Kansas football: Freshman Devin Neal making a strong first impression

General view of the Kansas Jayhawks helmet. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports
General view of the Kansas Jayhawks helmet. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports /

Freshman running back Devin Neal has yet to take an official carry for Kansas football, but that hasn’t stopped him from drawing rave reviews from his coaches.

Neal is a Lawrence native who was the highest-rated recruit in KU’s 2021 recruiting class. He was also ranked as the No. 1 player in Kansas, according to Rivals.com. Naturally, expectations were high for him coming in.

During a media day press conference on Tuesday, head coach Lance Leipold was asked what he expects of Neal this upcoming season.

"“What an outstanding young man Devin Neal is. He works hard every day, he takes coaching … Freshman hit a wall at certain times, but man he’s taking a lot of reps and he’s not tapping out.”"

Offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki echoed Leipold’s thoughts, saying:

"“I would have the same expectations for him as I would for anyone who would ever go into the game for us, to execute. And to his credit, and like a lot of those other guys in the room, he comes out there and he wants to be coachable.”"

Leipold has used the word “coachable” a lot in previous press conferences when referencing the team and Neal specifically, which is a good sign for the freshman. This new staff places a high emphasis on being coachable and consistent, and it’s something Neal will need to continue embracing if he hopes to see playing time this year among a crowded backfield with Velton Gardner, Amauri Pesek-Hickson, and Daniel Hishaw Jr.

Leipold had more to say:

"“Some days there are some really good flashes of what his future’s going to be and then there are times where there’s a little bit of hesitancy, but he’s learning and he’s a sponge. That’s the thing I love about him. He takes coaching. He’s not defensive. When something’s not there he doesn’t have 15 reasons why he did what he did. He takes it and he finds another way to get better.”"

Kansas football can use the spark

The way his head coach talks about him you would think Neal is a veteran. Having the mental fortitude of an older player should only help Neal as he transitions to the college game.

From the photos and videos of fall camp that have been posted, it appears that (physically) Neal is ready – looking every bit of his 5-foot-11, 210-pound frame. If he combines that with the mental prowess and willingness to learn and develop that his coaches have been praising him for, Kansas fans could be in for a real treat watching Neal play this season and in seasons to come.

We will all soon find out what Neal can bring, as the wait to see the heralded freshman shouldn’t take long according to Leipold, who said he sees Devin Neal playing a lot of football in some capacity this season.

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