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Kansas Jayhawks Q&A: Why Devin Neal returned to KU football + basketball roster change

Kansas running back Devin Neal thought long and hard about whether to declare for the NFL Draft.

Ultimately, he announced his return for his senior season in January.

Neal ran for 1,280 yards on 203 carries, averaging 6.3 yards per carry with 17 touchdowns last season. And now he’s chasing history. He is 764 yards shy of tying the all-time career mark at KU.

Neal explained why he ultimately decided to return to Kansas.

“Just looking at the draft, at that time, just too many question marks of where I am at and how people view me,” Neal told The Star. “Especially with the running back market, I didn’t want to go in there and feel like a fringe guy (or) possibly deal with the fact of not getting drafted.”

Now, Neal has the opportunity to leave a lasting mark in Kansas.

“It’s really special,” he said. “It’s something I never really expected or thought about when I first committed or came in as a freshman. To be in this position … I don’t take it lightly. It means a lot to me and I know it means a lot to my family.”

Neal said he talked to his mentor, former Jayhawk and current Chicago Bear Khalil Herbert, about the decision.

“I talk to Khalil pretty consistently,” Neal said. “I will probably (train) with him a little bit in the summer, whenever he has free time. I’m going to be down there in Florida for sure.”

With that, let’s get to another Kansas Jayhawks Q&A!

Will JD’s back be 100% ready for September? — @JAndrew_Cochran

I think so. He’s practiced in the spring, though KU has been extra cautious in slowly letting him do more each week.

Here’s what Kansas coach Lance Leipold said in late February.

“He’s doing well, doing well,” Leipold said. “He’s working out. He’s doing things. How much he’ll do this spring, we’ll still see. But he’s smiling, bouncing around, ready to rock and roll as best he can at the moment. And, again, we want to be smart with him and nothing’s told me that — or anything’s been said from anyone — that we shouldn’t expect to get him ready for a fine season.”

From what I’ve seen at practice and what his teammates have said — as long as Daniels continues to ramp up slowly and doesn’t re-injure himself — I expect him to be fully healthy by September.

What does the offseason timeline look like with the bball team? What kind of contact can staff have with incumbent players as all the roster changes are happening around them? — @nthalexmuir

The timeline depends on who/ how many players Kansas adds. With the additions of Riley Kugel and Zeke Mayo, I anticipate KU adding one or two more players from the portal.

A lot will depend on whether Johnny Furphy returns or declares for the NBA Draft.

Regardless, the Jayhawks still need a player to replace former KU star Kevin McCullar. Multiple media reports have linked KU to Wichita State’s Colby Rogers — he shot 40% on 3s last season. The Jayhawks could use another scoring wing with the ability to shoot from distance.

There are no restrictions on contact with incumbent players. I’m sure conversations are always ongoing, especially as KU’s roster shapes up.

Depending on who KU adds from the transfer portal, players like Elmarko Jackson, Jamari McDowell and Zach Clemence could decide to enter their names in the portal.

Is there any consideration for bringing in players as walk-ons who pay their own way, but are well-compensated via NIL? — @WBAJayhawk

I’ve been told by a source that the idea is possible/allowed. Although there’s no confirmation that the Jayhawks do this, numerous KU walk-ons have been present at multiple NIL events.

It’s certainly possible for the future.

Do you think there might be genuinely more optimism/excitement for KU football than bball next year? Not that I’m not optimistic/excited about the basketball program, because I think they’ll be really good, but this is the 1st time I can remember being more excited for football. — @JBreezyBurner

There’s a genuine excitement about KU football that hasn’t been in Lawrence for a long time — and for good reason. The Jayhawks hope to compete for a Big 12 championship, which is an expectation both the players and coaching staff have for this upcoming year.

That said, KU basketball had a down year, yet offseason hoops is still a bigger topic of conversation than spring football. It also comes down to expectations. KU football is thriving and thus a big topic of conversation, but if the football program has a down year or two — much like basketball this past season — some of that conversation will quiet.

Still, it’s hard to beat Kansas basketball in terms of prestige and history. I anticipate that once we get closer to the season, the excitement around Kansas basketball will be high, and it’ll be even higher than the excitement for KU football.