As Kansas football coach Lance Leipold reflected on what he said to his team postgame Saturday, after the Jayhawks lost their season finale 34-28 at home against West Virginia, he highlighted how proud he was of the seniors.
For 12 games, they helped lay the foundation for Leipold’s first season in charge of the program. For 12 games, those who won’t return in 2022 battled to make most of their last season at Kansas. Leipold appreciated the way the entire team handled itself, and the seniors especially.
In part, because Leipold never questioned their effort over the course of the season. He noticed the resiliency the players had, as the Jayhawks had a month of November that showcased progress in a pair of one-score defeats and an overtime victory against Texas. While Leipold hadn’t been around in recent seasons, he had heard that effort and camaraderie had been issues in the past.
And now, it’s time for Kansas to dedicate itself to the preparation it’ll need in the offseason for it to take the next step as a program in 2022. The Jayhawks have momentum they can benefit from, despite overall going 2-10 this season with a 1-8 mark in Big 12 Conference play. It’s just a matter of how much progress Leipold and company can make in the days, weeks and months to come.
“Consistently, people have seen that we’ve improved as a football program,” Leipold said. “That said, we have a lot to work on yet. We continue to evaluate. We’ll continue to do everything we can to make ourselves a better football team and yeah I think, obviously through the course of time, and in short all the things that you didn’t get the chance to really evaluate, your needs, last spring and that I think have kind of come to light of where areas that we have to get better and we’ll work on addressing that in many different ways.”
Junior safety Kenny Logan Jr. described a sad mood in the locker room postgame, because of the fact there are seniors whose careers have ended, but noted as well that his teammates can see how close the team is to taking the next step. Junior linebacker Gavin Potter believes they’ve already closed to gap on some conference opponents, and aren’t far off from closing the gap on others. Although sophomore quarterback Jalon Daniels thinks it’s heartbreaking to lose the last two games as close as they did, he feels they competed to the end just as their seniors desired.
Daniels didn’t mince words when he talked about the benefit it’ll be to have a spring ball, ahead of fall camp, with Leipold’s staff. That, considering the timing of Leipold’s hire earlier this year. Daniels wants to be competitive with every conference opponent in 2022, no matter which team it is.
Kansas, as a program, is still searching for its first winning season since 2008. It’s still searching for its first winning record in Big 12 play since 2007. That’s the stretch of floundering that Leipold is trying to turn around.
“I don’t really do the comparisons but, this year’s team, we’re actually executing,” said Logan, asked to compare the state of the program now to where it was this time last year. “We’re starting to come together as a unit. … I feel like we’re steps away from actually being a dominant team. So, we’ve just got to go back to the drawing board and great fans came out all year and supported us. So, I’m really appreciative of that and we’re just ready to go back to the drawing board in 2022.”
Daniels added: “I believe that this is just the beginning. We all have faith in the plan that coach Leipold has for us, and everybody who’s ready to work during this offseason — this offseason’s going to be very pivotal for us.”
The work to prepare for 2022 will begin quickly for the Jayhawks.
Leipold said the team’s director of sports performance, Matt Gildersleeve, already has a plan that they’ll get together and discuss Monday. With as young of a roster as Kansas has, Leipold knows they have to take advantage of the opportunities they have to develop. There are coaches who may have already hit the recruiting trail Sunday, and others like Leipold who’ll likely follow Monday.
Daniels considers football a year-round sport for himself, and said Saturday that he’d watch film Sunday as he began his preparation. Potter said after the game he’d start the preparation Sunday as well. Logan is looking forward to becoming more of a leader, considering the departures of super-seniors like defensive end Kyron Johnson, linebacker Nate Betts and safety Ricky Thomas Jr.
“Holistically, we have to be a lot better defensively in all three levels of the defense,” Leipold said. “And we have to become a more physical football team. We have to continue to develop a consistent running game. Again, we’ve seen Jalon play. We’ve seen (redshirt junior quarterback) Jason Bean have flashes. We’ve got to be consistent at the quarterback position. Our running game has been good at times and below average at others. So, all those things are — there’s not one area of our football team that I can sit there and say that we don’t want to improve in. And that’s not taking away from anybody, that’s the way it’ll always be and we need to address that and address that in many different ways.”
Jordan Guskey covers University of Kansas Athletics at The Topeka Capital-Journal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @JordanGuskey.
This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: Kansas football program, coach Lance Leipold start preparing for 2022