
KU football’s spring players of the day
Practice No. 1
Offense: Jeremiah Booker, jr., WR
Defense: Derrick Neal, sr., CB
Special teams: Gabriel Rui, sr., K
Practice No. 2
Offense: Hunter Saulsbury, so., OL
Defense: Josh Ehambe, jr., DE
Special teams: Taylor Martin, jr., RB
Practice No. 3
Offense: Taylor Martin, jr., RB
Defense: Hasan Defense, so., CB
Special teams: Joe Dineen, jr., LB
Practice No. 4
Offense: Ben Johnson, sr., TE
Defense: Keith Loneker Jr., jr., LB
Special teams: Tyler Patrick, jr., WR
Practice No. 5
Offense: Reese Randall, jr., RB
Defense: Hasan Defense, so., CB
Special teams: Kyle Mayberry, so., CB
Practice No. 6
Offense: Hakeem Adeniji, so., OL
Defense: Osaze Ogbebor, jr., LB
Special teams: Bryce Torneden, so., S
Practice No. 7
Offense: Ryan Schadler, jr., WR
Defense: Dorance Armstrong Jr., jr., DE
Special teams: Gabriel Rui, sr., K
Practice No. 8
Offense: Evan Fairs, so., WR / Hakeem Adeniji, so., OL
Defense: Maciah Long, so., DE
Special teams: Ryan Renick, RS-fr., TE
Practice No. 9
Offense: Steven Sims Jr., jr., WR
Defense: Joe Dineen, jr., LB
Special teams: Dorance Armstrong Jr., jr., DE
Practice No. 10
Offense: Bobby Hartzog Jr., sr., WR
Defense: Daniel Wise, jr., DT
Special teams: J.J. Holmes, jr., DT
Practice No. 11
Offense: Chase Harrell, so., WR
Defense: Isi Holani, sr., DT
Special teams: Bobby Hartzog Jr., sr., WR
Practice No. 12
(Walk-through day before spring game — no awards given)
Practice No. 13 — spring game
Offense: Ben Johnson, sr., TE / Peyton Bender, jr., QB
Defense: Josh Ehambe, jr., DE
Special teams: Cole Moos, sr., P
Practice No. 14
Offense: Jeremiah Booker, jr., WR
Defense: Joe Dineen, jr., LB
Special teams: Chase Harrell, so., WR
Practice No. 15
(Results not available)
Player of the Day Standings
B. Johnson (2)
Spring football games are not real football games. And no one understands that better than Kansas defensive stalwarts Dorance Armstrong Jr., and Daniel Wise.
Saturday’s scrimmage at Memorial Stadium was about letting the fans get a peek at the 2017 Jayhawks, not giving away too many secrets or play-calling wrinkles along the way and keeping quarterbacks Carter Stanley and Peyton Bender healthy.
So juniors Armstrong and Wise, two of the program’s most marketable talents, who also happen to be massive defensive linemen, didn’t get to unleash their full array of skills.
The quarterbacks, receivers such as Daylon Charlot and Steven Sims Jr., running backs Taylor Martin and Khalil Herbert, defensive backs such as Mike Lee, Kyle Mayberry, Derrick Neal and Bryce Torneden, and linebackers Joe Dineen and Keith Loneker Jr., got to experience a lively, enjoyable afternoon scrimmage.
It just felt a little different for the big guys who hope to make a living in the NFL by chasing and demolishing QBs.
A 6-foot-4, 246-pound pass-rusher extraordinaire from Houston, Armstrong was credited with four total tackles and one sack. Wise, a 6-3, 290-pound versatile defensive lineman, had two tackles for loss and a sack. Not bad numbers, for sure, but also not true snapshots of how impactful they will be for David Beaty’s third Kansas football team, either.
It must have been difficult for them to exert their typical full game-day effort knowing they would have to pump the brakes if they created themselves a path to a QB, right? Sophomore safety Lee, who spoke with reporters after the open practice, confirmed as much.
“On the sideline, Dorance was really mad,” a grinning Lee reported. “He was like, ‘They keep holdin’ me! I can’t even get a sack!’ He was like, ‘I wish it was a real game, because I’d have a bunch of sacks.’ And D-Wise was just laughin’ at him, like, ‘It’s just the spring game, son.’”
The picture Lee painted gives you an idea of part of what makes Armstrong great: that competitive fire. But neither Armstrong nor Wise could show off at the spring game in the way Lee (six tackles and two crushing hits on receiver Ryan Schadler) or other defenders were able to do.
“It really was a defensive back game, because it’s the spring game,” Lee said. “They can’t touch the quarterback. The ball was being thrown a lot.”
Obviously the last thing any coach or player wants is to lose a quarterback due to a contact injury during a practice or scrimmage — it was only two years ago that a freak play at KU’s spring game prematurely ended Michael Cummings’ career. You’ve got to have those QBs in red jerseys and safe.
And, when you think about it, that’s probably what makes Saturdays in the fall so rewarding for standout defensive linemen like Armstrong and Wise. After months of not being able to do what you were born to do, you get to release those frustrations on an opposing quarterback.
Here’s an early bet that Armstrong and Wise this fall will improve upon their combined 13 sacks and 30 tackles for loss from 2016.
The Kansas football team is going all in on building up hype for this Saturday’s spring game at Memorial Stadium (1 p.m. kickoff).
David Beaty and company started off the week Monday by announcing the two sides for the scrimmage — Team Jayhawks and Team KU — and the coaches in charge of each. It will be Kansas associate head coach and running backs coach Tony Hull (Jayhawks) on one sideline and cornerbacks coach and co-defensive coordinator Kenny Perry (KU) on the other, with Beaty observing the action in more of a neutral capacity.
How will the rosters be split up for the spring game? Well, that will be determined Wednesday afternoon with a draft.
Hull — who will be assisted by defensive coordinator Clint Bowen, special teams coordinator Joe DeForest, quarterbacks coach Garrett Riley and offensive line coach Zach Yenser — won the right to the No. 1 pick on Monday, when Perry — working with linebackers coach Todd Bradford, offensive coordinator Doug Meacham and defensive line coach Jesse Williams — lost a coin toss by picking tails.
Second-year assistant Hull had the opportunity to take either the swagged-out home KU locker room or the No. 1 pick in the spring draft by winning the coin flip, and he rightfully went with the draft rights.
So who should Hull pick for this weekend’s family-friendly affair? We got together some of our KUsports.com staff members to find out which Jayhawk they think Hull will select — and who they would take No. 1 overall.
Let us know your picks in the comments section below.
Benton Smith’s prediction and pick
Who Hull will take: Since Mr. Louisianimal himself landed the top choice, I think he will want an impact guy from “The Boot” to build his team around.
That means Hull will go with perhaps the most intriguing talent on the roster, former Alabama wide receiver Daylon Charlot, from Patterson, La. A 6-foot, 195-pound pass-catching and return threat, Charlot walked away from Nick Saban at Alabama when the most prominent head coach in all of college football tried to convince him to stay.
Teammates and coaches rave about Charlot’s athletic ability and how he can break open a play in the open field or with a deep catch. Charlot has been looking forward to playing for months after sitting out and he’ll want to make a splash in his unofficial KU debut.
Who I would take: He won’t have the same flash or fan attention as Charlot or one of KU’s top quarterbacks, but I’m taking a big man who can not only give my QB some time to make his reads, but also get out and create holes for the running backs (or speedy receivers on end arounds).
The pick is another Alabama transfer, junior offensive lineman Charles Baldwin.
The 6-foot-5, 305-pound right tackle, like Charlot, will be eager to play after sitting out 2016 as a transfer. And he has the power and athleticism to try and limit the likes of Dorance Armstrong Jr. and/or Daniel Wise, should they end up on the opposite side of the line of scrimmage.
Even if QB’s won’t be hit in the scrimmage, it would be nice to have a beast like Baldwin on your side as a starting point.
Matt Tait’s prediction and pick
Who Hull will take: Junior DE Dorance Armstrong Jr.
For my money, Armstrong is the best player on the Kansas football team. As he showed last season, he’s a big-time pass-rusher at the Power 5 level and he’s only getting better.
Because it’s a spring game and the KU quarterbacks will be wearing red jerseys, you won’t see any of the bone-crushing hits that Armstrong is capable of delivering. But you might see him wreak havoc on KU’s offensive line, which, in a game that features players getting credited with sacks for just touching the quarterback, could make for a long day for the KU offense, especially if Peyton Bender and Carter Stanley aren’t getting the ball out quickly. Hull coaches offense so it won’t surprise me if he’s leaning toward picking a player from that side of the ball. For what it’s worth, I can’t see it being a running back. But with enough quality players at other positions available down his draft board, Hull can scoop those up later and take the difference-maker with the No. 1 overall selection.
Who I would take: Junior WR Steven Sims Jr.
Spring games have been known to showcase offensive firepower, and, at Kansas, wide receivers often have been the beneficiaries of that fact.
From Christian Matthews on a couple of occasions back in the day to LaQuvionte Gonzalez last season, the guys on the outside typically get a lot of space to work with and often can take advantage of being put in position to use their speed to score quickly and often, because they don’t have to worry about their teammates lighting them up. Once they catch the ball, especially in space, it becomes a foot race to the end zone and Sims, along with most of KU's wideouts, is faster than many of the defensive backs on this team and, perhaps most importantly, far more experienced.
Sims has been KU’s most consistent wide receiver during the past two seasons and I think he’s ready for an even bigger role now that he’s an upperclassman. I think that role begins Saturday and I'd gladly welcome him onto my team if I had the No. 1 pick.
He catches everything, knows how to get open and has proven to be a favorite target of quarterbacks because of his reliable hands and precise route running.
Give me Sims to start my team and I’ll build around him.
Bobby Nightengale’s prediction and pick
Who Hull will take: Joe Dineen.
When a coach or front office is making a pick at the top of the draft, it’s always important to consider all of the intangibles. That’s why I think Hull is going to pick junior middle linebacker Dineen, aka Local Boy, with his first pick.
Perhaps no player will be more excited to step on the field Saturday than Dineen, who missed nearly all of last season with a right hamstring injury. The 6-2, 230-pound linebacker was a captain for the defense and is essentially another coach on the field. People know what to expect out of him — a run-stopper capable of running sideline to sideline, and a good pass-rusher on blitzes.
Who I would take: Mike Lee.
With a young, inexperienced secondary, Kansas sophomore-to-be safety Lee stands out because of his talented freshman campaign. The 5-foot-11, 176-pounder proved that he’s a threat to stop rushing attacks (70 solo tackles last year) and his big hits make receivers think twice on balls floating over the middle.
In the spring game, the key to slowing either quarterback, Stanley or Bender, will be strong coverage against top receivers Sims, Gonzalez, Charlot and others. Surrounded by young cornerbacks, Lee is the best weapon in the Jayhawks’ secondary and can provide leadership through his experience.
Plus, as a bonus, Lee isn’t going to shy away from the top moments. His interception in overtime against Texas helped seal Beaty’s first Big 12 victory in November, providing momentum into the offseason.
Every time the Kansas football team practices this spring, the Jayhawks address their strengths and weaknesses under the watchful eyes of head coach David Beaty and his numerous assistants.
For approximately 15 minutes of most sessions, the media is allowed to observe, too. And typically there is not much to see. Some warm-ups. Extra-point and field goal work. Players fielding punts. Position drills. The sort of mundane aspects of practicing that have to be done but hardly qualify as entertaining or informative.
Thankfully on Thursday, during the eighth of 15 spring practices, Beaty threw in a couple series of seven-on-seven action, an alteration welcomed by those in attendance who don’t get to witness the vast majority of KU’s repetitions.
The variation — though it didn’t include linemen from either side of the ball — provided somewhat of a peek at the Jayhawks’ offense and defense and highlighted a few of the subjects Beaty, offensive coordinator Doug Meacham and defensive coordinator Clint Bowen already have discussed in conversations about where KU stands at this point.
Here’s a quick recap of the seven-on-seven, which featured a series apiece for quarterbacks Carter Stanley and Peyton Bender.
On first down, Stanley, a redshirt sophomore, looked to hit junior receiver Steven Sims Jr. deep in the back left corner of the end zone. Stanley put the ball in a pretty good spot. But sophomore corner Kyle Mayberry rose up to knock the would-be score to the turf.
Spotting former running back Ryan Schadler, now a slot receiver, coming open over the middle of the field, Stanley threw Schadler’s way but junior linebacker Keith Loneker Jr. hustled in to deflect the pass.
Two plays after Mayberry made a strong stop in the end zone, Sims beat him down the sideline on third down to haul in a wide-open TD — much to the chagrin of Bowen, who let the cornerback know that kind of mistake was unacceptable.
Bender, a junior who began his college career at Washington State, opened by displaying his precision. The 6-foot-1 transfer flung a pass through a small window, between defenders, to find 6-foot-4 sophomore receiver Chase Harrell.
After picking up a first down on the pass to Harrell, Bender made a quick read and completed a short throw to redshirt freshman receiver Kwamie Lassiter II.
Bender’s only incompletion of the brief period came on second down, when sophomore corner DeAnte Ford dove in at the last moment to break up a pass intended for sophomore receiver Daylon Charlot.
After the offense hurried back to the line of scrimmage, Bender dumped off a pass to junior running back Taylor Martin on the right side.
To complete his series with a touchdown, too, Bender hit Charlot, the 6-foot Alabama transfer, near the right sideline.
MORE SPRING KU FOOTBALL COVERAGE FROM THIS WEEK
A year after the tragic news of former Kansas football running back Brandon Bourbon’s death emerged, his friend and KU teammate Ben Heeney is making sure as many people as possible hear Bourbon’s story.
Heeney, Bourbon’s college roommate and now a linebacker with the Oakland Raiders, re-lived some of his favorite memories of Bourbon in a feature for The Players’ Tribune titled, “Life and Death.”
In the piece, Heeney details not only the fun moments he and Bourbon experienced together in Lawrence, but also a detailed, heartbreaking account of how he wanted to help a friend he could tell was in need, not knowing at the time Bourbon soon would take his own life.
Reflecting on their time together, Heeney says on The Players’ Tribune he sees now that at some point Bourbon reached a point where he determined life lacked the meaning it once held for him. So Heeney hopes to make sure his friend’s life still can have an impact.
“I want to help educate people. I want to talk to people who are having thoughts like Brandon had, and to let them know that there’s another chapter for them, and that they need to be here to write it,” Heeney shared. “That their story isn’t over. I want to have the conversation with them that I wish I’d had with Brandon.
“But I also want to talk to people who are close to those who might be suffering,” he added, “to let them know that there are signs to look out for, and to tell them the proper way to acknowledge them and address them.”
— Read Heeney’s entire feature for The Players’ Tribune: Life and Death
Though Bourbon’s story is a sad one, Heeney’s desire is that it will help save someone else’s life.
On Monday, Heeney posted several old photos of him and his buddy, remembering April 3, 2016, as the last day the two spoke.
“It hurts so much knowing that you could still be here with us today,” Heeney wrote on Instagram. “Looking back now, I can see some signs, but when the signs were right there in front of me I was blind. Blinded by your confidence, your resilience, your strength. See it's the strongest people who hide it so well. Never in a million years did I think you were struggling everyday. Never in a million years did I think you didn't want to be here anymore. I wish I would have recognized the signs and been there for you. I wish you would have opened up to me and told me your struggles so we could get through them together... I will NEVER stop telling your story. I will NEVER let anyone forget your name. Because I know you would do the same for me. I love you and miss you every single second of every single day bro. We will continue to spread your message and continue to raise depression awareness so hopefully nobody else ever has to feel as alone as you did. You are with me always — and like you told me that last day we were together, "see you soon."
David Beaty calls it the victory drill — or V-drill for short.
It’s a staple during the early portion of Kansas football’s practices this spring and it’s a way to get all the Jayhawks engaged immediately following stretches and warm-ups.
A quarterback stands at the back of a long, straight line of offensive and defensive players with the ball in a hand-off position, as they all wait for a coach’s whistle. Once that signal sounds, the QB gives the football up to a running back. In front of the ball carrier, players fight to win one-on-one blocks at three different levels:
Offensive lineman vs. interior defensive lineman
Tight end or O-lineman vs. defensive end or linebacker
Receiver vs. defensive back
What begins as an ordered row of players instantly mutates into chaos, as the running back reads the blocks playing out in front of him and finds the most direct route to the end zone from 20 yards out.
“We want to stress a fast start in everything we do, and I think that kind of lets us set our pads at the beginning of practice,” Beaty said of the drill. “And really it’s more than just running into each other. There’s very direct things that we’re working on.”
At Thursday’s practice, the most experienced running back on the roster, junior Taylor Martin, looked most comfortable finding holes and lanes in the V-drill, juking and speeding his way to the goal line. But, as Beaty said, the exercise benefits players at all positions and and brings an intense vibe to the beginning of practice.
“It’s hard to simulate that unless you’re in a play,” the third-year KU head coach said, “unless you’re in that type of a drill.”
It gets the Jayhawks’ competitive juices flowing and allows the coaches, who get as fired up as their pupils during the competition, to dive into their day with some productive analysis and critiquing.
“We’re not looking to take a guy to the ground. We’re really looking for technique and trying to stay safe,” Beaty said, “but still get that physicality to start the practice.”
— Check out some footage of the V-drill from Thursday’s practice — the fifth of 15 this spring — below.
The first practice leading up to the 2017 Kansas football season came indoors Monday, when head coach David Beaty’s Jayhawks began their spring at KU’s Anschutz Pavilion.
The first of 15 sessions over the course of March and April marked the first time junior quarterback Peyton Bender (No. 7) and new offensive coordinator Doug Meacham were involved with a Jayhawks practice.
— Players featured in today’s practice video include: Bender, QB No. 18 Tyriek Starks, QB No. 9 Carter Stanley, WR No. 2 Daylon Charlot, WR No. 3 Chase Harrell, WR No. 11 Steven Sims Jr., and offensive linemen No. 72 Charles Baldwin, No. 73 Larry Hughes, No. 69 Mesa Ribordy, No. 65 Jayson Rhodes and No. 78 Hakeem Adeniji.
What stood out
Media don’t get to see much of KU’s football practices, but in the time allotted Monday, I spent all 20 minutes or so watching the offensive players — primarily their interactions with Meacham.
The former co-coordinator of TCU’s offense is intense during practice and knows what he wants to see. When a player or two didn’t live up to Meacham’s expectations he let them know about it, unconcerned that this was the team’s first practice together and some might consider that a reasonable excuse for not getting through everything flawlessly.
We only saw KU go through very basic drills, but Bender, Stanley and Starks all put good zip on their throws as they worked with what projects as a talented receiving group.
I only saw a little bit of the offensive line work, but one can’t help noticing the O-line seems to look a little more like a Big 12 unit each year — meaning the players responsible for protecting the QB appear collectively larger than their predecessors.
From left to right, here are the current listed measurements (KU hasn't officially updated them for 2017 as of yet) for what figures to be assistant Zach Yenser’s top five:
LT Hakeem Adeniji: 6-4, 265 sophomore
LG Jayson Rhodes: 6-4, 307 senior
C Mesa Ribordy: 6-4, 290 sophomore
RG Larry Hughes: 6-7, 311 junior
RT Charles Baldwin: 6-5, 305 junior