For linebacker Tristian Fletcher, Kansas football’s interest in him ‘came out of nowhere’

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Kansas football coach Lance Leipold oversees a practice this past spring inside David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium.
Kansas football coach Lance Leipold oversees a practice this past spring inside David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium.

LAWRENCE — Tristian Fletcher was prepared to continue his career as a college football player at Sam Houston State.

Fletcher, a linebacker at Trinity Valley Community College in Texas, had committed to play for the Division I FCS program. There was a sense of loyalty that he felt there. As late in the recruiting process as it was for him, it seemed as if this would be how it all played out.

Then Sherard Poteete, Trinity Valley’s head coach, received a call about Fletcher from a Division I FBS program, the Kansas Jayhawks. Once the dialogue began, it progressed quickly to the point where Fletcher had an offer from Kansas and would take a visit. And this past weekend Fletcher, who noted he tried to be respectful with how he cut ties with Sam Houston State, announced his commitment to the Jayhawks.

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Fletcher, who said Sunday he’d report to campus in a matter of days, explained Kansas’ interest “came out of nowhere.” When he learned about it, he didn’t want to get his hopes up. But Poteete watched Fletcher develop the necessary comfort level with the program, head coach Lance Leipold and linebackers coach Chris Simpson.

“They kind of understood, like, I wasn’t really trying to string along the process because I wanted to go ahead and get enrolled at a school and go ahead and get into the program and get it rolling,” Fletcher said. “So, they kind of understood that situation. So, they did their background and everything. I spoke with the coach and we talked for a minute and he spoke with, like, my high school coach. Talked to some coaches that reached out to me from other schools, and that’s just how it came to be.”

Poteete added: “He felt that that was where he needed to be. I think he loved it on his visit.”

Fletcher said he ended up at the junior college level out of high school because of what he thought it could do for his recruitment. He considered himself among the high school prospects whose recruitments were affected by the pandemic. He explained he could have gone to a Division II school or walked on at a school like Sam Houston State.

Fletcher, who went to high school in Texas as well, described the junior college route as akin to being thrown into the fire. Grateful for it, he added it’s an experience that matures you and allows you to discover if you truly love the game of football. And like so many before him, he’s used Trinity Valley to propel himself to the next level.

Initially, Fletcher’s goal was to leave after the first semester. But he alluded to how tough it can be to be a younger newcomer on a junior college roster, and said he had to stay patient. He’s thankful he was still able to move on after just one year there.

“Things were picking up,” said Poteete, speaking to Fletcher’s recruitment. “… I told him, if he’ll just be patient, the Power Five schools will start coming. It’s just going to take them a little time just to find out what their needs are, and then he plays. He’s only played one year with us. He’s a freshman. So, the good thing for Kansas is he’s still got three years ahead of him.”

Poteete understands that it’s not necessarily a kid’s dream to grow up and play junior college football, and with the Jayhawks is an opportunity for Fletcher to compete in the Big 12 Conference. It may not be as close to home as Sam Houston State would have been. But Kansas will face its fair share of opponents in the state of Texas.

Fletcher’s first thought when it came to the Jayhawks was the competition level picking them would provide. Then he did some research and discovered what Leipold and others were able to do at their previous stops. Fletcher figured Leipold wants to create change at Kansas, which recently added two more high school commits for the 2023 class in Tony Terry and Keaton Kubecka, just like Leipold did at Buffalo.

It’s not an overhaul that Fletcher expects to be completed overnight. But Fletcher wants to be a part of a program that’s taking strides to becoming better, and in his conversations with players and coaches he sees that. He noted how players compared the structure and accountability that's present within the program now to what was going on with the previous staff, and pointed to a different energy in the building and increased sense of pride as well.

“That’s exactly how it’s been these past few months, they said, even going through spring,” said Fletcher, who highlighted the bond between teammates, too. “You can't really see it from the outside looking in, but inside the program it’s taking great strides. This is coming from players that experienced the coaches before and coaches that are in there right now. So, it really means a lot coming from the players because they’re going to be upfront about anything and you can tell if they’re being real or not.”

The first goal that Fletcher said he has at Kansas is to graduate. He wants to use all the resources available to him. He believes they’ll lead to advantages for him later on in life.

The second goal that Fletcher said he has at Kansas is to enjoy success on the field with the Jayhawks. He wants to win games and be an asset to the defense, which he wants to help become the best in the Big 12. He also wants to become the best linebacker in the Big 12, and eventually an All-American.

Early on, Fletcher said, that path will start at outside linebacker. He explained the coaching staff wants him to learn and understand the defense there before moving inside to what he described as the “heartbeat” of the unit. Watching film with Simpson, Fletcher said his speed and timing are among the characteristics that stand out to the staff.

“(Fletcher)’s a 5-11, 225-pound kid that can run,” said Poteete, who added Fletcher has an unforgettable smile. “He played inside and outside for us, so things — they’re getting a versatile linebacker that can tackle. He can run. He’s a smart young man. So, I don’t think he’ll have an issue of picking up schemes.”

Jordan Guskey covers University of Kansas Athletics at The Topeka Capital-Journal. Contact him at jmguskey@gannett.com or on Twitter at @JordanGuskey.

This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: For Tristian Fletcher, Kansas football’s interest ‘came out of nowhere’