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What Kansas football coach Lance Leipold targeted with 2023 signing class ... and why

Kansas football coach Lance Leipold will never forget his first season in Lawrence.

Not only did the Jayhawks (2-10, 1-8 Big 12) finish last in the conference in 2021, but the talent and size disparity between them and their opponents was evident in each game.

“The first year was — how many young players we had out on the field and guys that were really (players that) most times you’d want to be redshirting them and putting weight on him,” Leipold said at KU’s signing day news conference Wednesday.

“We had some young guys that were making plays in the defensive secondary, but they were under 165 pounds playing against guys that were going to be in the league very shortly. You can’t survive in this league, week in and week out, doing it that way.”

In Leipold’s second season, Kansas (6-7, 3-6 Big 12) went to the Liberty Bowl — its first bowl appearance since 2008. KU lost 55-53 in triple-overtime to Arkansas at Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium.

When it came time to recruit his 2023 class, Leipold remembered what he had learned from his first season at KU. Leipold and his staff focused on adding more speed and physicality to the Jayhawks.

Kansas’ 2023 class ranks No. 66 nationally (per 247Sports).

Kansas signed 12 high school recruits in the first signing period but received verbal commitments from Jacoby Davis and JUCO safety Akili Hubbard in January. Both have officially signed, with Hubbard’s signing being announced on Thursday.

Last week, the Jayhawks unveiled their transfer portal class of 13 players. The class ranked No. 46 nationally (247Sports). All transfer players are on campus and enrolled in classes.

Kansas primarily focused on defense with six players: linebacker Patrick Joyner Jr. (Utah State), defensive end Austin Booker and defensive tackle Gage Keys from Minnesota, linebacker JB Brown (Bowling Green), cornerback Damarius McGhee (LSU), and defensive tackle Devin Phillips (Colorado State).

KU also landed five offensive players: running back Dylan McDuffie (Georgia Tech), offensive lineman Spencer Lovell (California), offensive lineman Logan Brown (Wisconsin), offensive lineman Hunter Barlow (Hutchinson CC) and tight end Max Muehlberger (Oklahoma State).

Finally, the Jayhawks finished the class with two special team players: Seth Keller (Texas State) and Charlie Weinrich (Nebraska).

The most significant focus for the Jayhawks with their 2023 class? Improve on last season’s biggest issues — namely, defense.

Last season, KU’s defense ranked 127th in total defense (469.4 yards per game).

“We looked to improve things defensively,” Leipold said. “It’s a position … that we’ll talk about on our way up to the first game and beyond. We have to do better defensively and due to some of the graduation and attrition, we had to address some things there.”

Another big struggle for the Jayhawks was special teams. Kansas ranked last in the Big 12 hitting on only 53.8% of its field goal attempts.

KU picked up two transfer kickers (Weinrich and Keller) and added a punter from Australia, Damon Greaves.

“We got to be better on special teams,” Leipold said. “We’ve got to be better on both kicking and punting.”

Finally, KU focused on protecting star QB Jalon Daniels.

Kansas left tackle Earl Bostick Jr. departed for the NFL, so the Jayhawks added former five-star recruit and Wisconsin transfer Logan Brown and Cal’s Spencer Lovell.

“We wanted to look in there (offensive line) bringing in Spencer and Logan, (who) are bigger bodies,” Leipold said. “Losing Earl, we (wanted) to keep adding competition and depth even though the other four return. … It gives us more opportunities to mix and match and play some guys in different spots.”

Ultimately, Leipold hopes this class continues to build upon last season. The Jayhawks held a ‘culture day’ on Wednesday for the newcomers.

“We do our culture talks, our culture teams and a lot of different things,” Leipold said. “They get to see how we are going about things. The attention to detail, the finish, how we are going to compete. Then they get in groups and talk.

“Today was a lot about goal-setting and things like that. What’s the proper way to set goals, realistic goals and how you’re going look at them each and every day. …It’s not just (about) your statistics or playing, … it’s how you are going to get better at the day-to-day.”