Bumgardner has chance for immediate impact on O-line

photo by: Kansas Athletics

Shane Bumgardner

Kansas coach Lance Leipold isn’t used to new faces in the middle of his offensive line.

“If I told you I had two centers in nine years as a Division I coach…” he said Thursday.

It’s true — in his first season at Buffalo after taking over from Jeff Quinn he inherited redshirt freshman James O’Hagan, who became a four-year starter and all-conference pick. When O’Hagan exhausted his eligibility following the 2018 season, Leipold had another redshirt freshman waiting in the wings: Mike Novitsky.

Novitsky, of course, anchored the line immediately beginning in 2019, moved with Leipold to KU in 2021 and served as one of the team’s leaders through its rapid turnaround, up until this final season, in which he played 818 snaps and bade the Jayhawks farewell following the Guaranteed Rate Bowl victory.

And then?

The cupboard wasn’t totally empty, as Dre Doiron, another Buffalo transfer listed as a center, had started an entire season at right tackle for the Bulls in 2021 — but played just 18 offensive snaps as KU’s ostensible backup center the last two seasons. Veteran guard Michael Ford Jr. had experience snapping the ball. But that wasn’t necessarily the direction Leipold wanted to go.

“We’d rather keep a guy who started three years for us at guard and keep him at guard if we can,” he said.

KU’s vision for the future of its position had also been disrupted when Joey Baker gave up football prior to the 2023 season, Leipold added.

“He was one that we were grooming to be a center,” he said.

That left the Jayhawks looking to the transfer portal for solutions following the conclusion of the 2023 season, which Leipold soon realized was an unenviable task: “Linemen are tough to come by. If there’s one position that I was very surprised at in the portal, it’s been offensive line.” And so KU returned to a familiar yet unconventional tactic: recruiting the lower levels of college football.

The Jayhawks had just finished molding lineman Dominick Puni, formerly of Division II Central Missouri, into their starting left tackle and a likely mid-round pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. When a center from fellow Division II school Tiffin came across their radar, the school was already familiar to Leipold from his time coaching at Omaha, and the player — Shane Bumgardner, who won the Rimington Trophy for the best center at his level — was appealing. Then-offensive line coach Scott Fuchs (who recently departed for an NFL job) had a key message in place for Bumgardner’s visit.

“He said he likes (D-II) guys,” Bumgardner told Jon Kirby of JayhawkSlant.com in January. “They play like we haven’t had the best facilities. We haven’t had the best treatment. So, you kind of play at that level you’re playing because you love football and everything about it. He kind of likes the chip on the shoulder that (D-II) guys play with.”

The Jayhawks earned Bumgardner’s commitment — he had mostly been getting offers from Group of Five schools in the lead-up to his interest from KU — and officially signed him in February.

In his final year of eligibility, he’ll be expected to serve as a centerpiece for an offensive line that melds old (Ford, fellow guard Kobe Baynes and tackle Bryce Cabeldue) and new (tackle Calvin Clements or perhaps Logan Brown, and newly hired position coach Daryl Agpalsa).

“We’re not trying to bring in guys that don’t have many years of eligibility left not to come here in play, but at the same time he knows he has to earn it,” Leipold said. “But it gives us a little more flexibility in what we can do in mixing and matching our offensive line.”

As one of a few players coming in from lower levels of college football — along with Football Championship Subdivision transfer defensive linemen Javier Derritt (North Dakota State) and Dylan Wudke (Youngstown State) — Bumgardner has the chance to grow quickly by leveraging KU’s capabilities in nutrition, conditioning and academic support, Leipold said.

“It’s amazing sometimes to see transformation happen for them sooner because of the resources available,” he added.

As it happened, KU’s facilities had been a key selling point for Bumgardner when he committed.

“I really love playing football and I’m really excited to play at the highest level you can,” he told JayhawkSlant. “You don’t get bigger than Power Five. I’m looking forward to working out, using the facilities, and building my body like I never have. Honestly, I’m just ready to compete.”


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