David Beaty pushed through a double doorway and into the light, stepping onto a gravel drive that separates Anschutz Sports Pavilion from two grass practice fields.
It was early Thursday evening, the sun still reflecting off the outer windows of nearby Allen Fieldhouse, and Beaty followed a pack of Jayhawks onto the grass. This was the first practice of Kansas’ fall camp, the first official moments of Beaty’s first season as KU’s head football coach. And it began with Beaty’s first instructions.
“Let’s go!” Beaty said. “Let’s go … tempo!”
Nearly eight months ago, in early December, Beaty was hired to pour some fresh energy into the Kansas program. He was tasked, in essence, with gutting, rebuilding and re-imagining a dilapidated house. After months of prep work — strategic recruiting and spring practice and time spent massaging a depleted roster — the process finally hit the field on Thursday afternoon.
“You know, it’s one day,” Beaty said in the moments after practice. “I do think we got to get our energy level up.”
The job awaiting Beaty, of course, is daunting, a reality underscored by the six straight losing seasons and 12 victories in five years and a school that’s been infected by a general football malaise. When the Jayhawks took the practice field on Thursday, they did so with a scholarship count that hovers in the mid 60s — even after some reinforcements arrived this week.
Here’s the good news. One day before camp, Beaty officially added a slew of newcomers to the roster, a modicum of support for a roster in desperate need of numbers.
The roster infusion included three previously reported additions — South Carolina graduate transfer linebacker Marcquis Roberts; former UAB receiver Quincy Perdue; and former Texas A&M receiver LaQuivionte Gonzales. But it also featured one talented wild card, former Virginia Tech receiver Joshua Stanford.
In Stanford, the Jayhawks may possess a receiver capable of contributing at the Big 12 level and bolstering a thin receiving corps. As a redshirt freshman at Virginia Tech in 2013, Stanford hauled in 40 passes for 640 yards. He was limited by injuries and off-field issues last season. But after graduating from Virginia Tech this summer, he will be eligible to play this fall.
“He was a guy that was looking for a home,” Beaty said, “and somehow he found us.”
Officially, Stanford is a walk-on — though he can be awarded a scholarship in the ensuing weeks and counted against next year’s recruiting class. Even after one day, Beaty said, his talent stood out.
“Man, I love him,” Beaty said. “He’s a high, high character guy — a strong Christian guy (with) really good moral values. And he is a talented guy. He kind of stood out a little bit today. He’s played a lot of football.
“He’ll bring a little bit of an instant credibility to that locker room pretty quickly. And when that ball is around him, he seems to find it and he seems to make plays.”
In the offseason, Beaty spoke about getting creative while upgrading a short-handed roster. In all, Beaty said, the Jayhawks had 33 newcomers — walk-ons included — practicing for the first time on Thursday. Stanford, in some ways, is the fruit of the offseason creativity.
“I really liked the professionalism that he showed today,” Beaty said. “He’s got to get in playing shape for the no-huddle, up-tempo stuff. But he’s excited to be here.”
While Stanford could start right away, Roberts and Perdue are also expected to contribute this season. Perdue, a sophomore from Alabama-Birmingham, was granted a free transfer after UAB announced the shuttering of its football program. (The school since reversed that decision.) Roberts, the senior linebacker from South Carolina, arrives after an injury-plagued run in the SEC. Gonzalez, meanwhile, will have to sit out in accordance with NCAA transfer rules.
The additions, in part, are designed to combat the well-documented attrition, a roster thinning that continued in recent months with the departures of starting running back Corey Avery, receiver Rodriguez Coleman and defensive lineman Andrew Bolton. More bad news came on Wednesday, when Beaty announced that offensive lineman Junior Visinia had left the program for undisclosed reasons.
The Jayhawks also had two players — linebacker Jake Love and offensive lineman Joey Bloomfield — retire from football for concussion-related issues.
The thin roster left Beaty in a precarious situation — a first-year coach trying to win with duct tape and glue. For the moment, though, the latest infusion has put the roster in a healthier situation than a month ago.
“They’re going to have to earn it,” Beaty said of Stanford and the other newcomers. “and those other dudes, they’re not going to lay down. They’re not going to just give it to them. And that’s the great thing. We’ve got some competition now.”