Notebook: KU seniors play final home game
Saturday’s matchup between Kansas and Kansas State featured the latest expression of gratitude for a senior class that Lance Leipold has credited with helping turn the program around.
The group was honored pregame as part of Senior Day festivities before the Jayhawks played their last home game of the season.
It included longtime stalwarts like Mason Fairchild and Kenny Logan Jr.; Buffalo transfers like Rich Miller and Mike Novitsky; more recent key leaders like Devin Phillips, Dominick Puni and Craig Young; and other important starters such as Jason Bean, Kalon Gervin, Hayden Hatcher and Seth Keller.
“I put my all into it,” said Miller, the fifth-year senior linebacker, earlier in the week, “and I feel like I won’t regret anything, because I put my all into it every day. Even when it was hard, I still put my all into it.”
The remainder of the class — 19 strong in total — includes edge rusher Patrick Joyner Jr., KU legacy cornerback Kwinton Lassiter and backup running back Dylan McDuffie, as well as Krishawn Brown, Dylan Downing, Donovan Gaines, Danny Robinson and onetime starting punter Reis Vernon.
Vernon is one of a few players who could technically have additional eligibility. But Leipold singled him out for praise in a press conference this week, noting that he could easily have left when he lost the starting job and “was beaten out to a point where he doesn’t travel.”
“And that’s tough,” Leipold said. “But Reis could have easily just left or just finished school or (done) things, and he’s going to graduate.”
These players will not get to see the future of David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium, the nearly century-old venue that will begin a comprehensive renovation process shortly after the conclusion of the season and will have substantially reduced capacity in 2024 as it ramps up toward the completion of an initial phase of construction by 2025.
KU was able to open its new locker and weight rooms prior to the start of the season, which Leipold characterized at the time as a tangible tribute to the efforts of the current team leaders.
Save the date
Leipold and Kansas State coach Chris Klieman will meet again off the field next March, at an event called “Unrivaled: Uniting Kansas, Elevating Athletes,” announced Thursday and organized as a collaboration between name, image and likeness collectives at KU and Kansas State.
The event will take place on March 4 in Kansas City, featuring the coaches providing a “behind-the-scenes look at constructing competitive programs.” It is a fundraiser for the pair of collectives, Legends of Kansas (a newer, football-focused entrant on the KU side, with a board composed of former football players) and Wildcat NIL.
Kansas City Chiefs broadcaster Mitch Holthus will moderate the discussion.
Me and my cousins
Lawrence High graduate Devin Neal and Free State product Keenan Garber — who scored on consecutive plays Saturday when Neal ran for a touchdown and Garber got a defensive conversion — have been on opposite sides of the Sunflower Showdown before, but they had not actually physically been on opposite sides of the ball in a KU-Kansas State game until Saturday.
Neal and Garber, who are cousins, started their college careers playing running back and wide receiver, respectively. But ever since injuries pressed him into service at last season’s Big 12 Conference championship, Garber has been playing cornerback for the Wildcats and is listed as a co-starter.
Last weekend against Baylor, he snagged his first career interception and returned it 45 yards for a touchdown.
The K-State roster also features another Free State alumnus in redshirt freshman safety Jet Dineen.
Klieman and the Wildcats recruited Neal, as Klieman noted this week; they offered him and he went on a visit but ultimately opted for his hometown school.
In the neighborhood
KU tight end Jared Casey and K-State center Hayden Gillum — both former walk-ons who developed into key players — have common roots in Plainville. They also filmed a commercial together, released this summer, for the Applebee’s location down the road in Hays, which essentially centers on Casey being blinded by the glow of Gillum’s Big 12 championship ring but getting one back on his friend by showing off his certificate for free Applebee’s.
This was not Casey’s first involvement with the casual restaurant chain, which first got involved with him after his memorable game-winning two-point conversion against Texas in 2021.
This and that
Klieman and Leipold are Nos. 4 and 5, respectively, in winning percentage among active college head coaches who have served as head coaches for at least 10 seasons. Both led powerhouse lower-level programs, Klieman North Dakota State and Leipold Wisconsin-Whitewater.
Before he got the gig, Klieman — himself a former KU graduate assistant in Terry Allen’s first year — and KU offensive line coach Scott Fuchs were assistant coaches together at NDSU for three seasons.
The most obvious connection between the KU and Kansas State staffs, though, is the presence of Sean Snyder, son of legendary K-State coach Bill Snyder, as a “special assistant to the head coach” for KU. Leipold remarked Monday that he could serve as a good speaker for the Jayhawks to impress upon them the importance of the Sunflower Showdown. Snyder said Wednesday on the “Hawk Talk” radio show that his father has a lot of respect for Leipold: “He thinks the world of Coach, and thinks he’s been doing a great job over here, and thinks he’s got this thing going.”
The Sunflower Showdown officially became the longest-tenured rivalry by games played in KU history Saturday when the Jayhawks and Wildcats contested the matchup for the 121st time, surpassing the 120 games played between KU and Missouri before the Tigers left for the Southeastern Conference. The Border Showdown, as it is officially known, is slated to make a return in 2025.