Kansas quarterback Jalon Daniels believes in the ability to speak things into existence.
All season long, Daniels and the rest of the Kansas football team have spoken about making a bowl game. On Sunday, their words finally became a reality.
The Jayhawks will play the Arkansas Razorbacks in the Liberty Bowl, which will kick off at 4:30 p.m. Central on Dec. 28 in Memphis. KU went 6-6 this past season and 3-6 in Big 12 conference play. The Jayhawks became bowl eligible with a win over Oklahoma State on Nov. 5 and will appear in their first bowl game since 2008.
At the post-announcement media availability, Daniels was grinning ear-to-ear.
“You know, coming in as a freshman, I listened to a lot of (the late rapper) Nipsey Hussle,” Daniels said. “He always spoke about how things happen (that) he’s speaking (into) existence. So I feel like to have this opportunity, it’s something we have spoken about a lot as a team and it’s been one of our goals. So to be able to accomplish this means a lot.”
According to coach Lance Leipold, a sense of excitement surrounds the team after the announcement. That excitement extends to the head coach, who took a moment to address representatives from the Liberty Bowl on a call before speaking to media.
“My phone (has) blown up since this (announcement) from not just fans and supporters but coaches around the country and former coaches that have had the opportunity to be a part of the bowl — your bowl game,” Leipold said. “Everyone says what a great experience it has been for them and the players. We are just elated to be there.”
For many players in Kansas’ locker room, the idea of a bowl game seemed foreign even as late as last season.
“I saw a lot of smiles and cheers (in the locker room),” Leipold said. “I’ve seen the look of some seniors and upperclassmen who really probably had doubts something like this was ever going to happen in their career. I saw a lot of pride and excitement. We’ve been talking about it ever since we clinched bowl eligibility, about the opportunity to be together an extra month and the importance for development.
“(This bowl game is an) official sign of an accomplishment of a huge step for a program that has struggled for a dozen years. (I’m) extremely proud of them. I am extremely proud of the job our coaching staff has done, the assistant coaches, and getting this done as quickly as it has. Again, all of that gets to be put on display at Memphis, Tennessee, later this month.”
The turnaround from a two-win KU team last year to a 6-6 team this season is something even Leipold didn’t see coming.
“If you really held it up to me, I didn’t know if we could make the jump up from two wins to six maybe immediately,” Leipold said. “As I’ve said, I would never bet against this group and the coaches that work with them daily.”
Kansas’ potential bowl opponent was a hot topic in the locker room. Daniels had even hoped to play a particular conference — the Pac-12 — being from Lawndale, California, on the West Coast. No matter the opponent, Daniels is ready to start preparation.
“To be able to get that announcement today just means that it is time to start preparing,” Daniels said. “We know who our opponent is now and are finally able to go into the film room tomorrow and start preparing for the game.”