PRAIRIE VILLAGE — Standing in front of hundreds of Kansas fans decked out in crimson and blue — many hiding under umbrellas from a consistent rain — KU football coach Turner Gill knew without a doubt that he was not in Buffalo anymore.
"No question, it's different," Gill said. "Being at Buffalo, the Buffalo Bills were kind of the No. 1 team. The Sabres were No. 2. College football was an afterthought."
Even at the height of Gill's fame in Western New York, when he led the University at Buffalo Bulls to the 2008 Mid-American Conference Championship, the passion of the fans there was nothing like what could be seen on Friday night as KU supporters gathered for their annual preseason pep rally.
About 10 minutes before Gill arrived on the scene to speak, it began to rain, scattering a large number of fans under the cover of the adjacent Corinth Square shops. Still, enough diehards remained in front of the stage that Gill had a feeling about the kind of crowds he could expect on Saturdays in Memorial Stadium.
"I know you guys wanna get dry, no?" Gill shouted over the microphone. "I like that because it's just like a football game. I want to make sure that you're gonna be there for the first quarter, second quarter, third quarter and fourth quarter every single game."
It was the last guy, former KU coach Mark Mangino, who conditioned fans of the Jayhawks to make room for the football team as more than just a way to make it to basketball season. Gill doesn't plan on taking a step back and having to see a bunch of empty seats.
While Mangino was usually one to let his players do the talking for him on the field, Gill didn't hesitate Friday night to give the fans some hope for the coming season.
"You're gonna have an exciting team," Gill said. "We're gonna play with enthusiasm, energy. Our defense will be very explosive and aggressive. As you all know, (defensive coordinator Carl) Torbush has coached a lot of great defenses. We will attack. We will be doing some blitzing. On special teams, I will be going for it some on fourth down."
On that note, the fans cheered.
"I want you to cheer, too," Gill said, "if we don't make it."
Gill showed he is not afraid to be a rah-rah guy. At the end of his pep talk, he wanted to lead the fans in a rendition of the "Rock Chalk" chant. Gill would say "One, two, three," and the fans would respond with "Rock Chalk!" After two of those, Gill said he wanted to "move it up a level here" by having the fans add "Jayhawk" to the cheer.
"I smell it, I feel it, I love it!" Gill said after their first attempt.
After he exited the stage, Gill spent 10 minutes signing autographs and taking pictures with fans of all ages.
"It's exciting," Gill said. "This is a great example to show that people are going to come out no matter what the conditions are. They're excited about KU football. We're gonna give them a good product to be happy about for a long time."