Posts tagged with Ku

Addition of Kansas athletes a nice lift for KU football

Free State seniors Bryce Torneden (1) and Sam Skwarlo (5) celebrate a touchdown run by Skwarlo during their game against Shawnee Mission South Friday evening at FSHS.

Free State seniors Bryce Torneden (1) and Sam Skwarlo (5) celebrate a touchdown run by Skwarlo during their game against Shawnee Mission South Friday evening at FSHS. by John Young

It may have taken a little while, but, late in the recruiting process for the Class of 2016, the Kansas University football coaching staff began to make good on its stated goal of adding more in-state players to the KU roster.

Here's the thing about that quest that KU fans may have forgotten: It's not entirely up to the KU coaches.

There's no doubt that David Beaty, Clint Bowen and the rest of the KU coaching staff can make — and have made — recruiting in-state athletes a greater priority, but those athletes still have to pick Kansas in order for the number of Sunflower State studs on KU's roster to increase.

Given the fact that so many standout Kansans have offers elsewhere — and the fact that the state produces very few D-I prospects on an annual basis — that's not always an easy task. Add to that the fact that KU is churning its way through the worst stretch in school history and it's not at all surprising to hear stories about local kids wanting to go somewhere else, no matter how great of a pitch or offer the KU coaches throw at them.

Fortunately for Beaty and company, that pitch proved to be enough recently for a pair of Free State High standouts, who chose KU over other opportunities. The first came last week, when Free State quarterback Bryce Torneden — who projects as a safety at KU — accepted a late scholarship offer from Kansas and, in turn, said no thanks to North Dakota State, where he had been committed for months.

Torneden's change of heart opened the door for teammate and fellow-Firebird Sam Skwarlo to have a change-of-heart of his own and, instead of walking on at K-State, as was his plan for most of the past few weeks, Skwarlo on Monday decided to take an offer to walk-on at Kansas.

Bryce Torneden hands the ball off to Sam Skwarlo as Free State played Shawnee Mission East Friday in Overland Park. The Firebirds won, 32-20.

Bryce Torneden hands the ball off to Sam Skwarlo as Free State played Shawnee Mission East Friday in Overland Park. The Firebirds won, 32-20. by Kevin Anderson/Special to the Journal-World

Now, who knows if either player will ever make much of an impact on the KU program. Both are a bit undersized for Big 12 football and both have a long road ahead of them to climb into relevance on the KU depth chart.

But a case could be made that by simply choosing Kansas in the first place Torneden and Skwarlo already have made an impact.

See, these, and others like them, are the types of players that K-State coach Bill Snyder has built his program on during the past few decades. Snyder, of course, also has added all kinds of elite athletes and even a few big time recruits, but for the most part, he's made K-State into a powerhouse with overlooked, underrated, hard-nosed kids who fit his system, many of them coming from within the borders of Kansas.

I don't know the specific numbers off the top of my head, but every year when I prepared to cover the Sunflower Showdown, the number of Kansans on each roster blew my mind. It was always something like 45-17 in favor of K-State.

Adding Torneden and Skwarlo in Lawrence not only sets KU on the Bill Snyder path, with the hope that more soon will follow, but it also takes a couple of in-state prospects away from the Wildcats, making this a double victory for the Jayhawks.

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Latest KU scholarship offer no freebie; Torneden earned it

Free State's Bryce Torneden (1) looks for running room against Wichita Northwest on Friday, Nov. 7, 2014, at FSHS.

Free State's Bryce Torneden (1) looks for running room against Wichita Northwest on Friday, Nov. 7, 2014, at FSHS. by Richard Gwin

The reality of the Kansas University football program's current recruiting class is this: Because the numbers are down and the program is rebuilding, there are not a ton of athletes in the 2016 class who, up front, look like players to get fired up about.

That changed a little bit Thursday night, when news broke that Free State High standout Bryce Torneden had switched his commitment from North Dakota State to KU after receiving a full scholarship offer from David Beaty and the Jayhawks.

But not because Torneden is a five-star steal that the Jayhawks pulled out of nowhere. More because he's a hometown guy with pretty good upside who Beaty and company needed to get.

I don't care where you are, any time a hometown kid chooses to stay in his own backyard for school, it adds a little excitement to the program. Because Lawrence is smaller than say, Madison, Wisconsin, or Los Angeles, California, the splash that Torneden staying home made was a little bit bigger.

But at least for my money, that had more to do with this commitment representing Beaty making good on his word to look hard at local prospects than anything Torneden might or might not do on the field during the next four or five years.

Free State junior Bryce Torneden runs against Manhattan on Oct. 24, 2014, at Manhattan.

Free State junior Bryce Torneden runs against Manhattan on Oct. 24, 2014, at Manhattan. by Richard Gwin

Torneden is not a legendary knight riding in on a white stallion ready to save the day. He's a terrific athlete, a little undersized and far from a sure thing, but also the kind of player you easily could see contributing someday if he continues to work his butt off and takes advantage of the opportunity to work with Je'Ney Jackson and the KU strength staff. Which he will.

If that means he becomes the type of player that others kick themselves for missing on and winds up starting at safety for three seasons or merely becomes a guy who KU uses for depth at a couple of different spots, one thing will always remain true — this was not a charity scholarship. Torneden earned it. And he got the offer because, on paper, on film and in terms of being a guy that the coaching staff already had built a relationship with, Torneden was every bit as good of an option as any of the players remaining on KU's board.

Trust me. KU's got a handful of talented athletes coming in for a visit this weekend and most, if not all, of them would love the opportunity to compete and play football in the Big 12. There's no doubt that Beaty easily would have found someone to give Torneden's scholarship to if the 5-foot-10, 185-pound athlete had decided he couldn't say no to North Dakota State.

So don't look at this situation as a deal where KU just had an extra scholarship laying around and decided to give it to the local kid to buy some good will. That couldn't be further from the truth and is downright disrespectful to Torneden.

The kid can play. And he's going to get a chance to prove it at Kansas.

Free State senior Bryce Torneden, left, puts a hit on Leavenworth junior running back Wade Jackson during their football game Friday night in Leavenworth.

Free State senior Bryce Torneden, left, puts a hit on Leavenworth junior running back Wade Jackson during their football game Friday night in Leavenworth. by John Young

Maybe he's not Amani Bledsoe. But did anyone think Joe Dineen would become Joe Freakin' Dineen? Same high school. Same college program. Same opportunity.

The only thing left to see now is what Torneden does with it.

For those of us in or from Lawrence, who enjoy seeing local kids do well — anywhere, but especially at KU — that's why Thursday night's news added a little juice to this class.

With Torneden on board — and wide receiver Braylon Royal no longer a part of this class — KU has two scholarships remaining to pass out before next Wednesday's national signing day.

Who knows who they'll end up going to, but, for the reasons listed above, it's hard to imagine them being any more exciting than Kansas landing Torneden.

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A closer look at new KU big man Udoka Azubuike

All right. By now, you guys surely know how these highlight videos work.

They're exactly that. Highlights. You don't see the mistakes, the benchings, the rough stretches or the moments of confusion and missed steps. And, frankly, with most of the top high school prospects, guys who dominate the competition because of their superior size, athleticism and skills, there are not a ton of games that produce anything but highlights.

Such seems to be the case with Udoka Azubuike, the 6-foot-11, 260-pound center from Potter's House Christian Academy in Jacksonville, Florida, who moments ago announced on ESPNU that he would play his college ball at Kansas University.

The five-star Azubuike is the No. 27-ranked player in the Class of 2016 and the top-rated center and he chose KU over UNC as his finalists but also seriously considered North Carolina State and Florida State.

His addition to the KU program not only gives KU an exciting prospect to look forward to in the future, but also someone Jayhawk fans can salivate over right now. That's because, if it were allowed, Azubuike absolutely would be able to suit up and help this program today. He might not be a star, mind you (we've learned our lesson there, right?) but with that frame, he certainly would help.

At 6-11, 260, he's considerably bigger than anything the Jayhawks have down low today, standing an inch taller and 20 pounds heavier than the Jayhawks' biggest body (6-10, 240-pound Landen Lucas).

Beyond that, Azubuike plays a style that none of KU's current players seem to be able to play. In short, he likes to dunk and he likes to dunk very, very hard.

Like most of you, I have not actually seen Azubuike play. But I have watched plenty of film on him and have been impressed by how well he moves. Sure, in these highlights, you're mostly treated to an endless buffet of Azubuike dunking the ball with authority and anger — and let's face it, KU could use some of that — but in some of the clips (and even when you're watching him hurt the rim) you can see how well this guy moves on his feet, how well he runs the floor, how good his balance is and how you could see him turning into a handful in the paint with the proper training.

He figures to get that and more at Kansas and his arrival will be one of the more exciting things to look forward to before the 2016-17 season.

Now that you've watched those, I want you to take a look at this gem I found — God bless the Internet — that was taken when Azubuike was just 14 years old.

He stood 6 feet, 10 inches tall and already showed strong affection for the slam dunk.

The thing I want you to pay attention to in the following clip is not his ferocious form or how mind-blowing it is that a 14-year-old can dunk like that, but instead look at his frame.

Watching this clip and then watching the one above shows you just how much Azubuike's body has developed in the past few years. And that's without the help of Andrea Hudy. Imagine what the KU body-shaping guru will do with this guy when he gets here.

Finally, for a little better perspective on Azubuike's actual skills and talent, here are a couple of videos where you can actually see Azubuike go up against players of similar size and skill.

In the next couple of videos, Azubuike is facing off against DeAndre Ayton, the No. 4 ranked player in the Class of 2017.

In the first one, Ayton is No. 0 in black and Azubuike is No. 35 in white. In the second clip, Ayton is No. 92 in white and Azubuike is No. 105 in red.

Here's another one, from 2014, of Azubuike going up against Stephen Zimmerman, who last year chose UNLV over Kansas.

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Former Jayhawks Harris, Talib Super Bowl bound

After missing out the last time around, former Kansas cornerback Chris Harris will represent the Denver Broncos and KU football in Super Bowl 50. (Photo courtesy John Maestas, Facebook)

After missing out the last time around, former Kansas cornerback Chris Harris will represent the Denver Broncos and KU football in Super Bowl 50. (Photo courtesy John Maestas, Facebook) by Matt Tait

Former Kansas University cornerback Chris Harris is headed back to the Super Bowl. And this time he'll be playing.

Harris, the fifth-year pro who joined the Denver Broncos after going undrafted following his four-year career at KU, joined fellow former Jayhawk Aqib Talib in playing a huge role in Denver's 20-18, AFC Championship victory over New England on Sunday.

Dubbed by many as the top starting cornerback tandem in the NFL, Harris and Talib came up huge time and time again in the fourth quarter as Patriots QB Tom Brady tried to rally his team to a tying score.

Both players came up with crucial fourth-down stops inside the final five minutes and it was Talib's deflection of Brady's two-point conversion pass attempt that sealed the game for the Broncos, who are headed to their second Super Bowl in three seasons and eighth all-time.

Two years ago, following a record-setting season by the Denver offense, the Broncos advanced to the Super Bowl but were drubbed by Seattle in one of the most lopsided Super Bowls of all-time. Harris watched from the sideline during that one, unable to play because of an injury he suffered during the playoff run.

Talib, who is now in his second season with the Broncos, watched that one from home as he spent that season with New England and was part of a different Patriots team that lost the AFC title game in Denver.

Now, in two weeks, with Superman QB Cam Newton firing the passes, the former Jayhawks will try to do what they did in 2008 at Kansas — finish their season with a victory.

For Harris, the trip back to the big game represents an opportunity to experience the Super Bowl in an entirely new way. Two years ago, with the game played in New York, Harris was celebrated for his contributions with the team but did not participate in the same experiences as his teammates from everything to game planning and practicing for the big game to media day and even traveling with the team to the Big Apple.

Former KU cornerback Aqib Talib preps for an interview on the field following Denver's AFC title game victory on Sunday. (Photo courtesy David Beaty)

Former KU cornerback Aqib Talib preps for an interview on the field following Denver's AFC title game victory on Sunday. (Photo courtesy David Beaty) by Matt Tait

For Talib, the former first-round pick who will be making his first trip to the Super Bowl, the opportunity provides him with the kind of stage he was born to be on. Not only will Talib be playing in the biggest game of the season against the league's likely MVP, but he also will get two weeks to offer soundbites and entertainment that surely will not disappoint.

And for Kansas, a football program struggling through one of the roughest rebuilds in college football history, having two former Jayhawks start for the league's best defense in the Super Bowl provides head coach David Beaty and company with a little extra juice on the recruiting trail, particularly because Harris and Talib, out of high school, were unheralded, lowly ranked prospects similar to the types of players KU is recruiting and hoping to rebuild with today.

Beaty was on the sideline in Denver on Sunday — the guess here is that having the son of Denver's head coach on his staff helped him land the sideline pass — and he wisely made his presence known on various KU football social media sites by celebrating the performance of the two former Jayhawks.

That won't win KU any games in the near future, but it sure won't hurt to have two of the key starters at one of the most visible positions in this year's Super Bowl announce “Kansas” as their school when they're introduced both at the game and on television.

Here's a link to a quick video of Talib's reaction to finally reaching the big game:

http://www.nfl.com/videos/denver-broncos/0ap3000000627717/Talib-on-Super-Bowl-berth-Man-it-s-about-time

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With Bledsoe OU-bound, the focus on KU’s D-Line shifts to Isaiah Bean

While Thursday's news that four-star defensive end and Lawrence High prospect Amani Bledsoe had picked Oklahoma over Kansas certainly qualified as disappointing for the KU football program, all is not lost.

The Jayhawks, who threw all they had at the local standout and did everything humanly possible to land him, will move on and still have five spots to fill in the 2016 recruiting class.

Granted, none of them look as appealing today as Bledsoe and it's doubtful that any of them — or even all of them combined — could bring the same kind of lift and momentum to the program that Bledsoe picking Kansas would have. But what's done is done and crying about what could have been certainly will not do anything to help this rebuilding program improve.

Give Kansas credit for cracking Bledsoe's final two. Even if the Jayhawks did not get him, encouraging a player of that caliber to give the program a long, hard look eventually will be seen as a good thing.

Today, however, the news is pretty disappointing.

That said, KU coach David Beaty and company don't have time to sulk. They've got a handful of visitors lined up for this weekend and they'll start trickling in tomorrow. The last thing those kids need to see is a coaching staff that's bummed out over losing Bledsoe. And they won't. Beaty and his staff, no matter how hard they took this one, know that this is the way recruiting in the college football world goes. You win some, you lose some and you can't get too high or too low no matter what the outcome.

Here's a list of some of the most likely candidates to fill KU's five remaining scholarships in the 2016 recruiting class that we posted the other day.

But, for now, with the news of Bledsoe picking Oklahoma still so fresh, let's take a closer look at one in particular.

His name is Isaiah Bean and he's a two-star defensive end prospect from Houston.

Bean currently stands 6 feet, 4 inches tall and weighs just 210 pounds. But it's easy to see that with a year to red-shirt and the proper strength and conditioning, he could quickly add 20-30 pounds to his frame and be more prepared to operate as a speed rusher.

The Summer Creek High prospect listed by Rivals.com as an “Athlete” has shown his versatility throughout his career, playing both offense and defense, and working at various summer camps as both a defensive end and a wide receiver.

You can see his frame and athleticism in the videos below.

Is Bean a ready-made, Day 1 contributor like Bledsoe? Not a chance. Could he be an intriguing project that pans out in a couple of years and impacts the program in a positive way? You bet.

And, right now, with KU in need of a defensive end in this class to fill the void left by Bledsoe's decision to pick OU, Bean is definitely better than nobody.

Rivals.com lists KU D-Line coach Calvin Thibodeaux as the lead recruiter for Bean, who also visited Tulsa and UNLV and plans to visit Fresno State.

Bean is expected to visit Kansas during the next two weekends and also holds offers from Fresno State, Iowa State, Tulsa, UNLV, Illinois, UMass, Louisiana-Lafayette, Prairie View A&M, Texas State and UT-San Antonio.

In the mood for more? Here's a link to Bean's HUDL page, which features game videos from his 2015 season.

http://www.hudl.com/athlete/2581502/isaiah-bean

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Former Jayhawks Harris, Talib picked for second straight Pro Bowl

A pair of former Kansas University cornerbacks became the first NFL teammates to be selected for back-to-back Pro Bowls in 25 years.

Denver Broncos Chris Harris and Aqib Talib, who helped the Broncos field one of the league's top ranked defenses this season, earned the Pro Bowl nod for the second year in a row, the league announced Tuesday night.

Harris, the un-drafted free agent who has gone on to become one of the most productive and stingy cornerbacks in all of football, has started all 14 games for the Broncos this year and has totaled 52 tackles (43 solo), two interceptions (94 yards), four passes defensed and two forced fumbles.

He becomes one of just five un-drafted cornerbacks in NFL history to make multiple Pro Bowls with his original team.

Like Harris, Talib, now in his second year with Denver, also has started all 14 games for Denver and has totaled a team-best three interceptions (123 yards, 2 TDs) and 13 passes defensed to go along with 38 tackles (33 solo).

Talib was picked to the Pro Bowl for a third consecutive season, as he also earned the honor in 2013 as a member of the New England Patriots. During his three-year run as a perennial Pro Bowler, Talib is tied for fourth at his position with 11 interceptions, including four returned for touchdowns.

After having a league-best nine players selected to last year's team, Denver (10-4) had just four this season — pass rushers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware also earned the nod — and the once powerful Broncos' offense was shut out of the all-star showcase.

After another hot start, Denver has dropped two games in a row and seen its lead in the AFC West shrink to one game over the red-hot Kansas City Chiefs with two games to play.

Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris (25) and Denver Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib (21) celebrate after an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015, in Denver. The Broncos won 29-10 to improve to 7-0. (AP Photo/Joe Mahoney)

Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris (25) and Denver Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib (21) celebrate after an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015, in Denver. The Broncos won 29-10 to improve to 7-0. (AP Photo/Joe Mahoney)

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VIDEO: Gameday in Omaha - Let the wait begin

Here's a quick, on the road version of KU Sports Extra from the NCAA Final Four in Omaha, where Kansas will take on No. 4 seed Nebraska tonight at 8:30.

We'll have more blogs and videos throughout the day right here at KUsports.com so be sure to check out all of our coverage while you wait for tonight's match, which will be shown live on ESPN2 and live blogged right here on our site.

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VIDEO: Sights & sounds from the KU Volleyball Experience in Omaha

Here's a quick look at the venue and some practice scenes at the NCAA Final Four in Omaha, where No. 9 overall seed Kansas (30-2) will take on No. 4 seed Nebraska (30-4) tonight at 8:30 in the second national semifinal.

We'll have more blogs and videos throughout the day right here at KUsports.com so be sure to check out all of our coverage while you wait for tonight's match, which will be shown live on ESPN2 and live blogged right here on our site.

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VIDEO: KU volleyball fitting right in at Final Four in Omaha

Here's a look back at what we learned on Day 1 of the NCAA Final Four in Omaha, where Kansas will take on No. 4 seed Nebraska tonight at 8:30.

We'll have more blogs and videos throughout the day right here at KUsports.com so be sure to check out all of our coverage while you wait for tonight's match, which will be shown live on ESPN2 and live blogged right here on our site.

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Penn State match in early 2014 gave KU volleyball first-hand look at what it takes

Kansas head coach Ray Bechard speaks with the team during a timeout Friday night in San Diego.

Kansas head coach Ray Bechard speaks with the team during a timeout Friday night in San Diego. by Megan Wood/Special to the Journal-World

Early last season, while several of this year's Final Four-bound Kansas University volleyball players were still freshmen figuring out how to adjust to the college game, the Jayhawks met up with defending national champion Penn State and 2013 NCAA tournament MVP Micha Hancock during a tournament in Philadelphia.

The Jayhawks lost, three sets to none, that day, but after being swallowed whole during the opening set, 25-10, did more than an admirable job of bouncing back and competing, falling in the next two sets, 27-25 and 25-23.

No one remembered the match as a close one — 3-0 sweeps are rarely viewed in that manner. But hanging in there with one of the nation's truly elite programs proved to be another mini-milestone on a wild ride that the Jayhawks have enjoyed during the past few seasons.

A little more than three months after that loss to Penn State, KU watched as Hancock and the Nittany Lions repeated as NCAA champions.

Today, just one year down the road, it's the Jayhawks who are two victories away from a national championship and that fact, given the context of having played Penn State a few months before they were crowned, has created a surreal vibe around the KU program all week.

“Oh, absolutely,” junior libero Cassie Wait. “That's been our word, surreal. Not that you never believed that you could do it, but each point even, each set, each game, it just gets that much more real — this is what we're doing, this is where we're headed, this is what our program stands for, this is who we are.”

A big part of the reason these Jayhawks have replaced Penn State in this year's Final Four — other than the fact that Hancock graduated and ended her run as one of the most dominant players in college volleyball — is the growth that those younger girls have experienced.

Setter Ainise Havili, though sensational as a freshman, is a much more mature, experienced and steady presence this season. Monster right-side hitter Kelsie Payne has transformed herself from a player with great potential into a player who can take over a match. And the girls who, as sophomores and juniors, were asked to be veterans a year ago — Wait, Tayler Soucie, Tiana Dockery, Janae Hall, etc. — actually are veterans this season.

Kansas players come together in celebration after scoring a point during their volleyball match against Kansas State on Wednesday evening at Ahearn Field House. The Jayhawks defeated the Wildcats in four sets to improve their record to 25-2 on the year.

Kansas players come together in celebration after scoring a point during their volleyball match against Kansas State on Wednesday evening at Ahearn Field House. The Jayhawks defeated the Wildcats in four sets to improve their record to 25-2 on the year. by John Young

That rapid growth, incredible chemistry and blatant talent inspired Havili to change her thinking from “maybe getting to the Final Four is something we could do junior or senior year” to “maybe this is something we can do now.”

“I remember playing Penn State really clearly,” Havili said. “And I remember looking at Micha Hancock and thinking, 'Oh my gosh, this girl is so scary.' But a year later, I'm here, and it's not that scary any more. It's crazy to think how far we've all come and how much we've grown in one year.... All these games, how we practice every day, how we build together, it all adds up to what we're doing right now.”

Added Wait, when asked what she and the team learned from the experience of being on the same court as Penn State a season ago: “If we play for each other, if we're willing to make all of the sacrifices, then you give yourself the best chance of achieving big things. If you can take that on and truly play as a team, I think that gives you the best shot, and, one year later, look where we are.”

Kansas junior Cassie Wait dives to make a dig  during Kansas' second round NCAA volleyball tournament match against Missouri on Friday night at the Horejsi Center. The Jayhawks sent the Tigers packing with a three set sweep.

Kansas junior Cassie Wait dives to make a dig during Kansas' second round NCAA volleyball tournament match against Missouri on Friday night at the Horejsi Center. The Jayhawks sent the Tigers packing with a three set sweep. by John Young

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