KU alumni hope stadium rebuild will secure football program’s national position

photo by: Chance Parker/Journal-World photo

Kansas alumnus Chris Harris Jr. speaks at the announcement of KU's new plans to renovate David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium on Aug. 15, 2023.

Chris Harris Jr. said he remembers when, as a student at Kansas, he was looking forward to upcoming renovations to the school’s football stadium.

That was in 2007, when Harris was a true freshman on the Jayhawks’ football team that won the Orange Bowl. Fast forward 16 years, and Harris, now a 12-year NFL veteran and four-time Pro Bowl cornerback, was on hand at the Jayhawk Welcome Center on Tuesday to see KU unveil construction plans for its redevelopment of David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium and the surrounding “Gateway District.”

Construction is just four months away from commencing and is scheduled to be done in August 2025.

“It’s showing that we’re making football a priority here,” Harris said, “and that we want to make change and we want to continue to see it rise.”

Harris added that his compatriots at KU — many of whom, including quarterback Todd Reesing and fellow defensive backs Darrell Stuckey and Aqib Talib, were in attendance Tuesday — would have been “jumping for joy” if this development came along in their day.

“We were building, we were growing when I first got here, but now, we’ve exploded,” Harris said. “It’s usually been hard those first two years. For (head coach Lance Leipold) to have success, that’s great news for us. We got something good to look forward to.”

The initial announcement of KU’s gateway project came on Oct. 7, as the school was riding a wave of momentum from an unbeaten start and had drawn ESPN’s College GameDay to Lawrence. The Jayhawks eventually reached a bowl game in December, their first since Harris’ sophomore year at KU back in 2008.

photo by: Nick Krug

Kansas safety Darrell Stuckey celebrates with cornerback Chris Harris after Stuckey’s interception of Colorado quarterback Cody Hawkins during the second quarter Saturday, Oct. 11, 2008 at Memorial Stadium.

The process of delivering comprehensive improvements to the stadium had begun with the momentum of the 2007 and 2008 seasons, but projects under multiple different athletic directors like the ill-fated Gridiron Club and Raise the Chant campaigns were unable to generate significant progress.

All the while, the dominant forces in college football, like conference realignment, both grew in intensity and continued to shift. KU Chancellor Douglas Girod told the Journal-World last September that failing to undertake a football project like what has become KU’s Gateway District could jeopardize the school’s standing in a high-powered conference.

“We can choose not to do it, but we probably can anticipate what our long-term outcome will be in terms of where we do sit conference-wise,” he said at the time.

At the announcement Tuesday, he reflected on the journey toward, eventually, embarking on such a project, and doing so on “a more aggressive time schedule than we could have otherwise” because of the success of the 2022 season.

photo by: Chance Parker/Journal-World photo

Chancellor Douglas Girod and the University of Kansas unveil new plans to renovate David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium on Aug. 15, 2023.

“Every project has its time,” Girod said. “And this is a project that we’ve been talking about — actually, we had a big announcement two weeks before I started this job (in 2017) that we were going to undertake this project. Well, that was almost seven years ago. You know, we needed the right time and we needed the right leaders.”

KU broadcaster Brian Hanni had struck a similar tone in his opening remarks: “It’s the much-anticipated fulfillment of a dream shared by many, one that’s been long discussed but whose completion and execution required getting the right combination of leaders, donors, visionaries and other supporters.”

Reesing echoed all those comments following the announcement.

“With what coach Leipold and staff and the players have accomplished last year getting back to a bowl game, what AD Goff has done to generate new energy and excitement around the entire KU athletics program, and the donor base,” he said, “I think it’s just kind of the perfect storm.

“Everything’s coming together at the right time to move forward with this project and move forward with a lot of energy and a lot of pace (so that) we can get it done in the next couple of years.”

Ahead of this year’s follow-up season, the new locker and weight rooms at the Anderson Family Football Complex opened last week, representing the first material indication of progress toward the Gateway District project for a school that has long been short on such concrete developments (beyond, for example, the removal of the stadium’s track in 2014).

Reesing had a chance to get in a workout at the new facility.

“It brought back some memories to get back in there and lift a little bit of weights before we got to the big announcement today,” he said. “… To have such an amazing renovation for these players, what a huge selling point for recruiting as well.”

Harris, who had also praised Leipold for succeeding in a rapidly changing college football climate and dealing with factors like name, image and likeness and the transfer portal, pointed out that in a new era of college football recruiting that, as he puts it, features “guys taking pictures with cars,” “you got to be able to compete with the other schools and the innovation and the new things that they’re bringing to the table to get these guys.” (KU’s press release does note that the new Anderson Family Football Complex will include a “1,200-square-foot state-of-the-art photo/video/audio content studio.”)

“We got to have these facilities to be able to keep up with those top schools in the nation,” Harris said.

photo by: Chance Parker/Journal-World photo

From left, athletic director Travis Goff, Chancellor Douglas Girod, Governor Laura Kelly, alumnus Chris Harris Jr., head football coach Lance Leipold and running back Devin Neal look on at the unveiling of new renovations to David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium on Aug. 15, 2023.


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