Maybe you can imagine how strange it would feel to have three coaches in five years. Maybe you can imagine how weird it would feel to play college football for a program that keeps changing coaches, and keeps losing, and every day you just keep coming to practice.
To go from the intensity of Mark Mangino to the laid-back, hand-on-the-shoulder style of Turner Gill. To finally, the blunt honesty of Charlie Weis.
If you can’t imagine, let Kansas senior Kevin Young explain: “It was definitely not what I expected.”
But for Young, a fifth-year defensive end from Olathe North, all those changes don’t qualify as the most amazing thing about his career in Lawrence. No, the most surreal moments came in the last year, when his father, Jason Young, went back to school to earn another degree, joining his son on campus at Kansas.
Think it’s weird to play for three coaches in five years? How about seeing your dad on campus between classes?
“I’ve run into him a few times,” Young said, smiling. “I stop and talk to him quite a bit.”
Young came from a family of Jayhawks. His brother is a student at the KU School of Medicine. And he grew up attending games at Memorial Stadium, dreaming of playing for the Jayhawks. That’s one reason he never considered leaving or looking for another place to play, even as the program descended into a prolonged state of volatility.
“I feel like our (athletic directors) at the time make the decision for the better of this program,” Young says. “You can’t sit there and harp on it. You can’t sit there and live in the past.”
Young’s career began under Mangino in 2009, when he graduated early and showed up on campus for spring ball.
“When Mangino was here,” Young says. “I kind of have a great memory of those practices.”
Next came two long years under Turner Gill, and another program change.
“The John Belushi plan,” KU coach Charlie Weis said, referring to says, referencing Belushi’s character in “Animal House.”
Young started and played plenty of snaps last season, in Weis’ first year, but he also had to listen to his coach call him and his teammates a “pile of crap” while out recruiting their supposed replacements. Weis loaded up on junior college recruits on the defensive line, competition for Young and the other incumbents. But by the first month of the season, Young had re-earned his starting spot.
“I kind of took it as kind of looking at it from his view,” Young says of Weis’ junior college recruiting methods. “Obviously, we needed to get better, from last year to this year. I feel like competition really can’t hurt anybody.”
Entering this week’s game at Iowa State, Young has recorded 2 1/2 sacks and 23 tackles in his final campaign. And then there was last weekend, when, at long last, the Jayhawks broke their 27-game Big 12 losing streak.
Young, of course, wishes he could have been part of a few more victories during his time at Kansas. But for an afternoon, he says, he felt like a “kid on Christmas morning.”
“That’s who I was the happiest for,” Weis said. “You go through all these coaching changes, and all these losses on top of it, the combination of the instability and everyone getting on you and telling you how crummy you are … and you’re showing up and working just as hard as everyone else in America is.
“Even though there haven’t been a lot of rewards, I think a game like Saturday was so good to see the look on their faces.”
“He could go either way,” Weis said. “I think the smart thing for me is to not be a hypocrite and I don’t think we should be playing Tony the next two games.”
Pierson, who had 24 catches for 333 yards and 163 rushing yards, will miss Saturday’s game at Iowa State and the Nov. 30 finale against Kansas State. The initial injury occurred against Texas Tech on Oct. 5, and Pierson missed most of the next four games. He returned against Oklahoma State on Nov. 9 before absorbing another big hit against West Virginia on Saturday.
“In the age of concussions,” Weis said, “somebody has got to make a stand. Somebody has gotta make a stand when a guy still has a possibility of playing, and sit a guy that is still questionable.”
The hope, Weis says, is that Pierson will be healthy and ready to go for spring ball in March. When healthy, Pierson has been KU’s most effective receiver and most dangerous big-play threat.
“He’ll be champing at the bit…,” Weis said. “And having a healthy Tony is critical to the success of our program, but not at the risk of Tony.”