A broken pipeline

Kansas football continues to fail to recruit Lawrence High talent


By Jackson Hoy, Staff Writer

It is no secret that Kansas football is really, really bad.

Earlier this season against TCU, the team managed just 21 yards of total offense, the lowest total by any FBS team in the last 20 seasons. Through nine weeks this season, the Jayhawks are 1-8 and have looked like one of the worst football programs in the country. Advanced metrics put programs like Old Dominion and South Alabama — that only recently moved up to FBS competition — ahead of David Beaty’s Jayhawks, who have won just one game against an FBS opponent in Beaty’s three years as head coach.

Through the blowouts, optimistic fans see a future. They point to the nucleus of local talent that Beaty has drawn in and the big-name recruits (such as 2018 four-stars Devonta Jason and Corione Harris) who have committed to play in Lawrence. Local products Joe Dineen Jr., Bryce Torneden and Keith Loneker Jr. all play important roles on defense, and it likely won’t be long before freshman Jay Dineen is filling key snaps as well. This homegrown talent is exciting, but it is also one-sided.

All of Kansas’ local players went to Free State, aside from freshman kicker Cole Brungardt, who has not seen action this season.

Since 2008, Kansas football has had a total of two players from Lawrence High — Brungardt and former walk-on Tyler Hunt. This is not due to an absence of LHS football talent.

LHS class of 2016 graduates Amani Bledsoe and JD Woods were two of the best football talents Lawrence had seen in years. Bledsoe is currently earning valuable snaps for a top-10 team in Oklahoma along the defensive line, while Woods ranks second in the NAIA in rushing, leading a dynamic Baker offense. While rushing stats from NAIA don’t translate exactly to FBS-level competition, Woods has more than 300 more rushing yards this season than Kansas’ entire team. Trey Georgie (Illinois State), Price Morgan (Air Force) and Kobe Buffalomeat (Illinois State) have also gone on to Division 1 programs during the past two seasons, none of them seriously courted by Beaty.

To be fair to the Kansas staff, they did recruit Bledsoe, a consensus top-100 prospect, diligently. Oklahoma just happened to be the better option for him (it’s fair to wonder whether an offer to one of Bledsoe’s talented teammates, such as Woods or Georgie, would have helped KU’s case). Lawrence High won 38 games from 2011 to 2016, not a far cry from Free State’s 50 during the same period. Free State has produced five Kansas football players during that period compared to one for LHS. One has to wonder: Does Free State really have that much more talent, or is the staff just failing to recruit LHS kids?

That question was answered quickly on Oct. 31 when LHS senior and Kansas State football commit Ekow Boye-Doe told the Lawrence Journal-World that “[KU] didn’t really recruit me. But I’m not mad about it.”

There is no excuse for Beaty’s staff not trying to sell Boye-Doe hard on joining the program. 247Sports.com ranks him as the No. 3 high school prospect in the state of Kansas and the No. 94 cornerback in the country. Cornerback has been a position of need since Beaty arrived on campus, and he flatly ignored a super-talented one playing half a mile from his office.

Beaty’s failure to recruit an outstanding prospect from his home ground will be a lasting one. Will future LHS prospects remember that Beaty showed no interest outside of an obligatory scholarship offer to Boye-Doe? Will Beaty even recruit these hypothetical future prospects?

Frankly, it makes sense that Boye-Doe is not mad about Kansas’ failure to recruit him. Kansas State’s football program is wildly more successful and well-built than Kansas’, and the Wildcats produce more NFL prospects every year. However, it’s hard to say that Beaty’s utter failure in drawing in LHS prospects is not part of his lack of success. KU’s 2007 Orange Bowl squad featured three former Chesty Lions, including All-Big 12 Second Team running back Brandon McAnderson. Successfully landing the best local prospects — not just from one school — is the key to rebuilding a football program.

The only time Beaty has shown any serious interest in a non-Bledsoe LHS prospect was in the case of Brungardt, about whom Beaty said, “He’s friends with my daughter, so I know who he is.”

It took a personal connection to get Beaty to notice a prospect playing five minutes from his office. We are seeing the travesty of overlooking Lawrence High players play out once again in the case of LHS senior quarterback Dante’ Jackson, who already has at least one Division 1 offer from Northern Colorado. There is no reason for KU not to throw at least the offer of a preferred walk-on Jackson’s way. His multi-positional talent is clear, and having him on the roster would give the staff a connection to LHS in the event that another Bledsoe-level prospect emerges.

It is difficult not to wonder whether KU would have already offered Jackson if he was playing across town. Jackson compares to current Jayhawk safety and former Firebird Bryce Torneden as a quarterback/defensive back hybrid who was overlooked as a recruit because of his size. Torneden originally committed to North Dakota State ­— a similar caliber school to Northern Colorado before flipping his commitment to Kansas. Letting Jackson slip through the cracks without even giving him the chance to consider a future at KU would be a big mistake.

The staff has already messed up by letting Georgie, Buffalomeat, Morgan, Boye-Doe and others leave Lawrence without a serious offer from the Jayhawks. How they handle recruiting Jackson will be a sign of whether they see the value in building a local pipeline or continue to only pay attention to high school football north of 15th Street.