Weis hitting JUCOs hard

For college coaches, there are three avenues available to them on the recruiting trail - high school prospects, transfers from other schools, and the JUCO ranks. Kansas head coach Charlie Weis has already tapped all three in his first month on the job, but junior colleges are already proving to be particularly fertile recruiting ground.

Sometimes, college football coaches have to face harsh truths.

This is particularly true in the case of Charlie Weis. Upon arriving at the University of Kansas in mid-December, one of his first tasks was to examine the existing roster and determine its strengths and weaknesses. Which areas needed the most help? Which, if any, could be bypassed in recruiting this year because of their strength?

At a press conference Jan. 16, Weis answered that question, in his characteristically blunt and honest fashion.

"Look, we could use help everywhere," he said. "There isn't one position on our team that I can sit there and say, 'Hey, we don't need help there.' That's a fallacy. So we're going to spread that 20-some number (of scholarships) across our roster and try to get us help at every position."

Exacerbating the issue was the recently-announced loss of 10 players from the roster, for various reasons. Jaqwaylin Arps, Dexter McDonald, Darrian Miller, Adonis Saunders, Brock Berglund and Keeston Terry were classified as "dismissed." Jordan Webb, Tom Mabry and Tyrone Sellers are all still in school, but it was mutually agreed that they would not return to the football team, and Trais Bodenstein is transferring from the program.

First and foremost on the "fix" list was quarterback. The performance under center during the past two seasons in Lawrence, Kan. was one of the areas that, in his words, slapped him in the face. They needed immediate help.

"I wanted to address quarterback," Weis said, smiling. "How'd I do?"

Magnificently, of course. By now, every Kansas fan with even a shred of interest in their school's football program - and most of the college football world at large - knows he was able to acquire transfers Dayne Crist and Jake Heaps, both former five-star quarterback prospects as prep athletes in the classes of 2008 and 2010 respectively. In one fell swoop, Weis secured the immediate future of the quarterback position at Kansas.

There are three avenues by which to obtain players in recruiting – high school prospects, which, as Weis said, are the bread and butter of any program; transfers such as Crist, Heaps and wide receiver Justin McCay; and, lastly, the junior college ranks.

The state of Kansas is a bona-fide hotbed of junior college talent, with several of the country's top two-year programs residing within the borders of the Sunflower State. Butler County Community College is the most notable, with its history of grooming high-level Division One talent and winning national championships, but Hutchinson, Coffeyville and others have quality reputations and burgeoning traditions of their own.

The previous staff under former Head Coach Turner Gill was, for whatever reason, reluctant to address roster holes with junior college players. And it's true, they can be a gamble. Former head coach Mark Mangino recruited many who never made an impact in their two or three years on campus, though some - such as quarterback Bill Whittemore, linebacker Gabe Toomey and lineman Chet Hartley, for example - proved to be quality additions.

Unlike Gill, Weis has no such reservations about the JUCO ranks. He only cares about finding the right players to help jump-start the program, and begin the sizable task of returning from a 2-10 record to conference and national respectability.

And he hasn't limited himself to local programs during his search, either.

"Not only in the state of Kansas, but nationally we are tapping into that resource to fill some holes with players that are a little more developed and ready to go," Weis explained. "And that have a couple years under their belt walking in the door."

Already, the Jayhawks have obtained commitments from five players from the junior college ranks as of Jan. 20, and are hot on the trail of several more. Even better? Each has come at a position of need.

The first to pledge for Kansas was Athens (TX) Trinity Valley CC defensive tackle Ty McKinney, who committed to the program in late November. McKinney's commitment was unique in that Gill had been released and Weis had yet to be hired, but his relationship with defensive line coach Buddy Wyatt was of such quality the 6-foot-3, 300-pound tackle decided as long a Wyatt was on board, so would he be.

"I feel like with him I've got the best opportunity to get to the next level," McKinney said. "Because of all the players he put in the NFL."

Wyatt, of course, was ultimately retained by Weis - for both his coaching acumen and abilities on the recruiting trail.

The next to join the fold was Milledgeville (GA) Georgia Military College defensive tackle Keon Stowers. Obviously, the interior defensive line was a top priority for Weis and his staff, which is why he made his way to Georgia for an in-home visit Dec. 15.

What impressed Stowers the most is they didn't talk about football - at least not at first. They talked about things like the education he could get at Kansas, and the qualities he demanded in his players - qualities like character.

"That just blew me away," Stowers said. "I'm at a military school right now, and education and characters is what we breathe. That's the type of coach I want to play for."

That Weis would make the trip to the Peach State to visit him so soon after being officially installed in Lawrence made an impression as well.

"That was a big statement, him coming to my house," Stowers said. "They only had a couple of days to actually go out and do it, and (Weis and running backs coach Reggie Mitchell) actually coming in and making me one of their stops was real big for me."

The weekend of Jan. 15 proved itself to be a huge one on the recruiting front for the Jayhawks, as a trio of junior college prospects left official visits having given their pledge to Weis.

Even with the departure of Miller, one might expect the Jayhawks to be fine at running back, all things considered. Brandon Bourbon, Anthony Pierson and James Sims are still active and on the team, each with their own unique running style.

And that's part of the issue. Bourbon has an injury history, Pierson isn't built for the rigors of life as an every-down back - despite his all-world explosiveness and speed - and Sims is Mr. Dependable. So Weis went out and snagged one of the top junior college running backs in the country, in Weed (CA) College of the Siskiyous star Taylor Cox.

As a sophomore in 2011, Cox rushed for 1,565 yards on 244 carries - a 6.2 ypc average - and 14 touchdowns. His efforts earned him a spot on the JC Athletic Bureau - California Community College Football Coaches Association All-America team.

Also committing were Yuma (AZ) Arizona Western wide receiver Joshua Ford and Scottsdale (AZ) Community College tight end Charles Brooks.

At 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, Ford is the combination of size and speed with which Weis has had a great deal of success in the past, similar to players such as Jeff Samardzija, Maurice Stovall and the Kansas City Chiefs' Dwayne Bowe.

When he landed in Kansas for his visit, he was admittedly dubious about what he would find. Not only had he never visited the nation's breadbasket, but most of what he knew of Jayhawks football was they had gone 2-10 the year before. But 48 hours on Mount Oread quickly changed his mind.

"Nothing was what I expected," Ford said. "And probably midway through my visit I started knowing this was gonna be the best opportunity for me."

In 2011, Ford caught 58 passes for 845 yards and 10 touchdowns, and will in all likelihood be asked to contribute right away for the Jayhawks. Understanding that, it's probably a good thing he and Crist began to bond immediately during his visit.

"He's going to provide leadership," Ford said. "We immediately clicked as soon as we met. I'm looking forward, very excited to play with him. He told me the same thing in return."

With the departure of four-year starter Tim Biere, Kansas has a major void to fill in terms of talent and experience at tight end. They addressed it in the high school ranks by securing the commitment of Waco (TX) Reicher Catholic tight end Jordan Smith, and got a more seasoned prospect in Brooks.

An athletic, 6-foot-6, 240-pound prospect, Brooks is versatile in the sense that he played both with his hand on the ground and split out as a receiver in 2011 at Scottsdale C.C. He hauled in 26 passes for 317 yards and five touchdowns in nine games, and will reportedly have three years left on his eligibility clock.

There were a number of factors that drew him to Kansas, including the coaching staff's dedication and passion for making Jayhawks football a factor both within the Big 12 and on a national level once again. He wants to be a part of that change.

But, ultimately, one factor stood out above all else.

"What really led me to becoming a Jayhawk is the type of offense Coach Weis runs," Brooks explained. "It's tight-end friendly. I think I can catch a lot of balls, score a lot of touchdowns and help the team win a lot of games."

As of this writing, the recruiting efforts are far from over. With two visit weekends left until National Signing Day, there are still plenty of talented prospects visiting Lawrence - from high schools and junior colleges across the country. Additionally, Weis has indicated he expects the arrival of more fifth-year transfers - like Crist - after graduation in May.

One thing is for sure - the new Kansas head coach has a plan for the reclamation of Jayhawks football. And if the early returns are any indication, the product on the field could be competitive much sooner than anyone expected.

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