DeKALB – Ever since Dave Doeren and his coaching staff arrived in DeKalb, Ken Bishop was a recruiting target they wanted.
Bishop, a 6-foot-1, 308-pound junior defensive tackle, had been recruited by former NIU linebackers coach Tom Matukewicz, now the defensive coordinator at Toledo, out of high school in Sunrise, Fla.
Matukewicz continued to recruit Bishop when Bishop was at Ellsworth Community College in Iowa, and the defensive lineman ended up visiting DeKalb last fall. Huskies co-defensive coordinator/defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen went to Ellsworth in December.
To Nielsen and the coaching staff, Bishop was a guy they had to have. The junior has started every game for the Huskies this season, and has eight tackles along with a half tackle for a loss and a half sack.
“We knew we really wanted him,” Nielsen said. “We needed him.”
There were three other schools that offered Bishop – Toledo, Tennessee State and Kansas, a team that will visit Huskie Stadium on Saturday.
The Jayhawks recruited Bishop aggressively. He took a visit to Lawrence, where he saw Baylor and Robert Griffin III beat Kansas, 31-30.
After former head coach Turner Gill was fired, the Jayhawks still were on Bishop. But in the end, he said Kansas just wasn’t the right fit.
“Just the environment, maybe. It didn’t feel as comfortable. It didn’t feel like somewhere I could fit in,” Bishop said. “I know I had the opportunity to play, but it was more than just playing.”
At NIU, Bishop said there was a family environment. He also knew Jamaal Bass and Devon Butler, who was dismissed from the team in July, from competing against the two in high school. Cornerback Jhony Faustin was another Huskie who Bishop was familiar with as the two were teammates at Ellsworth in 2010.
Bishop also said Tyrone Clark, who hosted his visit, made him feel at home.
“I felt comfortable coming out here,” Bishop said. “I felt like I fit right in with the guys.”
There were a number of reasons the coaching staff wanted Bishop for the final two years of his college career. There’s his obvious size and speed at the defensive tackle spot. Doeren and Nielsen also raved about his personality.
“He’s a great kid,” Doeren said. “Nobody ever had anything bad to say about his character, and obviously he can play.”
The way Nielsen puts it, coaches never know exactly what type of player they have until he gets on campus. In Bishop’s case, the coaching staff knew they had a good get when they saw Bishop’s first workout.
“When he got here, from the first workout he had we knew he was going to be a good player,” Nielsen said.
However, Bishop wasn’t just someone who was going to come in and dominate with size, something that’s much easier at the junior college level. He had to improve his technique and his pass rushing ability while learning how to beat blocks when going up against more talented offensive linemen.
In recruiting, sometimes coaching staffs hit, sometimes they miss, as Nielsen puts it. To Nielsen, Bishop is a guy the staff was right about, and the second-year Huskies coach has seen Bishop’s play evolve since the start of the season.
“Ken’s a really smart guy; he’s improved every game. That’s all you want,” Nielsen said. “You want the guys who improve from one game to the next. He’s done a good job with that.”
SCOUTING THE JAYHAWKS
Kansas Jayhawks (1-2)
Last game: Lost, 20-6, to TCU at home
Last meeting with Northern Illinois: Kansas 45, NIU 42 on Sept. 10, 2011
Key offensive players: Dayne Crist, Sr., QB; Tony Piersen, So., RB; Daymond Patterson, Sr., WR
Key defensive players: Bradley McDougald, Sr., FS; Greg Brown, Sr., CB; Josh Williams, Sr. DE; Huldon Tharp, Jr., OLB
Observations: The Jayhawks actually lead the country in turnover ratio, but those turnovers haven't translated into victories. TCU lost four fumbles against the Jayhawks, but Kansas was only able to score six points.
The Jayhawks feature a strong running game with Piersen and Taylor Cox averaging close to six yards per run. Kansas' rushing attack will also be boosted with the return of junior James Sims.
Doeren's take: "We have a 16-game home winning streak that we're defending this week. We get to go at it against a Big 12 football team, so I think there's a great opportunity for people to see a really good game here."
Key stat: Kansas has lost 13 consecutive games on the road.
– Steve Nitz, firstname.lastname@example.org