KU football players earn combined 15 all-conference honors

photo by: Mike Gunnoe/Special to the Journal-World

Kansas defensive lineman Austin Booker forces a fumble on UCF's Timmy McClain Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023 in Lawrence.

As a reward for its successful season in Lance Leipold’s third year at the helm, the Kansas football team received a bevy of individual honors from the Big 12 Conference coaches Wednesday afternoon.

Sophomore defensive end Austin Booker, who barely played in two seasons at Minnesota, joined KU as a transfer in the offseason and made an immediate impact as one of the premier pass rushers in the conference, tallying eight sacks on the year. He was rewarded with the title of defensive newcomer of the year, a spot on the all-conference first team and an honorable mention for defensive lineman of the year.

Joining Booker on the first team were cornerback Cobee Bryant, making his second straight appearance, and offensive tackle Dominick Puni, who also got an honorable mention for offensive lineman of the year. Running back Devin Neal (an honorable mention for offensive player of the year) and safety Kenny Logan Jr. earned second-team nods as six more Jayhawks — Lawrence Arnold, Jason Bean, Mello Dotson, Mason Fairchild, Mike Novitsky and Jereme Robinson — received additional honorable mentions.

On the whole, it adds up to 15 recognitions for 11 athletes, the largest quantity of KU football players to receive honors since 2016.

Booker is the highest-rated edge rusher in the Big 12 on Pro Football Focus, at No. 40 nationally, by a margin of 103 places over his next closest competition (Malik Vann of Cincinnati). Robinson was a strong presence himself at the opposite end and was second among KU players with six tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks.

Bryant and Dotson were PFF’s top two corners in the entire conference, though the former received a first-team nod and the latter had to settle for an honorable mention. Bryant was rarely targeted down the stretch as teams avoided his side of the field, but still managed three overall interceptions, including a one-handed marvel at Cincinnati, and a fumble-return touchdown that ignited the Jayhawks in their victory over BYU. Dotson, for his part, broke up 13 passes and snagged four interceptions, including interceptions returned for touchdowns in consecutive weeks.

Puni, a onetime transfer from Division II Central Missouri, did not allow a sack or a quarterback hit all season while starting at left tackle for three separate quarterbacks. Novitsky was the anchor of the offensive line as its reliable center.

Neal climbed KU’s list of all-time rushing leaders with a junior campaign in which, while often splitting carries with Daniel Hishaw Jr., he ran for 1,209 rushing yards with a yards-per-carry average (6.6) higher than most of his peers’.

Beyond accumulating the most career tackles in program history by a defensive back, Logan also served as one of the leaders of the KU defense and made game-changing plays like an interception return for a touchdown after halftime against BYU and a fourth-down stop on the final defensive drive at Nevada.

Arnold (650 yards, three touchdowns) and Fairchild (422 yards, three touchdowns) always seemed to find themselves open down the field, no matter who was playing quarterback. Bean played the better part of eight games behind center for the Jayhawks, taking over for Jalon Daniels under rather unfavorable circumstances, and threw for 1,681 yards and 12 touchdowns while running for 259 and three more. Perhaps his most masterful showing, at Cincinnati, saw him 10-for-10 for 190 yards and two touchdowns by halftime, before he ran for a pair of scores after the break.

photo by: Mike Gunnoe/Journal-World photo

Kansas cornerback Cobee Bryant pulls in an interception against BYU on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023 at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium.

photo by: AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

Kansas offensive lineman Dominick Puni (67) looks to make a block during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Iowa State, Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023, in Ames, Iowa. Kansas won 28-21.

Kansas running back Devin Neal (4) flashes a smile after a touchdown during the second quarter on Saturday Nov. 18, 2023 at Memorial Stadium. Photo by Nick Krug

photo by: Mike Gunnoe/Special to the Journal-World

Kansas safety Kenny Logan Jr. gets the crowd fired up for a third down against Oklahoma Saturday, Oct. 28, 2023, in Lawrence.


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