LAWRENCE — It wasn’t quite “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” but Charlie Weis’ December travel escapades did conclude with a nice little holiday ending.
After suffering through a 1-11 season in his debut season at Kansas — a year marked by close calls and calamitous blowouts — Weis could finally talk about better things on Thursday afternoon, starting with the potential of 10 newly signed junior-college recruits.
The Jayhawks will sign more in the spring, of course. More juco players. A few high school players, too. But this week’s 10-player haul signaled an upward trend in the recruiting fortunes of a program still digging itself out of the Big 12’s abyss. Weis, after a solid run of commitments, has now put together a class that ranks fifth in the Big 12 and 32nd in the country, according to Rivals.com.
“You all know that we have holes all over the place to fill,” Weis said Thursday. “I’m no different than you. I’m just a guy making the decisions. You evaluate the team; you can see the holes all over the place.”
On Thursday, Weis could finally comment on the players that had officially signed, an early juco class that came together, in part, after Weis hit the road on Dec. 2, just a day after the Jayhawks’ season ended in a 59-10 loss at West Virginia.
Weis vowed that his staff would focus its energy on the junior-college ranks. Yes, he had one of the least successful major-college teams in the country. But he could also pitch playing time and offer an upfront test to the potential recruits.
“We challenged a lot of these guys to come in and be a part of the reason why we went from 1-11 to whatever,” Weis said.
When the paperwork was filed on Wednesday, the Jayhawks had addressed needs at several positions.
The Jayhawks signed seven players on the offensive and defensive lines. Defensive tackle Marquel Combs, the top juco player in the country, according to ESPN, and Chris Martin, a four-star defensive end, could help bolster a defense that produced just 12 sacks last season. But Kansas also added defensive tackle Ty McKinney, a member of last year’s class who spent this fall getting his academics in order.
“What’s the best way to get a rush on the passer?” Weis said. “Get good players. That’s the best way.”
Example: Here’s a brief story from Weis’ days an assistant with the New York Giants, where Bill Belichick served as the defensive coordinator.
“I don’t remember Belichick ever doing a lot of coaching on Lawrence Taylor,” Weis said. “You’d say ‘Hey, Lawrence, go rush.’ Now we don’t have Lawrence Taylor, but I’m saying that’s the best way of doing it.”
In addition, Kansas signed three offensive linemen, led by Navarro College’s Zach Fondal, who chose Kansas over Arkansas.
“If you don’t have offensive and defensive linemen,” Weis said, “it doesn’t make a different what else you have.”
The Jayhawks also added two players to a secondary that will be totally remade next season. (The Jayhawks lost three senior starters, while junior Tyler Patmon has decided to leave the program.) Cassius Sendish, a defensive back from Arizona Western, and former Rockhurst standout cornerback Dexter McDonald (Butler County) both signed on Wednesday. McDonald is a rare case, player that started his career at KU before leaving last winter to address academic issues.
Weis acknowledged that there were some hard feelings when McDonald left. But McDonald had developed a solid relationship with KU running-backs coach Reggie Mitchell, a holdover from the Turner Gill regime, and the KU staff convinced McDonald to return.
“You can’t be presumptuous that a local guy that left is gonna be really wanting to get back here,” Weis said. “But at the end of the day, he and his family all agreed that this was a different situation than the one he left.”
In all, the Jayhawks have 14 more oral commitments in their 2013 class, including seven more junior-college players. It’s a juco-heavy class, nearly 70 percent as of today. Those juco numbers will slowly come down over the next couple of years, Weis says. But not today; not with a roster that just finished 1-11. And maybe not next year, either.
“I’m too old to wait four years to develop,” Weis said. “We want to be competitive now. And I hate when people say, ‘Well, you were in about another half-dozen games.’ Well, guess what. We lost those games.
“We’re in the situation where I want guys that can play. And I want to blend them with high school guys that want to play at Kansas. And you want to know what? You take that formula, guys that can play, and high school kids that want to play at Kansas, we’ll have a chance to really get this right.”