LAWRENCE — A new decade of Kansas football began not unlike many of the team’s preceding 10 seasons, with the Jayhawks on the wrong end of a dispiriting home defeat to a relatively obscure nonconference opponent.
Surveying the scene in the KU locker room following that outcome, however, reveals a crop of players adamant that, despite its inauspicious start, this Jayhawk campaign isn’t destined to simply amount to more of the same.
The Jayhawks (0-1) fell into a four-touchdown deficit en route to a 38-23 defeat to Coastal Carolina on Sept. 12, the second straight season the Chanticleers left David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium with a victory. The outcome marked the 17th nonconference defeat for KU across its last 10-plus seasons, with only three of those losses coming versus opponents at the Power Five level (at Georgia Tech, 2011; at Duke, 2014; at Rutgers, 2015).
Despite the precedent tied to the Jayhawks’ latest letdown, several team leaders — namely junior wide receiver Takulve Williams, senior cornerback Kyle Mayberry and senior wide receiver Andrew Parchment — attempted to salvage what was a somber postgame environment.
"When we was in the locker room, a lot of the players’ heads were down because obviously it was a tough loss," said Williams, who finished the opener with 38 receiving yards on a team-high seven receptions. "But I was just telling them, ‘Don’t let that game identify us. We’re better than that.’ It was our first game. It’s been a long offseason — we were practicing, not practicing because of the coronavirus and stuff.
"I think they kind of took the message like, ‘OK, I see what he’s saying.’ Basically we’re not going to put our head down because we lost a game to Coastal. We’re going to still work harder, we’re going to go out there and we’re going to fight for the next game."
That next opportunity will come against Baylor at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in Waco, Texas.
"I think there’s no question that this team wants to play its best football against the more quality opponents," said KU coach Les Miles. "I think all that Coastal Carolina did was point us at Baylor with a need to play better."
Mayberry directly referenced the program’s recent futility in his remarks to teammates.
"We can’t go down the same path that the old Kansas has been going down. … We’ve got to change," Mayberry recalled saying. "... So we’re taking this week of practice very seriously, as we did last week, but I think it’s more of a laser focus. ...
"Our leaders, they just stepped up. We had to address the team."
The message, Mayberry indicated, appears to have been heard loud and clear.
"I mean we’re a young team, so I definitely feel like it was an eye-opener for them, and I feel like they took what I said well, took it the right way," said Mayberry, whose younger brother, Duece, is a true freshman cornerback for the Jayhawks. "I just tried to (speak) straightforward to them. ‘We’ — I used a lot of ‘we’ because we are a team, and I feel like me, as well, I have to do better."
Mayberry said he remains "excited for the future of this team," a sentiment Miles seems to share.
"What we want to do is we want to continue to improve," Miles said. "We want to take the team that we have now and make them better. We’re going to want to go to the field and play more aggressively with greater physicality. As we get through Game 1, then we get through Game 2, we’re seeing the opportunity to step in and make changes, and that’s what we’ll do.
"I don’t know that I’ve set any markers for improvement. I can tell you that we want to win, and I can tell you that this team will play hard and work to win."
Chandler opts out
A second Jayhawk has opted out of the season due to COVID-19 concerns.
Julian Chandler, a senior safety out of Houston, tweeted Wednesday his intentions to sit out the season’s remaining nine contests.
"This year has been full of surprises since January 1st," Chandler wrote, "(f)rom the pandemic as well as the many racial injustice instances. Covid-19 changed things for many of us. With deep concern for my family's health as well as mine I have decided to opt out of the 2020 season."
The 6-foot, 182-pound Chandler, who was listed on the team’s first two-deep depth chart, joins former redshirt senior offensive lineman Antione Frazier as Jayhawks to opt out — Frazier entered the transfer portal shortly after making his decision.
"Thank you to the University of Kansas for giving me the opportunity to earn my degree," Chandler continued. "Thank you to Coach Miles and his staff for everything."