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Kansas strength coach reminds Jayhawks, 'Nobody came here to play weightlifting'

Kansas junior linebacker Taiwan Berryhill (6) during the first day of practice on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022.

Kansas junior linebacker Taiwan Berryhill (6) during the first day of practice on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022. by Chance Parker/Journal-World photo

For months, Kansas football strength coach Matt Gildersleeve pushed the Jayhawks to dig deep for every rep, throw up as much weight as they could and sculpt their bodies into athletic specimens.

So it goes during the college football offseason.

With that being the goal of the past eight months, however, Gildersleeve recently decided that the Jayhawks could use a little reminder about what they’re here for. On Tuesday, KU coach Lance Leipold shared the meat of that message.

“Nobody came here to play weightlifting,” Leipold said Gildersleeve told the players. “You came here to here to play football; now it’s time to go do it.”

Tueday marked the opening day of preseason camp for the 2022 Jayhawks, and they now have an official countdown to the season opener — 7 p.m., Sept. 2 vs. Tennessee Tech at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium.

Many of the players have had their own countdown going since the end of the 2021 season, but veteran linemen Sam Burt and Mike Novitsky said Tuesday that the recent reminder from Gildersleeve came at a great time.

“As much as we strive to have these strength gains and weight gains, it is all about football,” Burt said. “That’s why we’re doing this. And I think that was a good introduction to camp.”

As is customary, the first few days of camp will feature players in shorts and helmets, as the players get acclimated to the heat and the schedule. The Jayhawks will get going in full pads later this week, and Novitsky said that was something they had been looking forward to.

“In the offseason, you’ve got a lot of months where you’re just training and you’re not actually strapping up a helmet and playing football. So you kind of get a little distracted,” he said. “But this is why you work all those months in the offseason, to get here.”

Doing so was easy under Gildersleeve, Novitsky said.

“He’s been a great fit here and he cares about his players a lot,” Novitsky said. “It’s awesome. Every day he comes in with energy and you’ve got to match it. He’s going to pull the best out of you every day.”

Despite Gildersleeve’s reminder, it’s not abandon-ship time for the Jayhawks and their weight training routines. Regular trips to the weight room will continue to be a part of their process as they fine-tune their bodies and minds to get ready to play 12 games this fall.

Little by little, however, their focus will ramp up to being all about football, from perfecting drills and techniques to game planning for opponents and filling out depth charts.

Leipold said he was thrilled with the roster Gildersleeve handed him for the start of preseason camp, noting that some of the concerns and trepidations he had at this time last year were no longer present.

“We know what we have with our players,” Leipold said. “This group’s excited.”

The second-year KU coach boasted Tuesday of “great results” in the weight room throughout the offseason and even noted that there were some “benchmarks” where the Jayhawks “doubled where they were a year ago.”

That, Leipold said, was an indication of a team working hard to close the gap in the Big 12 Conference, and he said Gildersleeve also shared with the players different areas and positions in which they had made progress on the rest of the conference from a physicality and measurables perspective.

“(I’m) extremely, extremely pleased with that,” Leipold said Tuesday. “Now we’ve got to go out and make it work.”