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September 6, 2011Kansas fans got a glimpse of the talent in the backfield when they rushed for 300 yards in the opener against McNeese State. Three of the players that helped the successful ground attack are all freshmen seeing their first action as Jayhawks.
The group of Brandon Bourbon, Darrian Miller, and Anthony Pierson all had several BCS offers and something unique in common. They all played their high school football in the same state.
Pierson, an electric player that relies on speed, moved to East St. Louis his senior year. Before that he played at Gateway Tech on the Missouri side. Bourbon is from Potosi and Miller from Blue Springs. It isn't an easy job for a recruiter to go into a state and attract three players of that caliber across enemy lines into Lawrence. That's exactly what Reggie Mitchell did.
All three players were rated as four-star prospects in the Rivals.com national rankings. Combined they held offers from schools such as Iowa, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Stanford, Missouri, Notre Dame and several others.
It isn't often a recruiter wearing Kansas gear can walk out of the Show-Me State with that kind of talent. Mitchell says it came down to a team effort.
"What makes it easy for us is we have a great staff," Mitchell said. "Coach (Turner) Gill is heavily involved and so is coach (Chuck) Long. All of our staff gets involved so it is a group effort. I am just a lead guy that coaches them and they spend a lot of time with me."
Pierson had 73 yards and a touchdown against McNeese State. He showed a burst of speed around the corner that Kansas fans haven't witnessed in a while. While his game made a lot of noise and grabbed attention he is known as a very quiet person around the team.
Even during the recruiting process he rarely did interviews with the media. He spoke with Jayhawk Slant several times and was a very shy and soft-spoken individual. Early in the recruiting process Pierson committed to Missouri only to open his recruiting up later.
"Anthony is a quiet guy," Mitchell said. "He left and went to East St. Louis. I had signed some players from East St. Louis at my previous job. He knew about me and it was easy to establish a relationship with him and his coach. It was a little harder sell because he wasn't for sure whether this (Kansas) was for him. He finally trusted what we were telling him. But you didn't know with him because he was so quiet."
Miller was a different story because he committed to the Jayhawks early. Then he decided to back off hid decision and de-committed. Several schools were recruiting him and he took an official visit to Iowa. Back then there was speculation from those close to the Iowa program he was leaning to the Hawkeyes.
He originally committed by sending Mitchell a text message during the Kansas- Kansas State basketball game.
"I felt Darrian was ours to lose," Mitchell said. "He came to visit a bunch of times and was very familiar with what was going on. The Kansas-Kansas State basketball game when it was number one versus number two he got involved with the atmosphere at the game. He sent me a text at the game and said he wanted to be a Jayhawk."
Later in the spring Miller delivered the news he wanted to look at all of his options. Mitchell said he had teammates that were being recruited and Miller wanted to be part of the recruiting action.
"In spring play he calls me to tell me that he is de-committing," Mitchell said. "So I took the approach that there was something that we didn't do. He had a couple high school teammates that were being recruited and going places. So like any 18-19 year old he wanted to go along with the guys."
Miller took his official visit to Kansas in late October. Two days after the visit he committed back to the Jayhawks.
"He committed and never waivered after that," Mitchell said.
The toughest job Mitchell had in landing the trio of backs was probably Bourbon. After a summer trip to Stanford he committed to Jim Harbaugh the first week of August. Stanford was in the mix for a Pac 10 title. When Mitchell started to build a relationship with Bourbon he had been committed to Stanford for five months. It was going to take quick work and relationship building to change Bourbon's mind.
Mitchell had barely been on the Kansas job for three days when he started to build a relationship with Bourbon.
"With Brandon it came down to proximity," Mitchell said. "He had committed to Stanford and it (Kansas) would be closer to home. Notre Dame came in late. He's a guy that is about relationships and we built a quick relationship with him in a short period of time. For him he felt comfortable with me and the situation. We trusted one another and that was a big part."
Bourbon took an official visit to Stanford in January and the next week he visited Lawrence. In the beginning it looked like a long shot but Bourbon warmed up to Mitchell in quick fashion.
Landing three, four-star backs from any state is a tough job for a coach at Kansas. Even for an established recruiter like Mitchell it didn't come easy.
"Oh it took some work to get all of them," Mitchell said.