LAWRENCE — One was a business decision, calculated and practical. The other was borne out of pure emotion the kind of choice that hinges on a dream.
If the Kansas football program gains a measure of traction this year if first-year coach Charlie Weis can sway the fortunes of a team in flux then you will probably hear more about these two moments last winter, when two very large football players chose to trust Weis words and head for the University of Kansas.
The first came in December, just a few days after Weis was hired to replace Turner Gill. The Jayhawks were desperate for help on the defensive line, and a young man from Rock Hill, S.C., named Keon Stowers was a pretty good place to start. Stowers, 6-foot-3 and a barrel-chested 290 pounds, had just finished his final season at the Georgia Military College. Hed been a prime target of the previous staff. But then Gill was fired, and other programs started circling.
The other schools starting making a push, Stowers says now, telling me that they really arent that good and they wouldnt hire a good coach.
Now Weis was walking into his living room, the coach hed seen on television for years. In minutes, his mind was already made up.
Ive been a Patriots fan my whole life, Stowers says, smiling.
The second decision the business one came nearly two months later. Josh Williams was a defensive end without a school. Hed spent four years at Nebraska, contributing but never dominating, and then hed been dismissed from the team in early February for an unspecified violation of team rules.
KU defensive line coach Buddy Wyatt had recruited Williams to Nebraska while he was on the Huskers staff in 2007. So the Jayhawks had an in-road. And Weis had another target.
Soon, Weis was doing his own personal background check on Williams. When it checked out, he was reaching for the phone:
Heres the deal, Weis remembers saying. (This is) the way its going to operate. If you want in on that, we have a good shot.
Williams sees this season as an opportunity to leave his mark on a rebuilding program while continuing to work toward a potential post-college career. Teammates say Williams focus was apparent from the moment he stepped on campus this summer.
You can tell hes a fifth-year senior that has aspirations of playing beyond here, defensive coordinator Dave Campo says.
For the gregarious Stowers, this is a chance to put down roots after finding his way into football late in his childhood.
Hes soaking everything up, Wyatt says. You cant say too much about that young man.
Stowers and Williams arent the only reasons for optimism on the defensive line, of course. Two more junior college transfers Jordan Tavai and Ty McKinney are intriguing prospects who will likely arrive on campus in the next week. And junior tackle Keba Agostinho packed on some added muscle in the offseason, enabling him to move inside.
Junior nose John Williams is healthy again after missing most of last season with a knee injury, and junior Kevin Young, a graduate of Olathe North, has drawn praise during the opening days of fall camp. If the KU coaching staff makes good on its stated of goal of playing six to eight players on the line, all of these players could get an opportunity to log snaps.
But for now, Stowers and Williams represent the new guard, the gang that Weis took to calling the cavalry during spring practice. Weis often joked that he spent most of the spring coaxing Campo and Wyatt off a ledge as they showed up to practice each day with a thin and unproven defensive line.
Now the reinforcements have arrived. And one of the worst defenses in college football last season has some help up front. And on days like this, Williams and Stowers can feel positive about the choices they made.
The past couple years, Williams says, its been struggling years and I dont know how people really perceive us. Everybody has us ranked last, but we just have to go do what we do.