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Final tune-up before bowl game includes community outreach event

Jayhawks, coaches bring joy and fun to Salvation Army family in Phoenix

3 min read
The Kansas football team, donning Santa hats, poses for a team picture in downtown Phoenix at a Christmas morning community outreach event. [R1S1 Sports photo]

PHOENIX — Early Christmas morning, while most were waking up, opening gifts, and spending time with loved ones and family, the Kansas football team was out giving back to the local Phoenix community at its player outreach event with the Salvation Army.

With cheers and the ringing of bells, the KU players and coaching staff were greeted by members of the Fiesta Bowl Committee and Salvation Army volunteers upon entering the Phoenix Convention Center. Everyone from the players to the volunteers to "Spirit," the Fiesta Bow and Guaranteed Rate Bowl mascot, transmitted smiles that were contagious. 

After a team picture, the Jayhawks went to their stations around the convention center, where there was everything one could think of. From a hair-cutting and manicure station to backdrops for family pictures and chances to get a picture with both Santa Claus and the Grinch, the possibilities for Christmas-day fun were endless.


The holiday buzz did not end there. Kansas players were stationed to help kids draw and color, play games like cornhole and mini-basketball, and even sign autographs for local Phoenix residents that attended. 

The entire time, it was evident just how joyful the team was as they could see their efforts made everyone at the event delighted. The constant talking to volunteers and residents showed exactly what this event meant to them.

Freshman quarterback Cole Ballard was genuinely grateful for what this event meant not just for the team, but for the city of Phoenix.

“I think it's really cool that we can not only help people in Lawrence but people in Arizona as well and to be able to come out and make an impact on Christmas morning," Ballard said with a smile on his face. "This is what it's all about and I know all the guys are excited to be here,”

Freshman wide receiver Surahz Buncom did something similar a few weeks ago in Lawerence as he volunteered with the Salvation Army for one of his religion classes, and Buncom said he was grateful for the opportunity to volunteer again and continue to give back.

“I mean, this is great," he said. "It's good to come back to work with the Salvation Army (in Phoenix)."

With all the Kansas players being away from home on Christmas, they all come together as one family for this event. And, as with any holiday event, personalities are going to come out in full force.

The loose-spirited Jayhawks immediately showed just how fun they were as soon as the people flooded inside the center. Junior safety O.J. Burroughs showed off the most joy. Working at the mini-basketball hoop station, he was constantly joking around with his teammates, interacting with the kids, and showcasing his overall goofy personality. From shooting hoops to hyping up his teammates when in a competition or just saying a joke to make someone laugh, his positive vibes brought the energy early in the morning.

“I mean a lot,” said Burroughs when asked how much working with the Salvation Army meant to him. “Just seeing a smile on (the kids') faces brings joy to me. I feel like this is a good opportunity for us to give back.”

Now, the countdown to kickoff is on for the Jayhawks (8-4) who will close out the 2023 season at the Guaranteed Rate Bowl at Chase Field on Tuesday against UNLV (9-4).

Kickoff is slated for 8 p.m. central time, 7 p.m. in Phoenix on ESPN & ESPN+.

This week's KU Football Coverage:

• 'A little bit of everything and everybody' - Jayson Gilliom's return to action

• Quarterback Jason Bean ready for his last dance with the Jayhawks

• 5 KU bowl records that could fall in Phoenix

• Rising Kansas football program seeks bowl game redemption

• Jayhawks' star eyes win and family joy in Phoenix

• Ten Jayhawks who have a shot of winning MVP honors on Tuesday

• Photo Gallery - Arrival, Media Day & Outreach event

• Final tune-up for bowl game includes outreach event in Phoenix

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