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Rise & Sign: KU football ushers in 2014 recruiting class on National Signing Day

It's National Signing Day and KU coach Charlie Weis is expecting 20 letters of intent to arrive via fax.

It's National Signing Day and KU coach Charlie Weis is expecting 20 letters of intent to arrive via fax. by Matt Tait

3:26 p.m. Update:

Just wanted to clarify one thing before I jump in and write something up for tomorrow's paper:

KU's total haul in this class — counting mid-year guys and D-I transfers — is 25.... 15 high school signees, 8 juco signees and 2 D-I transfers. Because the Jayhawks can count one player backwards toward last year's class, that leaves them with one spot remaining in the current class.

That's significant because if a player were to come available late or if another attractive transfer popped up, they would be able to jump on him. That said, I'd expect the spot to remain unused unless an offensive tackle or wide receiver that could come in and push for a starting role became available.

As you were.

1:21 p.m. Update:

My quick take on the class that just became official...

(Reminder: While this is my immediate reaction to the class, KU coach Charlie Weis will give his and more at his Thursday press conference. We'll be there, so be ready for much more tomorrow.)

For a look at the entire Class of 2014 all in one neat spot, check out our 2014 recruiting page.

12:59 p.m. Update:

Some quick notes about the class, now that it is official, including a comment from KU coach Charlie Weis:

“I’m very pleased with this recruiting class,” Weis said via press release. “Our staff had to show good patience, and, through hard work, we filled almost every pressing need.”

• KU’s 2014 class includes 15 high school signees, 8 junior college transfers and 2 Division-I transfers. There are 12 defensive players and 13 offensive players in the group.

• The 2014 KU signees represent 9 different states and Canada, with Texas leading the way providing 11 new Jayhawks. Three local players signed letters of intent with KU as safety Joe Dineen (Lawrence, Kan./Free State HS), offensive lineman Apa Visinia (Grandview, Mo./Grandview HS) and running back Traevohn Wrench (Gardner, Kan./Gardner Edgerton HS) each joined the program.

• The Jayhawks signed four 4-star players according to ESPN.com — running back/wide receiver Corey Avery (Dallas, Texas/Carter HS), offensive lineman Jacob Bragg (Nacogdoches, Texas (Nacogdoches HS), linebacker Kyron Watson (East St. Louis, Ill./East St. Louis HS) and Wrench. Wrench was also given a four-star rating by Rivals.com.

12:24 p.m. Update:

In just under seven hours, all of the KU football commitments faxed their letters of intent to the KU football offices, with No.2-ranked juco defensive end Anthony Olobia finishing out the list.

Olobia was the last one to fax his letter and, given how smoothly the first 19 of the day went, the delay had to cause some anxious moments. But in the grand scheme of it all, his letter was still to the right hands by a little after noon. Not bad given the fact that some years and at most places, the waiting game can linger well into the afternoon and evening.

Based on what I'm hearing, that's it for today. The Jayhawks do have a couple of spots open still but they likely will save those for potential additions down the road.

I'll keep an ear out just in case anything pops up but that sounds very unlikely. Gonna throw together that recap video with my thoughts on the class and I'll post that as soon as it's done.

For now, enjoy the rest of the blog and all of the highlight videos in it.

11:54 a.m. Update:

Still waiting and trying to track down some information on Olobia.

For now, here are a few more photos that were sent to me from earlier signings. Two from Bobby Hartzog and one from Matthew Boateng.

First, Hartzog:

Bobby Hartzog's signing day set-up was all crimson and blue.

Bobby Hartzog's signing day set-up was all crimson and blue. by Matt Tait

Bobby Hartzog in the act of signing the paperwork this morning.

Bobby Hartzog in the act of signing the paperwork this morning. by Matt Tait

And here's Boateng in the act of signing:

DB Matthew Boateng was the first new Jayhawk to sign his letter of intent this morning.

DB Matthew Boateng was the first new Jayhawk to sign his letter of intent this morning. by Matt Tait

11:18 a.m. Update:

And then there was one. It's official. All of the letters are in except for Anthony Olobia's. Olobia, the No. 2 ranked juco defensive end in the country is a big piece of this year's recruiting puzzle, so there will not be any sighs of relief until that letter is in.

All in all, though, it's been a great morning for KU, as these guys all got up and signed without so much as a hint of drama. The only thing that impacted the signings at all was the weather. Other than that, this class really seemed excited about faxing their letters as quickly as possible.

I talked with someone at KU about those electronic letters of intent and they told me there were a few guys who went that route this year and avoided the fax machine altogether. That was true both today and back in December during the mid-year signing period.

For now, we're just waiting on Olobia, so sit tight and enjoy his film here while we wait.

After his letter is in, I'll toss up a quick video recap with my thoughts on the class, the day and what it means for the future of KU football so look for that a little later, as well.

Naturally, I'll keep an eye on things throughout the afternoon, too, to see if any late surprises enter the equation. I'm not expecting any, but if I were expecting it, it would hardly qualify as a surprise, right?

Here's Olobia's film: Thanks again to the Big 12 Recruiting YouTube account for a lot of the highlight footage used here today.

10:50 a.m. Update:

KU has now confirmed the arrival of a letter of intent from Derrick Neal, a wide receiver from Lincoln High in Dallas.

A three-star prospect who originally committed to Texas Tech but then changed his mind and committed to play basketball at UT-Arlington, Neal decided to go the football route again. He chose KU over New Mexico and late interest from TCU and Baylor.

He signed a little later than the others today but his addition leaves KU waiting on just one letter they expected and that's from No. 2-ranked Juco defensive end Anthony Olobia, who is in Arizona and is expected to sign soon.

For now, here's a look at Neal's film:

Updated list of official signees:
DB Matthew Boateng
OL Devon Williams
WR Tyler Patrick
RB Traevohn Wrench
DE Daniel Wise
WR Bobby Hartzog
WR Darious Crawley
LB Kyron Watson
LB Josh Ehambe
DB Joe Dineen
DT Lay'Trion Jones
DE Damani Mosby
OL Jacob Bragg
DL Kapil Fletcher
RB De'Andre Mann
DT D.J. Williams
OL Apa Visinia
ATH Corey Avery
WR Derrick Neal

10:31 a.m. Update:

While I was typing up that last update, KU confirmed that it received a letter from Lufkin (Texas) High defensive lineman D.J. Williams.

On paper, Williams is definitely one of the biggest pick-ups in the current class. He ranks as the 38th best defensive tackle in the nation, the fourth best defensive tackle in Texas and the 75th best player regardless of position in his home state.

Here's a look at Williams' film:

Updated list of official signees:
DB Matthew Boateng
OL Devon Williams
WR Tyler Patrick
RB Traevohn Wrench
DE Daniel Wise
WR Bobby Hartzog
WR Darious Crawley
LB Kyron Watson
LB Josh Ehambe
DB Joe Dineen
DT Lay'Trion Jones
DE Damani Mosby
OL Jacob Bragg
DL Kapil Fletcher
RB De'Andre Mann
DT D.J. Williams
OL Apa Visinia
ATH Corey Avery

Think we're just waiting on WR Derrick Neal and DE Anthony Olobia, along with whatever signing day surprises might pop up, if any.

10:18 a.m. Update:

Oh, and here's a little "hello" from De'Andre Mann, all decked out in KU gear.

10:16 a.m. Update:

In one quick moment, KU crawled within two players of closing out the 20 guys expected to sign today in the Class of 2014.

Hartnell C.C. teammates Kapil Fletcher and De'Andre Mann signed at a joint ceremony in California this morning. Mann, the No. 1 ranked juco RB in the country, made the trek back out there from his hometown of Miami, Fla., to sign with his teammate.

Asked if the No. 1 ranking added any pressure onto his shoulders, Mann said he did not worry about such things.

“That's just on paper," he said. "That doesn't mean anything. You gotta put up and work on the field. It's cool to have. And I appreciate all of the accolades and recognition, but it comes down to producing on the field and I'm ready to go to work.”

As for Fletcher, a native Jamaican who lists getting to the quarterback as his top skill, the end of the whole recruiting process has been a mixed bag of feelings.

“It's emotional and exciting," he said. "For me and all my teammates, it's just cool to realize we came a long way and put in the work.”

Here's their film, side-by-side, just like they were. Pay close attention to Mann's. People seem to think he's just added depth at the RB spot, but the guy is a beast and could make a huge impact right away.

Updated list of official signees:
DB Matthew Boateng
OL Devon Williams
WR Tyler Patrick
RB Traevohn Wrench
DE Daniel Wise
WR Bobby Hartzog
WR Darious Crawley
LB Kyron Watson
DB Joe Dineen
DT Lay'Trion Jones
DE Damani Mosby
OL Jacob Bragg
DL Kapil Fletcher
RB De'Andre Mann
DT D.J. Williams

9:57 a.m. Update:

Apa Visinia signing his letter of intent this morning in Grandview, Mo.

Apa Visinia signing his letter of intent this morning in Grandview, Mo. by Matt Tait

Offensive lineman Apa Visinia just sent me this photo so I figured now was as good a time as any to post his film.

His story is a fantastic one, as he credits KU coach Charlie Weis and what he saw in him for giving him the confidence to become a player who could enter a Big 12 program with the belief that he can make an impact.

“Early in high school, no one was really giving me a look and coach Weis just kept telling me, 'I feel like you should be one of those guys on the boards and stuff. I don't know what everyone's not seeing,'" Visinia said. "(KU was) the (school) that first saw my talent and was able to kind of dissect everything and say, 'OK, well this kid is what we need as an O-lineman.'

“When I talked to coach Weis the other day I just made sure to say, 'Thanks a lot for the opportunity and going ahead and pulling that trigger.' If it wasn't for that, I don't think anybody would've seen what I can do.”

As for the excitement of the day, that is unparalleled.

“It's kind of a crazy feeling just to be in this situation and to kind of know what the future holds," he said. "It's pure excitement and I'm just ready to get down there and get to work.”

His film:

9:41 a.m. Update:

Jacob Bragg, one of the top rated centers in the nation, has officially faxed his letter to KU and is now a Jayhawk.

Bragg has been fired up for this day for a long time and he has his sights set on coming in and getting to work immediately at a position of need for KU.

“I know they struggled with the position but, yeah, it pumps me up that they're going to need a center," he said. "If I come in and put in work, everything will work out by itself. I just want to come in and help the team out any way I can. I don't expect anything to be handed to me.”

His film:

Updated list of official signees:
DB Matthew Boateng
OL Devon Williams
WR Tyler Patrick
RB Traevohn Wrench
DE Daniel Wise
WR Bobby Hartzog
WR Darious Crawley
LB Kyron Watson
DB Joe Dineen
DT Lay'Trion Jones
DE Damani Mosby
OL Jacob Bragg

9:29 a.m. Update:

Damani Mosby of Mesa C.C., signing his letter of intent to join the Jayhawks.

Damani Mosby of Mesa C.C., signing his letter of intent to join the Jayhawks. by Matt Tait

Damani Mosby was all smiles after signing his letter of intent with the Jayhawks.

Damani Mosby was all smiles after signing his letter of intent with the Jayhawks. by Matt Tait

Damani Mosby, one of my favorite dudes I've talked to in this class so far, just text me and said he has faxed his letter to KU.

Mosby said he's happy with where he's at and he has been studying film of the Big 12 like crazy. He would like to bulk up before arriving on campus this summer.

“I'm about 6-4 now but I am the same weight (235)," he said. "I need to gain a little more weight than that. You know, gain muscle so I don't slow myself down. Probably try to get to the 255 mark."

Mosby said his idol is Julius Peppers and he is thrilled to have the opportunity to play at KU against some top-notch competition.

“This whole thing is extremely exciting," he said. "It's just been a big dream of mine to be able to play in the Big 12 and I'm just excited to get to work.”

His film:

9:19 a.m. Update:

We're half way home. 10 letters in and 10 to go, according to my tracking... I also just heard back from Garland (Texas) High defensive tackle Lay'Trion Jones, who said he has signed and sent his letter to Kansas.

Jones picked Kansas over offers from New Mexico, New Mexico State, UTEP and late interest from Arizona State. An avid musician, he wants to major in music in college.

Here's a look at Jones' film. More later.

Updated list of official signees:
DB Matthew Boateng
OL Devon Williams
WR Tyler Patrick
RB Traevohn Wrench
DE Daniel Wise
WR Bobby Hartzog
WR Darious Crawley
LB Kyron Watson
DB Joe Dineen
DT Lay'Trion Jones

9:15 a.m. Update:

Joe Dineen is official. Free State did not have school today so it was a little bit of a circus for Dineen to get his letter in. He told me he wound up having to fax it to Coach Clint Bowen directly, which is fitting since there are a ton of people around town who feel Dineen is made from the same mold that Bowen was. Quite an honor... for both of them.

Here's a look at Dineen's film. I've seen him play in person several times during the past few years and I can't say enough good things about his skills, his character and the impact I think he'll make on KU football.

9:14 a.m. Update:

Text update from Grandview (Mo.) offensive lineman Apa Visinia. The weather has slowed things down a bit for him, as he expected to sign at 8 a.m. but is still waiting for his coach to fax the letter to him so he can get it signed and sent.

Nothing at all to worry about there. Visinia (pronounced: Ahh-puh Vee-Suh-Nee-Uh) is absolutely sold on Kansas and is thrilled with the hiring of John Reagan to replace Tim Grunhard, who played a huge role in landing Visinia in the first place.

More when he faxes.

9:02 a.m. Update:

KU also has made it official with 4-star Dallas athlete Corey Avery, the latest pick-up in this class and one of the best.

Avery played safety and running back in high school, ranks as the 87th best player in Texas and the 43rd best “athlete” in the nation. He chose Kansas over Nebraska and Texas.

His film:

8:59 a.m. Update:

New KU WR Bobby Hartzog says hi.

8:52 a.m. Update:

Also just got a text from D-End Damani Mosby, who said he was signing in the next 20 minutes.

New KU D-End Damani Mosby.

New KU D-End Damani Mosby. by Matt Tait

Updated list of official signees:
DB Matthew Boateng
OL Devon Williams
WR Tyler Patrick
RB Traevohn Wrench
DE Daniel Wise
WR Bobby Hartzog
WR Darious Crawley
LB Kyron Watson

8:49 a.m. Update:

Just got a text from Kyron Watson that said he just faxed his letter.

Here's his film:

8:36 a.m. Update:

Wide receiver Darious Crawley is officially part of the KU program.

Wide receiver Darious Crawley is officially part of the KU program. by Matt Tait

KU has it official for WR Darious Crawley, who picked Kansas over Michigan State. To me, this was one of the first commitments that sparked the strong finish for KU in the Class of 2014.

Crawley is a fantastic athlete and had a great offer list. The 5-foot-11, 191 pounds, spent his senior season splitting time between quarterback and wide receiver. He has been clocked in the 4.55-second range in the 40-yard dash and also played running back and returned punts during his prep career.

Crawley told me he would sign this morning and then have a signing party around 3 p.m. today.

Here's his film:

Updated list of official signees:
DB Matthew Boateng
OL Devon Williams
WR Tyler Patrick
RB Traevohn Wrench
DE Daniel Wise
WR Bobby Hartzog
WR Darious Crawley

8:21 a.m. Update:

New KU linebacker/defensive end Josh Ehambe.

New KU linebacker/defensive end Josh Ehambe. by Matt Tait

Just got the confirmation from Arlington, Texas, LB Josh Ehambe, who told me recently that he was glad the whole recruiting saga was finished.

“It's fun at the beginning because, you know, every kid wants to be recruited," he said. "It gets tough at the end because you have to call the other coaches that you built relationships with and tell them that you're going to another school.”

Ehambe (pronounced: Ee-Hahm-Bay) said he was told he would play the Buck position, which excited him because he likes that spot's versatility. He compared his game to that of Denver Broncos star Von Miller and said the opportunity to play for coaches like Charlie Weis and Dave Campo, with their connections to the NFL, was a huge reason he picked Kansas.

Here's his film.

8:06 a.m. Update:

Waiting on WR Darious Crawley, DB Joe Dineen, DT Lay'Trion Jones and OL Apa Visinia. All told me they were signing between 7:30 and 8:00 a.m. today.

Linebacker Josh Ehambe also told me he was signing at 8:00 a.m., sending by 8:30 a.m. and would have a big ceremony at his school around 11:00 or 11:30. And by big we're talking a publicist sent out a note to the media and made posters big. As it should be. Huge day for these guys.

After that, there's a heavy crew expected to sign around 9 a.m., too.

Stay tuned...

7:52 a.m. Update:

One of the newest additions to KU's receiving corps, Bobby Hartzog.

One of the newest additions to KU's receiving corps, Bobby Hartzog. by Matt Tait

Just got word from Houston WR Bobby Hartzog (Westside High) that the letter has been sent and received by KU. He said he'd send a picture ASAP.

Hartzog, who led his prep district with 506 receiving yards and six touchdowns through September 2013, committed to Utah and Houston before opening his recruiting back up. He also had been offered by Iowa State.

Here's his film. (Big thanks to the Big 12 Recruiting YouTube account for a lot of this footage)

Updated list of official signees:
DB Matthew Boateng
OL Devon Williams
WR Tyler Patrick
RB Traevohn Wrench
DE Daniel Wise
WR Bobby Hartzog

7:49 a.m. Update:

Three-star East St. Louis (Ill.) linebacker Kyron Watson just informed me that he is not having a signing day ceremony until tomorrow. He is, however, still signing and sending his national letter of intent today and should be doing that any minute.

Watson said he's close with KU running back Tony Pierson, who was a senior at East St. Louis High when Watson was a freshman. I asked him if Pierson played a big role in recruiting him and the second player in the Class of 2014 to commit to Kansas said the overall vibe of Lawrence, the campus, the team and the football program played the biggest part.

“He told me what I needed to know but he wasn't really trying to recruit me that hard because he told me it was my decision and that I should do what I needed to do," Watson said of Pierson. “When I came down there it just made me feel like I was home. And that was the first visit I took and the first school that offered me.”

7:42 a.m. Update:

A quick video shout-out from Matthew Boateng, who appears to be in much warmer conditions than we are.

7:36 a.m. Update:

Gardner-Edgerton's Traevohn Wrench, the latest talented RB to join the Jayhawks.

Gardner-Edgerton's Traevohn Wrench, the latest talented RB to join the Jayhawks. by Matt Tait

KU has made it official with four-star Gardner-Edgerton running back Traevohn Wrench. Looks like the bad weather here in the Midwest did nothing to deter Mr. Wrench.

No question one of the biggest pick-ups in the Class of 2014, Wrench's addition keeps alive KU's recent tradition of having a strong, deep and talented backfield.

Here's a look at some of his high school film if you haven't seen it already.

Updated list of official signees:
DB Matthew Boateng
OL Devon Williams
WR Tyler Patrick
RB Traevohn Wrench

7:33 a.m. Update:

Seeing talk in the Twitterverse about prospects now being able to take a photo of their signed letters of intent and email them to their schools. No longer slaves to the fax machine. Many still use it, of course, but it's nice to see signing day move into the 21st centure.

We'll have to find out how many (if any) KU commitments used the snap and send method.

7:17 a.m. Update:

New KU wide receiver Tyler Patrick and his family decked out in KU gear.

New KU wide receiver Tyler Patrick and his family decked out in KU gear. by Matt Tait

Add another to the list... Jon Kirby of JayhawkSlant.com is reporting that Texas WR Tyler Patrick has faxed his letter of intent to KU and is now official.

Here's a quick picture of Patrick and his family decked out for the big day, along with the young man's highlight film.

At the time of his commitment, Patrick had just a few offers (Air Force, Lamar and Louisiana-Monroe) but was receiving interest from several BCS programs, including Iowa State and Oklahoma State. The aspect of his game that seemed to attract the most interest was his speed, as he ran a 4.4-second 40-yard dash time at KU’s Friday Night Lights camp earlier this summer and has been clocked as fast as 4.38.

7:11 a.m. Update:

KU has made the Boateng signing official on its web site and it looks like Georgia Military College offensive lineman Devon Williams has signed and faxed his letter, as well. That's two.

Despite KU transitioning from former offensive line coach Tim Grunhard to its next O-line coach — Rice’s John Reagan — Williams said he felt a lot of love from the existing KU coaches and was not worried about his future position coach.

Williams is one of two O-Linemen from GMC to join the Jayhawks in this recruiting class. Guard Keyon Haughton signed with Kansas at the mid-year signing period.

Here's a look at Williams' film:

6:49 a.m. Update:

The weather definitely may change things — it already inspired KU coach Charlie Weis to move today's signing day press conference to tomorrow since KU is closed and safety is an issue — but the next expected signees are Free State High's Joe Dineen around 7:30 a.m. and Texas WR Bobby Hartzog around the same time.

Again, the bad weather (at least around here) might impact some of these and I wasn't able to get ahold of every commitment (I think I got to 16 of 20) so it's possible someone else sneaks in there or the times change.

I'll be tracking it, though, so keep it right here for the latest.

6:38 a.m. Update:

KU coach Charlie Weis is the only member of the KU football staff currently in the office. Looks like he may have slept there last night to make sure someone would be able to make it in to receive the letters...

6:04 a.m. Update:

IMG Academy's Matthew Boateng, the first member of KU's Class of 2014 to fax his letter to Lawrence.

IMG Academy's Matthew Boateng, the first member of KU's Class of 2014 to fax his letter to Lawrence. by Matt Tait

Florida defensive back Matthew Boateng just posted on Twitter that he has signed his letter of intent and is headed to the fax machine.

Here's a look at some of the 2-star DB's highlight film:

Always fun to see the first one pop. Here we go!

Original post - 5:48 a.m.

Being on the east coast certainly has its advantages. But for a high school senior on the verge of officially becoming a college football player, few advantages mean as much as the ability to wake up before the rest of the world and fax your letter of intent to your school of choice.

For KU commitment Matthew Boateng, of IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., that reality is his today, as the Class of 2014 goes through National Signing Day and Boateng kicks off KU's letter-waiting campaign ahead of 19 other future teammates.

A two-star defensive back who chose KU over Ball State, Indiana, Marshall, Nevada and Wake Forest, Boateng is expected to be the first to sign and fax his letter of intent to KU, which will make him and official member of the 2014 team.

Per NCAA rules, prospects are not allowed to sign their letters of intent until 7 a.m. their time. For Boateng in Florida, 7 a.m. means 6 a.m. in Lawrence, which means the KU coaching staff will have to be in the office by then in order to receiver the fax.

Knowing KU coach Charlie Weis and considering the bad weather, he probably slept in his office last night with the fax machine within sight so he could be sure to receive those letters from all of the players he worked so hard to land.

Boateng told me he would have a signing day ceremony at his school around 11 a.m. local time, which is 10 a.m. here.

Some quick notes about this year's class before we get started tracking the letters and signing day ceremonies of the 20 future Jayhawks expected to make their commitments official today:

• 15 of the 20 players signing letters today are high school seniors, which swings the balance back to the prep ranks, unlike last year, when KU's class included more than 20 junior-college prospects.

• When you add the three mid-year signees and Florida transfer Kent Taylor into the mix, the overall numbers in the Class of 2014 look like this: High school seniors – 15; College transfers – 8.

• This year's class includes 10 players from Texas, four of which rank on Rivals.com's Texas Top 100 list.

• Weis' third KU class includes two Kansans, Free State High defensive back Joe Dineen and Gardner-Edgerton High running back Traevohn Wrench.

• According to Rivals.com, KU's recruiting haul ranks 49th nationally and 7th in the Big 12, ahead of Kansas State, Iowa State and TCU. Texas Tech (41st) and West Virginia (43rd) are the Big 12 schools immediately ahead of KU.

• According to ESPN.com's recruiting rankings, the current KU class includes four 4-star prospects (Athlete Corey Avery; OL Jacob Bragg; RB Traevohn Wrench and LB Kyron Watson), the most a single class at KU has had since ESPN began ranking players in 2006.

Settle in and get ready for some more signing day fun! To me, this is always one of the best days of the year.

In case you missed it, here's a look at one of the main sources of inspiration for many in this year's class.

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Super Bowl smiles: Chris Harris, Steven Johnson fired up to represent KU at Super Bowl XLVIII

With the big game now just a few days a way, here's a quick look at the vibe surrounding former KU football players Chris Harris and Steven Johnson, members of the Denver Broncos, who will take on the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII on Sunday evening.

Harris, a starter and arguably the Broncos most important defensive player this season, will miss the game because of a knee injury he suffered during Denver's second-round win over San Diego.

For a guy who has worked as hard as Harris has to get to this point, it's a major bummer to see him sitting on the sideline while his teammates play the biggest games of their lives. Still, true to Harris' form, he has kept an upbeat attitude about the whole thing and done his best to help the Broncos prepare for Sunday without him.

Johnson, who, like Harris, joined the Broncos as an undrafted free agent, will play in Sunday's game as a starter on all of Denver's special teams units. Johnson has traveled a long road to get to this point and he's soaking up every ounce of this experience.

Both seem thrilled to represent both Denver and KU in the big game and they're both working with the KU football offices to send back periodic sights and sounds from their time in New York.

Little known facts: There actually are a couple of other Jayhawk connections in this year's big game.

• Denver coach John Fox was an assistant at Kansas in 1983.

• Denver strength and conditioning coach Luke Richesson has family ties to the Lawrence and Kansas City areas and was a strength & conditioning intern at KU in 1997. He also played football at KU from 1992-96.

• Current KU coach Charlie Weis coached a couple of Super Bowl competitors during their college careers. They are: Seattle WR Golden Tate and Denver DB David Bruton, who both played at Notre Dame.

Here's a look at the first two messages from Harris and Johnson:

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Former KU linebacker Steven Johnson’s journey from walk-on to the Super Bowl

Steven Johnson's player page heading from the Denver Broncos' web site.

Steven Johnson's player page heading from the Denver Broncos' web site. by Matt Tait

It's Media Day at Super Bowl XLVIII, so let's join the fun with a quick look at one of the two former Kansas University players representing the Jayhawks at this year's big game.


There are a million reasons to feel good about former Kansas University football standout Steven Johnson preparing to play in the Super Bowl in six days.

From all of the fight and resolve he showed just to be able to play college ball to the injuries he overcame, the couches he slept on before earning a scholarship and the losses that piled up faster than he could blink, even with Johnson giving everything he had to the program, each week, each game, each play.

"From everything I have been through from high school to prep school to Kansas and now with the Broncos, I have been truly blessed," Johnson said after Denver knocked off New England in the AFC championship game on Jan. 19. "I have so much more to accomplish and hopefully this is just the beginning of a great career in the NFL. I am so thankful to be a part of an amazing organization with the Broncos and I am proud to represent Kansas in the Super Bowl."

Despite a deck stacked against him most of his life, Johnson persevered. He made it into the NFL as an undrafted free agent after fighting his way through multiple cuts and dozens of nay-sayers to land on the Broncos' 53-man roster before the 2012 season. And during his first two seasons in the NFL, he has proven that he is not merely content to wear a uniform.

All of that and more provides plenty of reason to be pumped for Johnson and his chance to play in the Super Bowl in just his second season as a pro. From an 0-for-4 run at bowl games at Kansas to an appearance in the Super Bowl in two years. Not bad.

During his final two seasons at KU, Johnson became a sort of go-to guy for interviews, which was both a testament to his ability to offer insightful and entertaining answers to our questions and his self-confidence. Even when the Jayhawks were reeling, Johnson always pointed to what they still could accomplish, not what they missed out on. It's probably that mindset — and all of the practice he got — that provided him with the kind of toughness needed to make it at the highest level.

But we're not just talking about a guy who is on the sideline here and will piggy-back his way to a ring if his teammates perform well. Johnson plays. Although he's listed as a reserve linebacker on the roster, he's a starter on all of Denver's special teams units and has made a very noticeable impact on the punt return and kickoff units.

While that's where he hangs his hat for the moment, Johnson has filled in on defense during a couple of critical moments this season, most notably on a goal-line stand situation against Kansas City in Denver, where, on third-and-goal from the 1, Johnson filled the gap, blasted Jamaal Charles and forced the Chiefs to settle for a field goal. It was by far his biggest defensive play of his young career.

For all of his on-the-field accomplishments and those of his team, which enters Super Bowl XLVIII as the favorite, Johnson remains the same down-to-earth guy he was at Kansas.

Last spring, when Johnson was back in town to support his former KU teammates at their pro day, I caught up with him and we talked about his rookie season with the Broncos. He told me stories about notable teammates, meeting one of his idols, San Francisco linebacker Patrick Willis, and all of the nerves that went into every cut-down day.

But the best story I remember had to do with a night out to dinner with his teammates.

One night, Johnson and a few Broncos went to eat at a Denver steakhouse where Broncos legend and current executive vice president of football operations John Elway happened to be eating with friends. Elway recognized his players, invited the crew to join his party and offered to pick up the tab.

By that point, Johnson had met Elway a couple of times and knew his spot on the squad was secure. But not wanting to rock the boat or take for granted his good fortune, Johnson ordered a salad. The gesture had no bearing on his spot on the team nor did it play a role in him getting to where he got. Except, of course, for the fact that operating that way his entire life — with humility, decency, class and appreciation — helped define who Steven Johnson was, which paved the way for him to achieve all of his dreams.

Even with a little fame, a nice chunk of money, a golden opportunity and a spot in the Super Bowl that others would kill for, Johnson has not changed.

That, above all the other worthy reasons, is the one that makes it so easy to feel so good for Steven Johnson.

"Winning this game and being able to go to the Super Bowl is a dream come true," Johnson said. "I have been playing this game since I was five years old and it has always been my dream."

Johnson and former Jayhawk Chris Harris, arguably Denver's most important defensive player this season who tore his ACL during the playoffs and will miss the big game, are the first Jayhawks to advance to the Super Bowl since Justin Hartwig picked up a Super Bowl ring in 2009 as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Johnson and Harris become the 26th and 27th Jayhawks all-time to reach the Super Bowl, with 20 KU players having won Super Bowl rings in the past.

Here are a couple of Johnson's signature moments from the 2013 season:

BLOCKED PUNT VS. PHILY

TACKLE WITH NO HELMET VS. ST. LOUIS PRESEASON

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Former Jayhawks, teammates and roommates to face off Sunday in NFL playoffs

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When the San Diego Chargers visit the Denver Broncos at 3:40 p.m. Sunday, the game will pit three former Kansas University football players vying for a spot in the AFC championship game.

The meeting between San Diego's Darrell Stuckey (25 above) and Denver's Chris Harris (16 above) and Steven Johnson represents arguably the biggest NFL game in quite some time that features former Jayhawks on both sides.

And the reunion is made even cooler by the fact that the trio of KU alums played on the same Jayhawk teams for two seasons and even lived together for a short time during their college careers.

Although Sunday's meeting brings the three former teammates together at the same key point in time, their paths to get there were significantly different.

Stuckey was the first of the three to reach the NFL, drafted by San Diego in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft.

During his first four seasons in the league, the Kansas City, Kan., native has made a name for himself as a special teams standout. His 12 special teams tackles in 2012 were tops on the team and his total of nearly 40 special teams tackles during the past three seasons rank in the Top 10 in the NFL despite Stuckey having played in fewer games than most players on the list above him.

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Of late, Stuckey has begun to make a greater impact on defense, as well, finishing last week's playoff victory over Cincinnati with a career-high five tackles and two passes defended. His 26 tackles this season came through both defense and special teams, where he has garnered mention for a spot in the pro bowl during the past couple of seasons.

"Stuck might be the best I've seen in my 11 years," San Diego punter Mike Scifres said in a recent interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune. “Some of the things he can do, the way he can change games, it's almost second to none right now."

Added Chargers place kicker Nick Novak: "He's virtually unstoppable because his technique is that good. He's such a student of the game. He just has, it seems, a counter move for every move they're bringing at him. Of course, he's human, but sometimes you think he's made for special teams."

Harris followed Stuckey into the league in 2011 but went the route of joining the Broncos as an undrafted free agent following the NFL lockout. Like Stuckey, the Bixby, Okla., native first made his mark on special teams, but when the Broncos' secondary endured key injuries, Harris was tossed into the lineup on defense and quickly became one of the team's top utility men, thanks largely to the many roles he played while at Kansas.

He has been referred to by some as the NFL's best coverage guy on slot receivers and his intelligence, physicality and tackling ability have made him one of the most valuable defensive players on the AFC's top seeded team that finished 13-3 during back-to-back seasons.

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Harris' contributions to the Mile High City have reached far beyond the field. He's one of the team's most active members in the community and, recently, was given the Darrent Williams Good Guy award by the Denver media.

"He’s a stand-up guy even when times aren’t going real well," Denver coach John Fox said of Harris. "He’s, I think, mature beyond his years. I think he’s done a tremendous job just where he came from and what he’s accomplished in a short time here with the Broncos. It doesn’t surprise me.”

Johnson, who, like Stuckey, was invited to the NFL combine, went undrafted but quickly agreed to a free-agent deal with Denver following the completion of the 2012 draft.

The former Jayhawk, who led Kansas in tackles during his junior and senior seasons, said Harris' trailblazing paved the way for him to land in Denver.

“It actually meant a lot,” Johnson told the Journal-World at the time. “He was the one who called me and told me they were trying to draft me. He called me and told me all about Denver and told me they were a team on the rise, and I wanted to go to a team that could contend and win Super Bowls and stuff like that.”

Johnson spent his early days at Kansas as a walk-on desperate for an opportunity. He spent a chunk of time living on teammates couches and had to overcome a couple of major injuries prior to college that slowed his development. Despite all the adversity, Johnson stuck it out and wound up becoming one of the top tacklers in the Big 12 before leaving college.

That relentless style and attitude seems to be serving him well in the NFL, too.

"He's the guy that if anything happens, he's so into the game he's like, 'Now, Coach? I'm ready,' " Denver defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio told the Denver Post.

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Sunday is not the first NFL meeting between these three former Jayhawks. The Broncos and Chargers played twice during the regular season in 2012 and twice this season, as well. Denver won three of the four meetings, but San Diego emerged victorious during the most recent match-up, which has added significant intrigue to the showdown between the AFC's top-seeded and bottom-seeded teams this weekend.

Because of each team's Jayhawk ties, that showdown figures to be even more interesting for Kansas football fans.

As an appetizer, former KU All-American Aqib Talib and the New England Patriots will face the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday night in the weekend's other AFC playoff game. If Talib and the Patriots prevail, they'll play the winner of the San Diego-Denver game on Jan. 19 for the right to go to the Super Bowl, and the book of biggest pro football games between former Jayhawks will include another chapter.

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In case you missed it: KU coach Charlie Weis joined Keith Olbermann to break down national title game

Kansas University football coach Charlie Weis joined ESPN analyst Keith Olbermann, in studio, last night following the national championship game to break down the big moments and major adjustments delivered by Florida State and Auburn in the final game of the BCS era.

Weis was introduced as the head coach at the University of Kansas and he wore a crimson and blue Jayhawk tie.

These types of things are not necessarily life-altering but they definitely do not hurt the KU program and, believe it or not, can do wonders for recruiting. Weis appeared to be very comfortable breaking down the game that he had just seen live one time and flashed his vast knowledge of offense, schemes and adjustments. He also knew and discussed many players and coaches by name, which showed that he either (a) did his homework or (b) simply knew a lot of these guys to begin with. Perhaps both.

Either way, he definitely represented himself and KU very well.

Among the topics Weis touched on were:

• Halftime adjustments by FSU, which looked shell-shocked in the first half.

• The flag thrown on an FSU player that forced the Seminoles to kick an extra point at 21-19 instead of attempting a two-point conversion to tie.

• Breakdown of Tre Mason's touchdown run that gave Auburn a lead with less than two minutes to play.

• The big pass play from Jameis Winston on the final drive that turned a five-yard slant into a 40-yard gain.

• How Auburn's defense bottled up FSU in the first half and what Winston and the Seminoles did to overcome it.

• His views on the end of the BCS era and the ushering in of a playoff system.

Here's the full video, if you're interested.

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Top 10 gifts given to KU fans in 2013

The lights came on around Thanksgiving (if not sooner) and will stay up for another couple of weeks, but after the usual build-up and anticipation, Christmas has come and gone.

Just like that, weeks worth of picking, purchasing and wrapping presents is now a thing of the past – at least for another 300-plus days.

I hope those of you who celebrate the holiday had a wonderful day with friends, family and loved ones and that, sprinkled in there among the gifts, goodies and overeating, you had an opportunity to remember the true meaning of Christmas.

My moment came in the form of a gift from my aunt, who, in honor of my late uncle (who passed away one year ago) paid off the layaway bill for several families in the Denver area. She then wrote a letter to each of us in the family and explained that the families had been taken care of in our honor and through my uncle's inspiration. He once did that for her gift, years ago, and she always said it was one of her favorites.

I now know why.

Anyway, in keeping with the theme of great gifts, here's a quick look back at the top 10 moments given to Jayhawk fans during 2013.

Enjoy! And, once again, Happy Holidays!

1. Women's track and field brings home a national championship — There are tons of good things on this list and most of them drew a lot more attention than this, but it'll be hard to argue with putting this No. 1 because hanging banners is what it's all about. The women's track team, which was loaded with talented athletes and wonderful people, dominated in Oregon last spring and brought home a trophy that inspired a billboard on I-70. Big-time stuff.

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2. Andrew Wiggins picks Kansas — Recruiting is no joke around these parts and the day of Wiggins' announcement was full of the usual bag of mixed emotions. Many feared he would pick Florida State, North Carolina or Kentucky. Others were certain he was Kansas-bound. When the time came for Wiggins' announcement, he told a gym full of supporters in Huntington, W.Va., that he would play his one season of college hoops in Kansas. It's been a Beatles-esque run of Wiggins-mania since then and the 6-foot-8, 200-pound Canadian forward currently leads the Jayhawks in scoring at 15.5 points per game. Wiggins was merely the headliner of a class that included Joel Embiid, Wayne Selden, Brannen Greene, Conner Frankamp and Frank Mason. It also should be pointed out that the recruiting crazies went nuts again in November, when top-five big man Cliff Alexander picked Kansas.

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3. Make it 9 straight Big 12 titles for Bill Self — The unprecedented streak of consecutive Big 12 regular season titles continued in 2013, as Self's Jayhawks held off serious charges from Oklahoma State and Kansas State to win it again. Just in case anyone disputed whether the Jayhawks were really the champs, KU went ahead and won the Big 12 conference tournament title, too, dispatching K-State for the third time in the semifinals to put the icing on the cake.

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4. KU football snaps conference losing streak — After 27 consecutive losses in Big 12 play, a streak that dated back to the 2010 season, the KU football team finally broke through with a dominating, 31-19 victory over West Virginia at Memorial Stadium in November. The victory set off a wild celebration on the field between the players and the fans in the stands and, as is customary with big wins, the students ripped down the goal posts and sent them swimming in Potter Lake.

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5. KU volleyball makes 1st ever Sweet 16 — Inpsired by the disappointment of getting so close and coming up short last season, a senior-heavy KU volleyball team finished second in the Big 12 Conference for the first time ever and followed that up by winning first- and second-round matches at Allen Fieldhouse to advance to the Sweet 16 in Los Angeles. Although the run ended there, this team, which featured All-American Caroline Jarmoc, Big 12 setter of the year Erin McNorton and Big 12 coach of the year Ray Bechard (who won the honor for the second year in a row), will likely be remembered for a long, long time over at Horejsi Family Athletics Center.

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6. Sweet 16 times 2 for KU hoops — For the second year in a row, the Kansas basketball programs each reached the Sweet 16, with the men falling to Michigan in a heartbreaker and the women getting back to the Sweet 16 for a second time after being one of the last at-large teams put into the tourney field.

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7. Another No. 1 seed for the KU men — Despite their shocking loss to Michigan, the men achieved a heck of an accomplishment at the Big Dance's outset when they earned a No. 1 seed for the 11th time in school history and the fifth time in 10 seasons under Bill Self.

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8. Tier-3 TV deal puts KU in more homes — Although it produced some anger locally, KU's partnerships with Time Warner Cable and ESPN3 brought to homes across the country 70 live KU events, more than 600 hours of shoulder programming and several pre- and post-game shows highlight KU sports. “This is the backbone of providing Jayhawk fans with access to all of our sports in a way that they've never experienced before,” athletic director Sheahon Zenger said of the deal.

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9. KU football lands more transfers — In May it was Nick Harwell, the all-time leading receiver in Miami (Ohio) history who said yes to KU coach Charlie Weis. And just last week it was Florida tight end Kent Taylor. Weis' experience and coaching pedigree continue to attract big-time talent and, although the ones who have made their way to Lawrence thus far have not been stars, it might just be a matter of time before a few of them pan out.

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10. Professional Jayhawks continue to make noise — Whether it's Gary Woodland on the PGA Tour, Chris Harris with the Denver Broncos or a record number of former KU basketball players in the NBA, 2013 was a good year for Jayhawks on the professional map. Woodland won a tournament title again, Harris is a key part of a defense on a team with the best record in the NFL and others like Ben McLemore (Sacramento Kings), Aqib Talib (New England Patriots), Darrell Stuckey (San Diego Chargers), Xavier Henry (Los Angeles Lakers) and many, many more are doing their part to represent their school well at the highest levels.

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Sunday, Monday night football intros of Jayhawk alums not necessarily a snub toward KU football

I didn't catch it, but more than a few people brought to my attention the fact that former Kansas University offensive lineman Anthony Collins, now a starter for the Cincinnati Bengals, introduced himself with his high school (Central High in Beaumont, Texas) instead of his college during the Bengals' loss to Pittsburgh last Sunday night.

This has become a bit of a trend for former KU players lately and one that has been met by disappointment from KU fans.

Understandably so.

In a world in which every other player on these introductions is from USC, Alabama or “The Ohio State University,” hearing Kansas represented surely would be not only a nice treat for Jayhawk fans but also a huge lift for KU's recruiting.

One of the biggest culprits is New England Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib, who, for years, has been saying “North Dallas, Texas,” in place of the school he became an All-American. But evidently Collins has joined in on the fun now, too.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kNpLxqR9jiI

It should be noted that, until recently, not many former Jayhawks were in the position of announcing anything during Sunday or Monday night football intros because very few had become starters, so it's not like the list of guys snubbing KU is all that long. In a sense, though, that may be why it stings the fan base in the first place.

Denver defensive back Chris Harris is one former Jayhawk who has been a fixture in these pre-game introductions during the past couple of years and he has continued to say “Kansas University” each time.

I caught up with Harris quickly the other night for a little insight into why the other guys might be choosing to leave out KU and his answer was nothing short of hilarious. “You never know with those cats,” he said of Talib and Collins, his former Orange Bowl teammates.

Short of asking Talib or Collins themselves, I can't really pick out a good answer. But there are a few options.

  1. They truly might just love their high schools. Many guys, especially athletes, are proud of where they come from and enjoy the opportunity to give the school that got them started a little shout-out. Nothing wrong with that.

  2. It's possible they're just trying to be funny. I can't remember who started it, but a few years ago, guys started repping their preschools or their kindergarten teachers. Nothing wrong with that either.

  3. The last thing I can think of may very well be the reason here and it's something that current KU coach Charlie Weis has talked a lot about since he arrived in town a couple of years ago. When reaching out to former KU football players, Weis found that many guys identified themselves with the coaches for whom they played. They were Glen Mason guys, Mark Mangino guys or Terry Allen guys instead of being Jayhawks. Weis has taken steps to eliminate the division and has hopes of getting all former Jayhawks to view themselves as exactly that. It'll take time, though. And maybe, since they don't know Weis or any of the coaches who came after Mark Mangino, those two are doing it as a way of showing their support for the man who was forced out after one of the most successful stints in KU football history. I know there were a lot of guys who played for Mangino who were upset about how his whole departure went down, so that could very easily be a factor, too.

Regardless of the reason, it's definitely nothing to get worked up about, but it is worth pointing out that them changing their tune certainly would not hurt KU in recruiting and would give KU football fans a reason to smile.

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Former Jayhawk Micah Brown provides an inside look at KU football recruiting

Former Kansas University football player and current Steven Spielberg in the making, Micah Brown, was at it again recently on behalf of his alma mater.

Brown, whose video production company, Second Wind Creative, has created some incredible documentary-type projects at schools such as Kansas, Michigan State and Notre Dame, recently released an updated recruiting video for the Jayhawks.

The 5-minute video directly targets KU's recruits, but it also offers a nice inside look at the program and the direction KU coach Charlie Weis and his coaching staff plan to take the task of mining for talent in the coming years.

It's definitely worth a look for KU fans and, production-wise, is probably worth watching for non-KU fans, as well. Micah does great work and he and his company are only going to get bigger.

Here's the video:

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A quick look at some of KU football’s top recruiting targets in the Class of 2014

With a week remaining until the mid-year transfer signing day (Dec. 18) and the Kansas University football coaches, including new offensive coordinator John Reagan, still out on the road in search of talent, the clock is ticking on KU's 2014 recruiting class.

Unlike a year ago, when KU coach Charlie Weis signed nine junior college players in December, the next couple of weeks figure to be a little more quiet — no top-ranked players, no Dream Team talk, no unusually large haul.

In fact, it's entirely possible that just a couple of mid-year transfers will sign with KU next week, with the rest of the class waiting until national signing day in February to make it official.

High school prospects are not allowed to sign until February so, with eight of the 11 players currently committed to KU coming from the prep ranks, the Jayhawks would have to pick up commitments from the juco ranks in a hurry in order for too many of them to sign on Dec. 18.

Although getting guys on campus in time for spring practice is always a good thing, it's not uncommon to have a small crop of signees during December.

With 11 spots full in a class that theoretically could bring in 14 more players, the Jayhawks are out in full force scouring the country for talent.

Here's a quick look at some of the Jayhawks' top known targets, many of whom have taken or set up visits recently. Not surprisingly, many of them are offensive linemen:

• A.J. Allen, OL, Grossmont C.C. — 6-7, 315
The offensive tackle from El Cajon, Calif., has both Kansas and Kansas State on his long list of finalists and the Jayhawks have thrown California recruiting guru Jeff Blasko at the huge lineman. Some have said that Kansas State is the favorite for Allen, who was scheduled to visit Kansas during Sunflower Showdown weekend. He is a likely December graduate with offers from more than a dozen schools, so he's entering the nitty gritty of decision-making time.

• Matthew Boatang, CB, IMG Academy — 6-0, 180
The native Canadian, who moved to Bradenton, Fla., to get better exposure, has offers from Bowling Green, Indiana, Marshall, Nevada and Villanova. He made an official visit to KU during the weekend in which the Jayhawks snapped their 27-game Big 12 losing streak with a victory over West Virginia, and all indications are that he loved every second of the visit. Other schools, including Baylor, Florida State and Mississippi, are showing interest in the high school senior, but Boateng told JayhawkSlant.com's Jon Kirby that KU would remain near the top of his list.

• Jimmie Gipson, DE, East Mississippi C.C. — 6-0, 255
Gipson, a two-star prospect who fits the mold of KU's Buck position, recently received a visit from Weis and is in the process of wading through two dozen offers, mostly from mid-major programs.

• Craig James, CB, Edwardsville (Ill.) High — 5-11, 170
The coaching staff has been busy with James during the past several days. He had an in-home visit with Reggie Mitchell and Dave Campo late last week and followed it up with an official visit to Lawrence. James currently has scholarship offers from: Indiana, Iowa, Iowa State, Minnesota, Missouri and Syracuse.

• Kelby Johnson, OL, ASA College — 6-8, 315
The Jayhawks also have jumped in on this offensive lineman who has aspirations of playing after college, something that could favor KU's NFL-experienced coaching staff. Johnson played tackle in junior college and is expected to graduate in May. Rob Ianello is the lead recruiter for Johnson, who also has offers from East Carolina, South Florida and UAB and is receiving interest from several others.

• Dontae Levingston, OL, Santa Monica C.C. — 6-5, 285
The Jayhawks are making a late push for the offensive tackle from Santa Monica, Calif., who visited Lawrence last week for the first time. As expected, the push from KU was playing time and Levingston told Kirby that the opportunity to make an immediate impact was intriguing. He also noted that most of the programs recruiting him are small college towns and, being from Los Angeles, he was just trying to pinpoint which one had the best feel. Levingston is an expected mid-year transfer, who is expected to choose a school before next Wednesday. His list of offers include Kansas State, Memphis, Texas Tech and several others.

• Anthony Olobia, DE, Arizona Western C.C. — 6-5, 230
Olobia, another one of those hybrid, D-End/linebacker types, is headed to Lawrence for an official visit this weekend. The Jayhawks have landed a couple of players from Arizona Western during recent years so their familiarity with the program could help here. The three-star recruit also has offers from Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Utah and he is receiving interest from more than a dozen others.

Class of 2014 Commitments (as of Dec. 11, 2013)
• Jacob Bragg, 6-4, 308, OL, Nacogdoches (Texas) High -- 3-star
• Joe Dineen, 6-2, 197, DB, Free State High -- 3-star
• Bobby Hartzog, 5-11, 182, WR, Westside (Houston) High -- 2-star
• Keyon Haughton, 6-2, 295, OL, Georgia Military
• Damani Mosby, 6-3, 235, DE, Mesa C.C. -- 3-star
• Tyler Patrick, 5-11, 171, WR, The Woodlands (Texas) High -- 2-star
• Austin Stevens, 6-4, 245, DE, Montclair (N.J.) High -- 2-star
• Apa Visinia, 6-5, 380, OL, Grandview (Mo.) High -- 2-star
• Kyron Watson, 6-0, 226, LB, East St. Louis (Ill.) High -- 3-star
• Devon Williams, 6-5, 335, OL, Georgia Military
• Traevohn Wrench, 6-0, 180, RB, Gardner-Edgerton High -- 4-star

• All bio information courtesy Rivals.com.

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Despite win total, KU football boasts a handful of All-Big 12-worthy performers

In the coming days, various media organizations that cover college football will be releasing their all-conference teams and a year's worth of hard work, sweat and sacrifice will pay off for a whole bunch of college athletes.

For some, landing on this all-conference team or that one will represent just another accolade in a long list that has been growing since they first started playing the game as teenagers.

For others, the honor will go down as the highlight of their career, the one memory they'll keep talking about until they're old and gray.

Often times, the teams that turn in the best seasons also produce the most all-conference players and that seems logical given the fact that the best players typically produce the best teams. But it's not always the case. And it's a shame when top-tier talent gets overlooked because it plays for a team that struggled to win games.

That's the story with Kansas football, which finished 2013 with a 3-8 record, 1-8 in Big 12 Conference play. Despite those low win totals, the Jayhawks had at least a handful of guys worthy of being placed on the all-Big 12 teams, be it the first, second, third team or honorable mention.

Here's a quick look at the most worthy candidates in order of most likely to least.

• Junior punter Trevor Pardula •
For much of the 2013 season, the first-year punter from De Anza College in California was among the best in the country. His net averages soared well into the 42-44-yard range and his ability to flip the field and pin opponents deep was a bona fide weapon. While Pardula was penalized by the national awards committees because he did not land enough punts inside the 20, it's worth pointing out that the struggles of the KU offense often forced Pardula to punt from deep in his own end, making the task of dropping kicks inside the 20 next to impossible even for NFL punters. By season's end, Pardula finished with a 43.7-yard average. He has a strong case for first-team all-Big 12 honors.

• Sophomore safety Isaiah Johnson •
It's entirely possible that I'm overlooking someone on another Big 12 team, but I think Johnson has as good a case as anyone for the Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year award. The former Iowa Western safety started all 12 games during his first season of Div. I football and finished second in the Big 12 in interceptions (5), 21st in tackles (73) and also added three tackles for loss. Johnson was definitely one of the bright spots for the Jayhawks' defense this season, a game-changer, who still has two years of eligibility remaining and should become one of those guys that opponents can't quite believe is "still around."

• Senior running back James Sims •
Although he did not rattle off 100-yard game after 100-yard game during his final season as a Jayhawk, James Sims was every bit as productive as he had ever been, despite running behind an offensive line that experienced its share of growing pains and in an offense that struggled to throw the ball. Sims' 1,110 yards ranked first in the Big 12 and represented a career-high for the fourth consecutive season. In topping the 1,000-yard mark in 2012 and 2013, he became the first running back in KU history to rush for quadruple-digit rushing yards in back-to-back seasons and came within a couple hundred yards of eclipsing June Henley for the top spot on KU's career rushing list. As was the case throughout his career, Sims gained most of his yards against defenses that knew what was coming. The fact that he still was able to churn out productive games and finish with 7 touchdowns and a 4.8 yards-per-carry average speaks to his skill and desire. A strong case could be made for Sims to land on the all-Big 12 first team. I know I'd put him there, but because of KU's win total he could be a second-teamer.

• Junior linebacker Ben Heeney •
If not for a midseason injury that forced him to miss two games, Heeney no doubt would've racked up triple-digit tackles for the second year in a row and kept his spot near the top of the Big 12 tackle list. As it turned out, Heeney still enjoyed a monster season, finishing with 87 tackles in 10 games and 11.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and three interceptions. But it's more than Heeney's stats that make him a virtual lock for inclusion on one of the all-Big 12 teams. Anyone who watches him play, whether it's opposing coaches, media members or even his own teammates, easily can recognize that Heeney is one of the top players in the Big 12 and plays harder than nearly everybody.

• Junior cornerback Dexter McDonald •
McDonald was one of the top cover corners in the Big 12, especially early in the season. There were several games where opposing quarterbacks chose not even to test the junior-college transfer who returned to KU for a second go-around this season. And his size, speed and physicality made him a tough match-up for opposing wide receivers. McDonald finished with two interceptions and 10 pass break-ups (7th in the Big 12) and also should be given credit for helping JaCorey Shepherd — KU's starter on the other side of the field — develop his corner skills, both from a perspective of showing him the ropes and also from encouraging opponents to attack Shepherd instead.

• Junior cornerback JaCorey Shepherd •
The former wide receiver's 13 pass break-ups and two interceptions put him third in the Big 12 in passes defended, no small feat for a guy who entered fall camp still adjusting to his new position. Last season, Shepherd showed he had the raw skills to hang in the secondary and this season he showed he could play cornerback. Tested on a weekly basis, Shepherd always seemed to be up for the challenge. He may not land on any of the teams but I think he deserves at least honorable mention. Another area he could make an appearance is at kick returner, where he finished fifth in the conference with an average of 22.8 yards per kick return.

• Junior punt returner Connor Embree •
Three guys finished ahead of him in the Big 12 Conference punt return rankings and he wasn't nearly as good late in the season as he was early on, but the former walk-on at least deserves mention as a possible honorable mention candidate for his 11.4-yard average in 16 attempts.

Before we close this one down, here's a little deeper look at the job McDonald and Shepherd did this season at the cornerback position, which, in my eyes, merits both of them spots on the all-conference teams.

The following is a look at the Big 12's top pass catchers, their season averages and how each performed against Kansas:

Player (Receptions-Per-Game, Yards-Per-Game) — vs. Kansas

• Antwan Goodley, Baylor (5.4, 109.5) — 2 catches for 43 yards
• Tyler Lockett, Kansas State (6.5, 104.2) — 3 catches for 43 yards
• Jace Amaro, Texas Tech (8.2, 103.3) — 9 catches for 96 yards
• Mike Davis, Texas (4.6, 70.1) — 1 catch for 5 yards
• Jalen Saunders, Oklahoma (4.6, 55.9) — 4 catches for 47 yards
• Josh Stewart (4.5, 55.5) — 0 catches (left with injury)
• Eric Ward, Texas Tech (6.7, 75.3) — 7 catches for 122 yards and 1 TD
• Jaxon Shipley, Texas (4.7, 51.8) — 6 catches for 77 yards
• Quenton Bundrage, Iowa State (4.0, 56.3) — 3 catches for 63 yards
• Tevin Reese, Baylor (4.1, 103.0) — 4 catches for 110 yards
• Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech (5.4, 64.3) — 7 catches for 92 yards

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