LAWRENCE — Late last summer, shortly after committing to play football at Kansas, Shawnee Mission East senior quarterback Jordan Darling made another vow with his parents, Bill and Leslie.
Jordan wanted to attend every home game at Memorial Stadium this season, watching his future teammates play at any opportunity. It seemed like a pretty straightforward pledge. But in this case, it also meant that Darling, a 6-foot-4 quarterback, had to sit through a season-opening victory against South Dakota State and five excruciating losses.
The Jayhawks are 1-10 entering their season finale on Saturday at West Virginia. And for some, this might be the kind of performance that would leave a high school kid reconsidering his college choice. But not Darling, the product of a military family and a strong-armed pro-style quarterback.
“I believe in them as much as I did the day I committed,” Darling said. “If I didn’t believe they were going to turn this program around, I wouldn’t be going there.”
For KU coach Charlie Weis, who will soon embark on his first full offseason of recruiting, this is no doubt music to his ears. In other words, recruiting is where the hope is. The Jayhawks’ season will end on Saturday, no matter what. No bowl game, exotic holiday trip or fancy gift packages for the players. But for Weis, there’s a silver lining in the suffering.
Weis and his staff can devote their full attention to the recruiting trail for the next couple weeks.
“I can’t recruit fast enough,” Weis said on Tuesday. “If I could be recruiting that Saturday night, I’d do it then.”
The Jayhawks’ 2013 class already includes 14 commitments, according to Rivals.com. The number includes seven junior college players, an area of emphasis this offseason. Weis is targeting players that can come in and make an impact right away; playmakers that can provide an instant jolt. To that end, Weis has tried to flip KU’s struggles into a recruiting carrot.
“I’ll be brutally honest…,” Weis said. “I’ll say to them: Have you watched us play? You think you can play here? Because if you can’t play here, then you probably shouldn’t be playing. It’s very simple — there’s no BS involved there.”
So far, the gambit has helped land junior college prospects on the defensive and offensive lines, as well as linebacker and receiver. In the days after KU’s blowout loss to Iowa State on senior day, KU picked up three new commitments.
Ngalu Fusimalohi, an offensive lineman from City College of San Francisco, Samson Faifili, a linebacker at American River College in Sacramento, Calif., and receiver Mark Thomas of Nassau Community College (N.Y.) all jumped on board shortly after visiting Lawrence.
They joined a list of juco commitments that also included Marcus Jenkins-Moore, a linebacker from California, and Andrew Bolton, a defensive end from Mississippi.
So is it tougher to recruit to Kansas? Weis would suggest otherwise.
“The best year I ever had recruiting in the past was after the worst season,” Weis said. “Because more guys see an opportunity to play earlier. They all want to play.”
Of course, the losing also means that KU must continue to play defense, fending off any school that might want to come in and snatch a recruit. Darling said he stays in contact with KU quarterbacks coach Ron Powlus at least once a week, and he’s still had to let other schools know that his commitment to KU was solid.
Montell Cozart, a senior quarterback at Bishop Miege, had to do the same thing after committing to KU in the spring. He soon had offers from the likes of West Virginia, Minnesota and Indiana — but he’s not changing his mind.
“I’m still 100 percent,” Cozart said. “I definitely see the program going in the right direction.”
On Saturday night, Weis said KU’s staff will begin to scatter across the country. Offensive line coach Tim Grunhard has a travel schedule that will include Kentucky and Hawaii before he returns home to Kansas City to hit the local high schools. And for the others, it could be the most crucial two-week stretch of the offseason.
“There’s a stigma that’s attached when a team’s losing,” Weis said. “So our job is to remove that stigma. That’s what we have to do.”