KU running back Daniel Hishaw Jr. is back on the practice field with the Jayhawks

Kansas offensive lineman Mike Novitsky (50) and Kansas running back Daniel Hishaw Jr. (20) celebrate a touchdown by Hishaw during the second quarter against Iowa State on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022 at Memorial Stadium.

The Kansas football program’s running back depth has been tested in a big way this spring, with multiple players missing time because of various injuries.

But while Devin Neal, Sevion Morrison and even newcomer Dylan McDuffie, who recently tweaked his ankle, have spent time on the sidelines, one player the Jayhawks have welcomed back to the field is Daniel Hishaw Jr.

Out since last October with a serious hip injury, Hishaw returned to practice for the first time this spring last week. It was in a limited role and they’re still working toward getting him back to 100% healthy. But Kansas coach Lance Leipold said after Saturday’s scrimmage that it was good to have the talented back on the field again.

“I know it’s been a frustrating road for him,” Leipold said of the powerful 5-foot-10, 220-pound redshirt sophomore from Moore, Oklahoma. “But he’s working hard and you can see him moving around. Hopefully it progresses a little more.”

The goal going into the spring, which will wrap up on April 7 with the Jayhawks’ Spring Showcase, was for Hishaw to be healthy enough to at least participate in some live-action drills.

Leipold said last Saturday that they were still unsure if Hishaw would reach that point.

“It’s a progression,” the third-year Kansas coach said. “It’s kind of a two steps forward, one step back with him.”

But the fact that he’s out there at all has been viewed as good progress, both for Hishaw’s physical health and mental health.

After exploding toward a breakout season during the first four games of the 2022 season, Hishaw left the field in an ambulance late in KU’s home win over Iowa State. To that point, he had rushed for 262 yards and 5 touchdowns on 44 carries, giving him a 6-yards-per-carry average and tying him for the team lead in rushing touchdowns with Neal.

He also added another touchdown through the air on 95 receiving yards and three catches, the longest of which was a 73-yard catch-and-run TD in KU’s Week 4 win over Duke during which Hishaw broke several tackles and spun and ran away from more.

It was plays like that, which remained one of the highlights of KU’s 6-7 season, that helped Hishaw first impress the KU coaches as early as preseason camp of his freshman season in 2020. He often was mentioned by the previous coaching staff as a standout performer during the team’s 2020 camp, despite being one of the new kids in town.

He finished his true-freshman season as the Jayhawks’ second leading rusher with 229 yards on 52 carries to go along with two touchdowns.

From there, the injury bug started biting.

After missing the 2021 season with a similarly serious hip injury, Hishaw’s strong start to the 2022 season, which followed a stellar preseason camp, was something the young back had been waiting for. But a second hip injury knocked him out for the season as quickly as he had broken out.

There was some hope during KU’s month of bowl preparation last December that Hishaw could return in time for the Liberty Bowl. But that was short-lived and he never reached the point where he was healthy enough to give it a go.

Considering all of Hishaw’s setbacks and near returns, Leipold said the team was happy to have him back in uniform this spring.

“You take last year alone and how well he played, but then he missed the year before with something else. That’s hard mentally,” Leipold said. “I think he’s handling it very well.”

KU is slated to return to the practice field for spring practice No. 10 on Tuesday. From there, the Jayhawks will practice again on Thursday and Saturday of this week while finishing up spring drills on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday of the following week.


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