LAWRENCE — For college football players, arguing is akin to breathing. They'll talk for hours on end about who gets the most girls or who's got the most style or who's got the biggest appetite. The art of juvenile banter, when performed at a high level, can bring a team close and get it through a season.
In the Kansas locker room, there's a debate that has raged in recent years — a conversation that KU coach Turner Gill can only hope will continue long into the future: Are players from the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex better than everybody else?
Well, they sure do act like it.
"That's all you hear about, man: 'I played in Texas, I played in Dallas, I'm better,’ ” says senior cornerback Chris Harris.
This week, as the Jayhawks make their only trip to the Lone Star State to play Baylor, the Texas twang is even louder.
"Whenever you can go to the Metroplex area and get players," says receiver Daymond Patterson, a native of Mesquite, Texas, "you're going to be in pretty good hands."
Certainly, that has proved to be true at Kansas, and it has been no different this fall. KU's best playmakers thus far — Patterson, running back James Sims and receiver/running back D.J. Beshears — are all from the Metroplex. And at this point, that can't be considered a coincidence.
"That's why we're going to work very hard in that area to continue that pipeline," says KU receivers coach Darrell Wyatt, whose primary recruiting focus is Dallas-FortWorth. "Year in and year out, they're going to turn out great football players. It's not a surprise to me."
Nearly a quarter of KU's scholarship players hail from Dallas-Fort Worth — 20, to be exact. Gill says he wants to recruit nationally, and that's an admirable goal. But under former coach Mark Mangino, the Jayhawks showed that great profits can be made in Lawrence by drilling 500 miles away in Dallas-Fort Worth, where there's more than enough product to go around.
Even Harris, an Oklahoma native, can't deny what's plain to see. He argues with the Dallas guys, but only because that's what's required of him.
"They can talk," Harris says. "They got the results."
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James Sims, who starred last season at Irving (Texas) MacArthur High, is the latest result. Three games into his college career, he is KU's starting tailback, the owner of two 100-yard rushing performances and three touchdowns.
The story of how Sims ended up at Kansas illustrates just how the Jayhawks became a force in Dallas-Fort Worth in the first place. Texas high school football coaches take care of their own, and there is no way that Sims is on the KU campus this season had Mangino not hired David Beaty — a former MacArthur head coach — as wide-receivers coach in 2008.
Mangino was following the same blueprint for success in Dallas-Forth Worth that he used when he hired Tim Beck, a former head coach at Mansfield (Texas) Summit High, to be his receivers coach in 2005. A recruiter is only as good as the relationships he's built, and, with Beck and then Beaty, Kansas had an advantage that not many other programs could boast in Dallas-Forth Worth.
When Beck joined KU, Beaty was still the coach at MacArthur, and Sims was a star running back at Travis Middle School. Beaty actually began recruiting Sims then.
"He was just different than the rest of the kids," says Beaty, now the offensive coordinator at Rice. "He scored just about every time he touched the ball. We could tell he was gonna be the future."
According to Beaty, Sims' mother, Mary, was in an unstable position financially and could have moved out of the MacArthur school zone at that time. Beaty worked hard to forge a relationship with her and Sims and convince them that it would be worth it to stay in their current location. Sims' father was not around, and Beaty felt he and his staff could give him the structure he needed to succeed.
"Coach David Beaty, he was like a father figure to me," Sims says. "He was always there for me. He told me when I was in the eighth or ninth grade he was gonna be the first to offer me (a college scholarship)."
Beaty obviously had designs on making the jump to the college ranks, and he did so when he took a job at Rice as a receivers coach in 2006. By the time Beaty arrived in Lawrence two years later, Sims was fulfilling his promise as one of the top backs in the Metroplex. As promised, Beaty was the first coach to offer Sims, who received only a three-star (out of five) rating from Rivals.com.
"I thought he was the best-kept secret in the state of Texas," Beaty says. "What this kid could possibly do . . . he had the rare blend of size, speed and strength that you don't see in running backs all the time."
In the heavily recruited Metroplex, how did Sims remain a secret? Sims committed to the Jayhawks the summer before his senior year, and Beaty credits MacArthur coach Brian Basil with making sure it stayed that way. Basil had worked under Beaty and replaced him.
"I'd be lying if I didn't say (Basil) did an unbelievable job protecting us and taking care of us in that regard," Beaty says. "(Sims') senior tape was phenomenal. I don't think that video got out there very much."
The Jayhawks had pulled a recruiting coup, and only because Beaty and Basil had done a ton of work behind the scenes before Kansas was even in the picture. But when Mangino resigned under pressure, Sims' commitment was suddenly in question.
While the other KU assistant coaches were let go the day after Gill took over, Beaty was kept around an extra day. It was thought that Beaty was so valuable that Gill may have had no choice but to retain him. But after talking more with Beaty, Gill let him go, too.
Back in Irving, Sims didn't know what to do. Good thing for Kansas, Beaty's opinion still hadn't changed.
"His mom and I talked," Beaty says. "I said, 'Hey, listen, that's a great place. You're gonna be in a position with great men that will take good care of you.' "
Beaty had been impressed with Gill and was willing to give KU a parting gift. Gill and KU tight-ends coach Aaron Stamn had recruited Sims while at the University at Buffalo, so there was some familiarity on both sides.
By signing day, Gill and Stamn had added another MacArthur talent to KU's class - safety Ray Mitchell.
"I know their families felt they were going to be in good hands," Basil says, "when we sent them up there with coach Gill."
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From now on, there will be no more help from Beaty. The Jayhawks will have to sign Dallas-Fort Worth kids without the built-in advantage that Mangino's staff enjoyed.
Still, there's plenty of reason to believe the Jayhawks aren't done getting their share of Dallas-Forth Worth talent. Gill, after all, is a Fort Worth native who played for Arlington Heights High. Then there's the
young and energetic Stamn, who recruited the area for Buffalo (and did quite well at it, surprisingly). Wyatt is known as one of the top recruiters in the country, and he's done a lot of his work in Texas, including during his first stint at KU from 1997 to 2000.
For Stamn and Wyatt, the pressure is on.
"Year in and year out, the Dallas Metroplex area is gonna be one or two in terms of metro areas in the United States in the number of guys sent to Division I," Wyatt says. "It's very competitive. It's very important to go down there and continue to make strides in terms of developing relationships so we can get some quality players here."
Gill's staff will have one major advantage over Mangino's. With the Big 12 going to a 10-team league and nine-game conference schedule, the Jayhawks' media exposure will greatly increase in Texas.
And then there's the matter of parents being able to drive to see their kids play at least a few times each fall. In 2011, KU plays at Texas, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State. In 2012, it's on to Baylor, Oklahoma and Texas Tech.
In the KU locker room, that can mean only one thing: more talking.
"You guys know Texas kids," says safety Olaitan Oguntodu, a native of Mesquite. "We think Texas is the best thing since sliced bread. It's just how it is."