Before Lance Leipold and several of his assistant coaches left Buffalo to take on a rebuilding project with Kansas football, a search to replace a third-round NFL draft pick led them to Zion DeBose.
As Leipold and his staff got to KU and determined the Jayhawks needed some reinforcements on the defensive line, they circled back to DeBose, a former backup at Virginia Tech who had committed to them at UB as a transfer before the coaching change.
Still finishing up his degree at VT this spring when Leipold left for KU, DeBose backed out of going to Buffalo and instead joined the Jayhawks as a summer enrollee and graduate transfer.
Leipold said during a recent interview with the Journal-World that when he and his staff initially came across DeBose, they envisioned the Hokies reserve as a replacement for former UB defensive end Malcolm Koonce, whom the Las Vegas Raiders selected in the third round of this year’s draft.
They were looking for “another twitchy end” and saw DeBose, listed at 6-foot-1 and 245 pounds, as a solution to their problem.
A redshirt junior at Virginia Tech in 2020, DeBose appeared in four games as a reserve D-lineman and made six total tackles and a sack before opting out of the rest of the season, due to the pandemic.
“But he showed the twitch and the speed that we needed,” Leipold said of DeBose.
Although he has only played in two college seasons — DeBose appeared in all 13 Virginia Tech games in 2018 as a redshirt freshman and then missed the 2019 season due to injury — this fall will mark his fifth year on a roster with a Power Five program.
As it turned out, Leipold didn’t even meet the former Hokies backup in person until DeBose got to KU earlier this summer. But the coach was glad the relationship the staff already had established with the veteran D-end made it possible for DeBose to come to Lawrence.
One of three experienced defensive linemen to join the Jayhawks as a transfer this summer, DeBose, like former Buffalo players Eddie Wilson and Ronald McGee, will have two years of eligibility remaining thanks to the blanket waiver for an extra year of eligibility issued by the NCAA in 2020, Leipold said.
The new KU coach said he and his staff wanted to use the portal to bring in players with multiple years of eligibility.
“That can always change,” Leipold noted of their approach with transfers. “But right now we want it to be that it can be someone who’s going to be part of the program.”