What caught my eye at Day 1 of KU football’s fall camp

KU coach Charlie Weis (right, in gray sweatshirt) watches the D-Line go through drills during the initial fall practice of the 2013 season on Thursday.

KU coach Charlie Weis (right, in gray sweatshirt) watches the D-Line go through drills during the initial fall practice of the 2013 season on Thursday.

Seeing how today marked the official beginning of the 2013, I figured I better make my first “What Caught My Eye” blog of the season one that’s dedicated to beginners.

We’ll have plenty of time to get into some more position-specific stuff and talk about the Jayhawks you already know about, but here’s a quick first-look at a few of the newcomers, guys we got to see in a KU uniform for the first time today.

Remember, media members are not allowed to attend the entire practice, just the first 20-30 minutes, so what we see is somewhat limited. But instead of just mailing it in and pretending like it’s all the same, I’ll spend the month looking for the little things that stand out — at least to me — and I’ll try to interpret them and analyze them as best I can.

Here goes.

• First, it’s worth pointing out that there was a ton of energy all over the field today. That’s to be expected from a first practice — I don’t care if it’s the first day of middle school football or the first day of NFL training camp — but it’s still nice to see, considering that the last time we were invited to practice during the season, we saw a team that always worked hard but lost its bounce week after week, loss after loss. The energy did not just come from the players today, though. Tons of juice from everyone including coaches, managers and anybody else associated with the program.

• As you might have guessed, my first glances went toward defensive tackle Marquel Combs. I wanted to see how he worked, how he moved and how he carried himself. I’d give him high marks in all three areas and the best part was, he looked like he was having fun the entire time. Combs has a chance to impact this team in a bigger way than just about anybody this season and it was good to see him out there in his element.

• On the offensive line, Zach Fondal (pronounced Fawn-doll, I’ve been told) looks like he could jump out there right now. Great size, good feet, fluid movement. There’s no doubt that he has some work to do, both in getting in better shape and in learning how to play D-I football, but the framework appears to be there. Fondal opens camp as the second-string left tackle and he’ll work at both left and right tackle throughout camp to give the Jayhawks better depth at both spots.

I know I said this was about beginners today, but this would be a good time to toss in my impressions of left tackle Aslam Sterling. In a word, I’d say, ‘Wow.’ Not only does he look to be in much, much, much better shape than the guy who started for the Jayhawks last season, he moves like a running back. The coaches have been singing the praises of his transformation for weeks now and after seeing it with my own two eyes I can plainly say that they’re not making too much of it. He’s a new man. And he looks like he has a chance to be a force.

The new-and-improved Aslam Sterling at Day 1 of KU football fall camp.

• Another guy who jumped out at me was linebacker Samson Faifili, who opens camp as a back-up to Jake Love at the Will linebacker spot. Know this about Faifili: If Love holds him off, he’ll have earned it and it’ll make me think even more of Love than I already do. Faifili is non-stop energy who likes to bounce around the field, talk constantly and elevate the energy level whenever possible. He’s easy to spot because he’s got that Troy Palamalu hair sticking out of the back of his helmet. Before too long, I’m guessing you’ll notice the guy (No. 51) for something other than his hair.

• Just because we can, let’s throw Jake Heaps into the “new” grouping. After all, he is new as a starter on this squad. I’ve seen him plenty of times now, both in practice and in game-type settings, but I still walk away impressed every time. The ball just zips off his hand. We talked with him a little earlier today and he said he wasn’t going to change anything about how he does things now that camp has started. The only change you might see is a louder, more energized, more excited guy in the No. 9 jersey. He’s been waiting a long time for a chance to get back out there.

• Here’s another one that’s in that quasi-new category. Remember former defensive lineman Max Onyegbule? He’s back with the program in a coaching role and, from the looks of things today, he’ll help a lot. He’s young enough to relate to these guys and spent most of the stretching portion of the practice bouncing in the faces of his D-Linemen. Any guesses on the guy who got the most attention from Max? Yep. Combs.

New KU assistant Max Onyegbule tries to hype up KU defensive lineman Marquel Combs during stretching at the first practice of the 2013 fall camp Thursday.

• Finally, one quirky thing I thought was funny came when the Coach Weis song of the day came on. Yes, they’re still doing it with the second song of each practice and, yes, it sounds like it’s still going to be Bruce Springsteen or Bon Jovi every day. Today’s song was Springsteen’s “Born to Run” but when it came on, even the players went nuts. I never saw that last year. Like I said, there was a lot of energy out there today and nothing showed that more than a bunch of 18-20 year-olds getting fired up about a song by the Boss.
One other musical mention came four or five songs in, when a track by Drake filled the air. It’s name? “Started from the Bottom.” It’s hook? “Started form the bottom, now we here.” Sounds like a decent way for the KU football program to kick off the 2013 season.

More to come tomorrow. See you then.

Check back with KUsports.com throughout the afternoon for more from practice, as both Jesse Newell and I got some video from the first day.