Numbers crunch: Failed recruiting efforts leave Jayhawks short-handed

Head coach David Beaty and the Kansas University football team close their spring game by singing the KU Alma Mater. Beaty inherits a squad woefully short of numbers and one that is looking for walk-ons to fill the gaps.

It’s no secret that first-year head coach David Beaty and the Kansas University football program are dealing with a light deck heading into the 2015 season.

Because of a number of past transactions that did not pan out — either because of eligibility, academics or attitude — the Jayhawks will open the upcoming season nearly an entire recruiting class short of the allowed number of 85 scholarship players.

This news is nothing new, but it is arguably the biggest challenge facing Beaty and his staff, as they prepare to take on one of the toughest schedules in the country with inexperienced players and very little depth.

Head coach David Beaty and his staff have spent recent months working to fill their squad with walk-ons.

Because of the way the rules are set up, where programs can sign a maximum of 25 players in any given recruiting class, Beaty knows that getting the numbers up will not be something he can fix overnight. Asked last week at Big 12 media days in Dallas how he planned to go about getting back to a full deck, Beaty laid out a clear and concise plan.

“You have small senior classes, which is gonna take a few years,” he began. “It’s gonna be another 25 (seniors) next year and then after that it’s gonna start scaling back to around 17 or 18 (seniors per class), which allows you to still sign 25 (incoming players) and now all of a sudden you get eight more and now you move it up. And then the next year you get eight more. And then you get up to 85. It’ll probably take us a couple of years to get there. We’ll see.”

Various loopholes in the recruiting process allow for programs to add an extra player or two each year here and there — via blue shirts (counting forward), gray shirts (player walks on for fall semester and then starts on scholarship in the spring) or other one-time exemptions — but there are very few shortcuts to climbing out of such a big hole and Beaty knows he’ll have to get creative to survive.

One such way he’s gone about that is through aggressively pursuing walk-ons, particularly those in the state, who may be swayed to pass up lower-level scholarship offers by the opportunity to compete for playing time at KU.

“We’ve got a lot of great players in that state that are going to other places,” Beaty said. “But they want to come to their university.”

Because the process of recruiting walk-ons is so tricky — non-scholarship players must remain unrecruited and even so much as a phone call can make them ineligible — Beaty said landing talented walk-ons who could help KU, both in terms of depth and potentially in the regular rotation, was a complete team effort.

“We did it with a fine-toothed comb,” Beaty said of the process that began almost immediately and ended with KU capping the number of walk-ons it took because interest was so high. “We were very direct and we were very smart. It took an enormous amount of organization.”

Football is full of wild success stories about former walk-ons becoming stars. And although he would take that outcome as many times as he could get it, Beaty is more interested in this first batch of walk-ons being solid rather than spectacular.

“Most people have three deep, well there’s ghosts at three deep for us right now,” he admitted. “We have two deep, but we don’t have three deep. So for a walk-on, instead of being four or five right off the bat, you’re third.”

While the list of walk-ons is long and remains fluid even throughout preseason camp, Beaty already has been impressed by what he has seen.

“There’s probably two or three guys right now that are freshmen coming in that are walk-ons and what I see them doing in our strength and conditioning and our movement stuff that we can watch, I think they can help us,” he said. “And I think they can help us early, which is good because we don’t have enough numbers.”