LAWRENCE — Offensive lineman Pearce Slater was one of Kansas’ biggest junior college recruiting coups this past offseason — and not just because Slater is a 6-foot-8, 340-pound offensive tackle.
Slater committed to Kansas in early July, and after playing his redshirt freshman season at El Camino (Calif.) Community College in 2012, the KU coaching staff discovered he would have three years of eligibility remaining.
But on Friday morning, coach Charlie Weis said he was unsure “if and when” Slater would return to the Kansas program after he left campus last Saturday. Slater, who was a late arrival to camp, spent nearly a week at KU, taking part in multiple practices, before returning home for what KU termed a “family medical emergency.”
According to Weis, Slater came to him last Saturday, the morning of KU’s open scrimmage, and informed him of a family situation back in California. Weis suggested he return home and stay in contact with the KU staff, but after a few days, the communication lines became fuzzy.
Weis said he was hopeful Slater would return to KU by Friday night, because the Jayhawks’ photo day is on Saturday. But more importantly, Weis said, he told Slater that it would be best if he returned on Sunday before the start of fall classes on Monday.
“As of right now, I have no idea if and when he’ll get here,” Weis said. “I have texted him again this morning, reiterating those things that I just told you. I have not heard from him, and I’m just taking him for his word and it is what it is. When I know something, you’ll know something.”
To add some intrigue to the situation, rumors popped up early in the week that Slater was enrolled at Oklahoma and possibly considering a jump to the Sooners. But sources close to the Oklahoma program quickly debunked that rumor to the Oklahoman newspaper.
Wyman kicking — Last fall, Matthew Wyman was a run-of-the-mill KU freshman, living in the dorms, going to classes, presumably scrounging for cheap pizza.
One year later, the sophomore projects as the Jayhawks’ starting field-goal kicker after out-performing the competition during fall camp. KU coach Charlie Weis unveiled the news during a press conference on Friday in the most Weisian way possible.
First, he stated that the starting field-goal kicker would be the kicker that performed best during the last few weeks. He then facetiously challenged the reporters in the room, saying that the choice was obvious if the media had attended KU’s open practices.
When a reporter spoke up: “It’s Wyman?” Weis answered: “It’s Wyman.”
Which begs the question: Who’s Wyman?
A native of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., Wyman walked on the team last spring after Weis advertised around campus that he was searching for a kicker. After performing adequately in the spring game, Wyman then outperformed a group of kickers that included Michael Mesh, a transfer from Hutchinson Community College who began the fall atop the depth chart.
“He came in here a distant (kicker) in the initial thought process,” Weis said. “But he’s a candidate to be the field-goal kicker because he’s kicked so well.
“He’s got good pop, he’s got good range, he has no problem making it from 50 yards. He’s been very consistent, and he has a legitimate chance of being named the field-goal kicker.”
While Wyman will likely handle the field-goal duties, kickoff duties appear slated to go to junior college transfer Trevor Pardula, who also projects to be the starting punter.
Other battles — Kansas’ week-one bye means Weis has some extra time to declare a winner in a litany of camp position battles. Still, Weis gave a few hints about the status of some of those battles on Friday.
If the season started this weekend, Weis said, highly touted junior college transfer Marquel Combs would not be on the Jayhawks’ first-string defense. Combs began the camp at defensive end, but he’s recently been working some at nose tackle.
“There’s a lot of guys in that category,” Weis said, “(where) their reputations are really high and their ceilings are really high. But are they better than the guy in front of them?”
One name not in that category, Weis said, is safety Isaiah Johnson, a junior college transfer who has locked up a starting spot in the secondary. Weis also anticipates that cornerback Kevin Short, a transfer form Fort Scott, will be ready to play in the Jayhawks’ season opener despite arriving on campus for practice earlier this week.
In addition, Weis said junior “buck” linebacker Michael Reynolds was finally turning a corner after failing to tap into his vast potential last year. Even so, Weis said sophomore Ben Goodman had held onto the starting spot at the Buck position.
Bolton likely to redshirt — It’s highly likely that defensive end Andrew Bolton, junior college transfer, will redshirt this fall, Weis said Friday. Bolton suffered a season-ending knee injury last fall and is still working back from the injury. In addition, Weis would like to stagger some of his junior college class so that KU doesn’t face a mass exodus of seniors in two years.
“I’m gonna do everything I can to redshirt him,” Weis said. “I’ve already had the conversation. I wouldn’t say he’s 100 percent anyway. He’s over a year out from his knee. Ideally, you can’t bring in this many junior college kids and play them all and have them all graduate at the same time the next year, because then you’re scrambling for numbers.”