LAWRENCE — Les Miles knows what he wants his Kansas football program to be.
Perhaps more importantly, though, the second-year Jayhawk head coach is also cognizant of what he doesn’t want, a reality reinforced by both the composition of KU’s early signing period haul and what Miles had to say about it.
The Jayhawks unveiled 18 signees Wednesday, the first wave in a critical Class of 2020. Every single player announced on Day 1 of the early signing period comes from the high school level, notable in that it strongly reflects public comments from both Miles and athletic director Jeff Long that stressed the program’s latest rebuild attempt will come through the prep ranks.
While Miles didn’t rule out the possibility of adding junior college players to this class by the time February’s second signing period rolls around, he made it clear that, at least for now, those players will be need-based exceptions to his vision.
“We’re not building that way. That doesn’t appeal to us,” Miles said when asked about the temptation of taking juco shortcuts. “What appeals to us is the opportunity for that guy to come on campus, improve, take steps, take time. Two years? (A freshman) has probably played at least a piece of one of those two, and then now he’s got two solid years left to play. That is to me the recipe for success here.”
Miles’ first signing haul at KU was an expedited group, put together at a breakneck pace following the head coach’s Nov. 18 introduction and subsequent coaching staff hirings. That class featured 14 high school players and five junior college athletes, the latter group including standout wide receiver Andrew Parchment.
It may be unrealistic to expect the Jayhawks’ final Class of 2020 to feature no transfers whatsoever.
“It depends on how severe the need is,” Miles said. “If there’s a guy that fits you specifically in something, maybe a quarterback, maybe a wide receiver, some real specific skill that you have to have and don’t have on your team, we understand.”
Beyond the obvious benefit of a high school player's signing representing a four- or five-year commitment, Miles cited additional advantages to going this route.
“What we’re looking for is that guy that’s going to be able to make the commitment over time and improve, get involved with the system, stay with the system,” Miles said, “and come out the other end a much better player.”
For reference, Miles’ predecessor David Beaty signed 11 junior college players versus just 14 high school athletes in his final recruiting class (2018). And that wasn’t altogether unusual for KU, with previous head coaches Charlie Weis and Turner Gill also going to that well a number of times.
That near-decade of shortcuts created a dire scholarship situation, a cycle Miles and staff are still digging out of but one they seem intent on breaking.
“When we came here, it was an opportunity to do something that hasn’t been done really over the past 10 years, really since Mark (Mangino) was here, when they really made a commitment to go with young players and go with high school players,” said Jeff Hecklinski, the Jayhawks’ recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach. “And so Coach (Miles) really laid a directive down of, ‘Hey, this is the direction we’re going to go.’ So when we got here in January as a complete staff he said, ‘This is the direction of the program. This is my vision. Now it’s you guys’ job to go out and execute that vision.’ ”
It makes it easy to follow that directive, Hecklinski said, when a head coach stands firm in that belief. The process was admittedly bumpy — many recruiting ventures are — but it resulted in an 18-name foundation that appears to have the coaching staff confident moving into February’s second signing period and beyond.
“You saw the process as it goes. The process is never smooth. It’s never easy. It never goes the way we see it going or how we want it to go. But I think at the end of the day we were able to add a number of players here that are going to build depth,” Hecklinski said. “They’re quality character kids. They’re multi-sport kids. They play multiple spots on the field. They love the game of football, and they’re quality student athletes that are going to come in and add both to the university atmosphere as well as the Kansas football atmosphere.”
KU signs three-star quarterback
The Jayhawks on Wednesday finalized the commitment of Jalon Daniels, a dual-threat quarterback rated a three-star recruit by 247Sports' composite rankings.
A 6-foot, 206-pound native of Lawndale, Calif., Daniels will join a quarterback room led by senior Thomas MacVittie and redshirt junior Miles Kendrick.
“I don’t think there’s any question that he has talent and ability and can step back in the pocket, can rush the ball, can have quarterback rushes,” Miles said of Daniels. “Is he a quarterback of the future? He’s certainly a choice. I think there could be another quarterback out there that’s being pursued, but I’m not really sure at this point.”
Daniels chose KU over offers from Middle Tennessee State, Army and Air Force, among others.
“He can create, can improvise in the pocket,” said offensive coordinator Brent Dearmon. “Just the direction that we’ve went down in our (offensive) line spot, we knew that the pocket passer is kind of fading away in football. Jalen’s ability to move and create just enamored us.”
Dearmon said he “fell in love” with Daniels’ tape and added that, while he’d been scouted by KU for some time, the quarterback’s commitment was a true last-minute situation.
“I got fired up. I almost did a backflip, but I realized I probably would’ve broke my neck," Dearmon said. "But I was real excited from having been able to talk to him and (his) mom and dad, just to hear their excitement as well.”
While Miles hinted the Jayhawks may not be done acquiring quarterbacks in this year’s class, Dearmon indicated it would have to be a can’t-miss proposition.
“Any time a great player opens itself up to you, you take him, no matter if it’s a pass rusher, no matter if it’s an offensive lineman — usually a tackle — a great corner, or a quarterback. Those four positions are really, if you can find a game-changer, you always take ’em,” Dearmon said. “So I won’t ever say we’re out of the market, but it’d have to be the perfect situation for us.”