Skip to content

'He's not fair-catching this'

KU coach Lance Leipold, WR Trevor Wilson had same thought, but at different times, during punt-return TD

4 min read
Trevor Wilson sprints to the end zone for an 82-yard punt return touchdown that blew open the game against UCF last Saturday. [Kansas Athletics photo]

Kansas football coach Lance Leipold and senior wide receiver Trevor Wilson had the exact same thought — just at different times — about Wilson’s 82-yard punt return that blew open Saturday’s 51-22 win over UCF in Lawrence.

“From my angle, I was like, ‘He's not fair-catching this,’” Leipold said after Saturday’s win, which moved the Jayhawks to 5-1 on the season and 2-1 in Big 12 play. “But he made a lot happen.”

The concept of a fair catch also crossed Wilson’s mind on the play, just not until he was already in the end zone celebrating the game-breaking play and Kansas’ 23-0 lead.

“As I scored, it actually ran through my head,” Wilson said after the victory. “Like, I know what he’s going to come to the side and tell me. But, just seeing it in the air, I was peeking, looking and I saw (UCF) guys not coming down as hard as they really could have. It was more of like a last-minute reaction. I knew that I’d kind of catch ’em off guard, and once I get to the side I know my teammates have my back and I put my trust in them.”

Even wide receivers coach Terrance Samuel got in on the fun on Sunday, posting to a video replay of the return on social media, "Glad you did not listen to me saying fair catch it lol"

Wilson's big play earned him Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Week honors, making him the 16th Jayhawk all-time to earn the weekly nod and the first since Pooka Williams Jr. in 2020.

There were 10 other Kansas players involved on Wilson’s punt return TD, the first of its kind in the KU program since 2014.

Torry Locklin, Jared Casey, Jayson Gilliom and Cole Petrus all helped get it started. Kalon Gervin sprinted with him to the end zone, proving to be the only one on the field who could’ve caught him. And Jalen Dye, Kwinton Lassiter and Dylan Downing set up the proper path.

But it was safety O.J. Burroughs — who continues to have a magnificent year in every way imaginable — and veteran Donovan Gaines who sprung Wilson with big blocks along the way around the right side of the field.

After taking the punt and looking for a lane, Wilson said his eyes and the countless reps in practice helped inform him that the opening would develop to the right. He immediately sprinted in that direction, where Burroughs was the first to greet him.

“He’s saying, ‘C’mon, c’mon, c’mon,’” Wilson recalled.

From there, it was a couple more well-placed teammates and Wilson’s pure speed that paved the way to the end zone.

No one seemed to enjoy it more than Gaines, who can be seen on video replay celebrating like a mad man as Wilson crossed the goal line.

“He was pumped. He was excited,” Wilson said of Gaines. “He was like, ‘Bro, I had your block. I had your block.’ I was like, ‘I know, Donnie. I trust you, bro.’ He’s like, ‘Man, you should’ve seen me coming down there. I was so happy for you.’ All my teammates, they were all just excited.”

The punt return touchdown marked the second consecutive week in which Wilson made a big play to spark the Jayhawks. And it was not lost on him how close he came to never getting the opportunity.

“Coming off of a tough year last year, I think just showing that I’m still able to do things, that I’m still able to help this team, I think that’s what I’m proud of myself for,” Wilson said.

After missing most of last season following an August arrest, which was later dismissed, Wilson worked hard to get back in the good graces of his coaches and teammates. He said his long-standing relationship with the KU coaching staff, much of which he played for at Buffalo before coming to Kansas, played a role in him wanting to atone for his mistake and them giving him the chance to do so.

“I feel fortunate,” Wilson said. “Last year was a learning opportunity. I think just those guys being able to trust me, that means a lot.”

Asked how often he thinks about last season, Wilson said he hasn’t spent much time dwelling on it.

“It was a tough year, but it’s in the past,” he said. “I don’t think my coaches hold it against me. It was a sad case. Of course it shouldn’t have happened. But I don’t look back on the past, just move forward and keep pushing.”

While the punt return TD was the first for the KU program in nearly nine years, it may have held even greater significance for Leipold.

“I don't even know; I'd have to think in my 17 years as a head coach if I've had a punt return (for a touchdown),” he said.

Wilson and the Jayhawks (5-1 overall, 2-1 Big 12), who returned to the national rankings on Sunday at No. 23 in the AP poll and No. 24 in the coaches poll, will look to keep the momentum going this week, when they travel to Stillwater, Oklahoma to take on Oklahoma State.

Kickoff is slated for 2:30 p.m. on FS1.