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Moments That Popped: Kansas football Spring Showcase

Big moments, big plays and a few names that stood out

6 min read
KU wide receiver Doug Emilien looks toward the ball for the snap during Friday's Kansas Football Spring Showcase at Rock Chalk Park. [Chance Parker photo]

There was no final score and no winner or loser, but that did not keep Friday’s Kansas football Spring Showcase from delivering more than a few memorable moments and plays.

As more and more programs are going away from hosting all-out spring football games like the days of old — injury concerns and rapidly changing rosters are mostly to blame — Lance Leipold’s team has done the same in recent years.

But KU still put on a heck of a show for its fans on Friday night, on a gorgeous spring evening at Rock Chalk Park, where the Jayhawks conducted practice No. 13 of 15 this spring on the Jayhawks’ soccer pitch.

There were individual periods to show fans some drill work.

There were 7-on-7 sessions, which gave KU fans their first look at KU quarterback Jalon Daniels moving around and firing a few balls downfield.

And there was roughly 45 minutes of actual 11-on-11 scrimmaging, with the first-, second- and third-string offenses starting at one end of the field and working toward the other end until they either scored a touchdown or had to try a field goal.

Again, no official score was kept, but the KU offense converted several touchdowns during what turned out to be a pretty fun, albeit different, night of spring football at KU.

Here’s a look back at some of the highlights.

The KU quarterbacks, including freshman Isaiah Marshall (8) and Jalon Daniels (6) prepare for a group photo after the showcase. [Chance Parker photo]

JD6 slings it: I heard from at least a half a dozen people on my way into the complex on Friday that the main reason they — and probably dozens of other KU fans — were there for this game was to see how Daniels looked in the aftermath of the injury that derailed his 2023 season. They must’ve come away pretty pleased. Daniels, who has been throwing and practicing all spring, moved around pretty well and fired a couple of balls down the field with good zip. On the first one that he truly let rip, the pass intended for Quentin Skinner fell incomplete, drawing an “Ooooooh” from the fans in the stands. Fifteen or so minutes later, Daniels again took a shot toward Skinner, this one down the right sideline and deeper down the field. Skinner hauled this one in, via a tough over-the-shoulder grab, sending the fans into a frenzy and Daniels into swagger/celebration mode. Daniels didn’t do a ton on Friday night, but he did enough to show concerned KU fans that he’s well on his way to being just fine for the 2024 season. “It’s good to have 6 back in the mix,” Skinner said after the fun ended, tapping into what could easily become a viral hashtag.

So much competitiveness: It might not have been a real game and it might even have been a dumbed-down version of a scrimmage at that. But that didn’t keep these guys from bringing it. Players flew to the ball on defense and hit hard when they could. There was chirping from players on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball and all-out celebrations after big plays, scores and moments. KU coach Lance Leipold said after the showcase ended that he was thrilled to see that — even if he did fully expect it — because it’s the latest sign that everything they sought out to build when they arrived at KU has taken root. It’s no longer the exception when guys give great effort on every play. That’s the expectation within this program now. Skinner said that comes from the veterans having bought into that idea when they were young and setting the standard for the young players to follow. At this point, as KU heads into Year 4 of the Leipold era, this roster is nearly entirely made up of guys who only know the Leipold way of doing things. Those who don’t, be them transfers or incoming freshmen, are coming into a situation where the standard and expectations are clear from Day 1 and they have no choice but to live up to them or get left behind.

Former players in attendance: There were some pretty notable names from KU teams of the past in attendance at this one. Some from as recently as last season — Jason Bean, Rich Miller, Austin Booker and Mason Fairchild led that list — and others from some of KU’s glory days from the past. Legendary running back Tony Sands was there. Record-setting wide receiver Dezmon Briscoe, linebacker Mike Rivera and safety Darrell Stuckey, from the 2008 Orange Bowl team, were on hand. And a few dozen others, from several different decades of Kansas football came out to show their support for the current crew. Their presence added to the festival-type atmosphere of the night.

Isaiah Marshall looks the part: KU freshman Isaiah Marshall, a QB who enrolled early to be here in time for spring ball, certainly has all of the poise and positional talent that you’d want to see from a quarterback of the future. He moves well, throws with good tempo and appears to be completely comfortable with the Jayhawks’ offense thus far. Leipold said Friday night that they continue to be so impressed by Marshall’s ability to comprehend what he called a “wordy” offense and then go out and execute it. “He’s everything we wanted him to be,” Leipold said of the young freshman.

KU wideout Luke Grimm smiles toward his teammates after making a catch during Friday's Spring Showcase at Rock Chalk Park. [Chance Parker photo]

Razzle Dazzle: It’s spring, so you know they’re not going to do or show anything that will tip their hand too much or give away any kind of secret formations or plays. But in case any of you were worried about KU’s high-octane, exciting offense taking a step back with the departure of former KU offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki, don’t be. There’s still so much talent and so many weapons on this roster and co-offensive coordinator Jim Zebrowski, along with new OC Jeff Grimes, still have more than enough fun up their sleeves to make this offense go. One such play that occurred midway through the 11-on-11 stuff, came when Devin Neal took a “Wildcat” snap, pitched the ball to second-string QB Cole Ballard, who then rolled out and threw a perfect ball to Luke Grimm for a touchdown.

Soccer team present: It was their home venue after all, so it only made sense that the members of the KU women’s soccer team were on the field to watch this one. In addition to hanging out near their dugout for much of the showcase, several KU soccer players threw T-Shirts into the crowd and appeared to enjoy sharing their space with the football crew. On a couple of occasions this spring — including Friday night — Leipold voiced his appreciation for the KU soccer program being willing to allow the football team to practice and play on their field and operate for small chunks of the spring out of their venue. “This is a soccer game field, and I want to be respectful of that,” Leipold said. “I appreciate the cooperation that we have with them.”

A few names to remember: There were several players who made a memorable play or two on Friday night, but there were a few others (not mentioned above) who really stood out at the showcase. In addition to the veterans and mainstays who you expected to see perform for the Jayhawks, here are a few others who might be a little more unknown: Safety Jalen Dye, who Leipold said has added even more physicality to his game in the offseason and appears to be poised to step into a bigger role; freshman running back Harry Stewart III, who already looks the part and has a great blend of power, vision and wiggle along with a real nice start-and-stop element to his game; Keaton Kubecka, a super-competitive redshirt freshman wide receiver who competes hard, wants to be great and is always asking questions and talking to the KU veterans at his position; Defensive end Cole Petrus and linebacker Cornell Wheeler, both drew praise from Leipold for their leadership this spring; and redshirt freshman linebacker Logan Brantley flashed great speed and athleticism down the field in coverage and around the line of scrimmage.

We’ll have plenty more from this spring, as well as a closer look at some of the key players for the 2024 season, throughout the rest of the spring and summer.

But this at least gave you a small taste of some of what we saw at Friday’s glorified spring practice that Leipold seemed very pleased by in that guys put in good work and got some experience under the lights and in an atmosphere with a little energy and buzz.

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