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KU linebackers coach: 'We'll take as many of those as we can get'

Why Kansas freshman Logan Brantley has been turning heads throughout preseason camp

5 min read
Kansas freshman Logan Brantley (16) runs through drills during preseason camp on Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2023 at David Booth Memorial Stadium. [Chance Parker photo] 

One of Logan Brantley’s favorite moments in football came when he was 10 years old while playing youth games with his friends.

Down late, with less than a second remaining on the clock and the opponent needing only to take a knee to win the game, one of Brantley’s friends — a kid named Moses — delivered a jarring hit on the QB as he delayed the kneel-down, knocking the ball loose and giving Brantley’s team a chance.

The KU freshman doesn’t remember every detail of what came next, but he said he saw the ball on the ground, scooped it up and started running.

He scored the winning touchdown moments later and has been sprinting ever since.

“My friend popped him, shot through the hole and the ball just started tumbling back and I ended up picking it up and I ran,” Brantley recalled this week. “I don’t know how many yards it was, but we won the game after I scored that touchdown. That was the craziest game I’ve ever been in.”

A close second came during his senior year of high school at Cherry Creek High in Denver, when the 6-foot-2, 211-pound Hawk linebacker delivered two pick-sixes in his homecoming game to help the Bruins win the memorable game.

In both instances, Brantley showcased his speed, a trait that has served him well already during his first few weeks as a Jayhawk. But it’s not just the coaches who are taking notice. KU linebackers coach Chris Simpson, who played a huge role in recruiting Brantley out of Denver, said Brantley has turned heads throughout camp.

Kansas freshman Logan Brantley (16) high-fives a teammate during a recent KU football practice. [Chance Parker photo]

“He’s athletic and he can run,” Simpson said. “But here’s the thing about Logan; we’re talking about him as a staff but our players, quite honestly, are (also) like, ‘Coach, that dude’s running now.’”

In a lot of sports, but especially football, they tend to say that athletes are only able to play at top speed and be most effective when they feel comfortable in what they’re doing and no longer have to think while they’re on the field.

Brantley’s not quite there yet, but every day he takes strides toward getting closer. Earlier this week, defensive coordinator Brian Borland walked into the team room to grab breakfast and saw Brantley sitting alone with his meal and a pile of notes spread all over the table.

The athleticism is natural and it sets Brantley up to accomplish some big things. But he already knows that even his fastest 40 time and biggest bench press won’t mean much if he doesn’t have the mental side of the game down.

“I didn’t know what that meant until the end of my sophomore year,” said KU senior Craig Young, who is penciled in at the Hawk position ahead of Brantley. “He’s going to be a good player. I can see that, I can believe it. The passion for the game he’s got, oh man. He’s very passionate for the game. The sky’s the limit for Logan, man.”

Like all players, Brantley wants to play. But he isn’t letting that desire cloud his mind. He has made it a point to emphasize effort and attitude every day, whether taking reps with the first unit or working on special teams or scout team. The lifelong Denver Broncos fan who grew up also playing basketball and running track already has a clear understanding of what it takes to impress these Kansas coaches.

“He’s going to be a good player. I can see that, I can believe it. The passion for the game he’s got, oh man. He’s very passionate for the game. The sky’s the limit for Logan, man.” — KU senior Craig Young

“Here, they’re about the little things,” he said. “Little things matter. They’re going to see that and they’re going to take notice, and I feel like that’s what’s going well for me. So, I’m just going to keep it up.”

Brantley credits both Young and senior linebacker Rich Miller for showing him the ropes. And he has routinely asked both players to download as much of their knowledge as possible into his brain. Most of his time has been spent dialed into the details of the Hawk position — a hybrid linebacker/safety spot — and focusing in on that one specific thing was as much about survival as anything.

"When I first got here and I looked at the playbook, I was like, ‘Coach Simpson, I don’t know how I’m about to learn this,'" Brantley recalled. "It’s huge and you’ve got to know it all. You’ve got to know what you’re doing and sometimes you’ve got to know other positions.”

One KU coach, grad assistant Donavon Nathaniel, suggested that he make flashcards for the different formations, so that’s what he did. And he quizzes himself on them almost every night.

Young said Brantley also asks questions about the finer points of football, like how to keep your energy up during camp and how to approach each day without getting overwhelmed.

“He’s just trying to learn how to be the best he can be,” Young said. “It’s very rare for a freshman to want to know those things. He’s a freshman, maturity-wise, but deep down inside you can tell he wants to be that guy.”

Most often, Young’s answers go back to remembering your why. And that’s an exercise that’s never difficult for Brantley.

“I just love this game, man,” he said. “And I just love hitting people. Just playing that fumble rumble, throwing the ball up in the air and having a free shot at your friend after he probably just threw a snowball at you; it just gives you that adrenaline. You want to make that hit. And I feel like that’s the most fun part of this game.”

Whether on special teams or in the rotation, the Jayhawks believe Brantley will have a role this season. Young said he thinks the freshman should expect to be on the travel squad and he likes that the older guys already can trust him.

Some of that comes from his passion for the game and some of it comes from his physical gifts, which Young said consistently leads Brantley to go “100 miles an hour” during drills.

When you combine that with the work he’s putting in as a student of the game, it’s clear that Brantley is a better football player today than the guy who first showed up on campus in early June.

“He’s swimming because it’s go, go, go, go, go (on the field),” Simpson said. “But in the meeting room, if you ask him a question, he’s probably going to get pretty close to having the answer. Now he’s just got to process it on the field as it’s happening. But he’s doing a phenomenal job and he’s going to be a really good player for us for sure. … We’ll take as many of those as we can get.”

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