LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Ke'aun Kinner committed to Kansas last December having never seen the school in person.
Or its coach, for that matter.
All it took was a couple of phone calls from new Jayhawks coach David Beaty to instill in the nation's top junior college running back a sense of belonging. Kinner believed in everything that Beaty was saying: He'd have a chance to play right away at Kansas, and help rebuild a program that was less than a decade removed from playing in the Orange Bowl.
"Everything," Kinner said, "just felt comfortable to me."
That comfort level has already shown. Kinner earned the starting job and followed up with a dynamic debut performance in a season-opening loss to South Dakota State on Saturday.
The junior ran for 157 yards and two touchdowns — nearly a quarter of the 631 yards that last year's leading rusher, Corey Avery, had all season. It was the most yards rushing of any player in the Big 12 the opening weekend, and the most yards rushing at Kansas since James Sims went for 211 yards in a game against West Virginia nearly two years ago.
Not bad for a guy considered by some an afterthought when he signed with the Jayhawks.
"I think recruiting, it seems very simple, but it's not always that way," Beaty said. "It usually comes down to needs. You can't always take the best player. Sometimes your numbers say you need a running back, sometimes you don't. That may have been his deal."
That was the reason why Beaty wasn't aware of him. When he was still an assistant at Texas A&M, the Aggies weren't in need of a junior college running back.
But when he took over the Jayhawks, he was suddenly in need of just about everything. So when former Kansas player Patrick Resby, now coaching at defensive backs Navarro Junior College, heard that Beaty had taken the job in Lawrence, he picked up the phone and gave him a call.
Game tape went out. Beaty watched it. His eyes grew wide.
"His tape was phenomenal. It was off the chain," Beaty recalled Tuesday. "We got into it and somehow we were able to gain his services."
Still, the fact that Kinner was still on the market was surprising. There are countless recruiting services these days, and dozens of news organizations that cover everything from junior colleges to recruiting. So for a guy to run for more than 1,600 yards last season and still be uncommitted deep into December is not just rare, it is virtually unprecedented.
"It's one of those deals, in junior college, running backs aren't a highly sought-after type of guy," Navarro coach Cody Crill said. "Iowa was messing with him a bit, went up there on his visit. They didn't like him, I guess. Didn't offer. And he ended up at Kansas."
He also wound up being precisely the kind of recruiting coup it takes for a coach to turn around a program with poor facilities, apathetic fans and a history of losing.
The Jayhawks may have lost to South Dakota State, but Kinner's performance at least provided a reason to hope better days are ahead. Only four other players in the Football Bowl Subdivision had more yards rushing than Kinner, and only two of them had more TDs rushing.
"Just knowing from experience, and watching that kid in practice, he was going to pop one," Kansas offensive coordinator Rob Likens said. "I knew he was going to break one."
Likens has installed his version of the pass-happy "air raid" offense at Kansas, but Kinner proved Saturday that it can be just as devastating on the ground. Once he got rolling early in the game, Likens figured he would stick with what was working.
"We're always going to scheme up runs and work on that a lot," he said. "We got in a game and we saw what was working, you know? We were tiring them out."
Tiring out Kinner, too. He toted the rock 27 times in large part because of the lack of depth behind him. Avery was dismissed over the summer for violating team rules, and backups Taylor Cox and De'Andre Mann are coming off injuries that kept them out for much of last season.
In other words, chances are that Kinner — overlooked by so many other programs during the recruiting process — will be quite well known in a matter of weeks.
"He's a dude. Just people, for whatever reason, didn't go on him," Crill said. "We were shocked nobody offered him. But we knew he was a guy that somebody needed to take a chance on, and it's paid off pretty good for Kansas."