The notion that one of the nation's most gifted high school football players would willingly forego an opportunity to play at Alabama, Florida State or LSU for a program with two wins across the past two seasons seems implausible. But at the moment, that is precisely what Devonta Jason, a 5-star wide receiver from the West Bank in New Orleans, is poised to do.
Rather than commit to Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Georgia or Florida, Jason is committed to Kansas. Not Auburn, Miami, Ole Miss or Texas A&M. Not Arkansas, Arizona, Missouri, TCU or the plethora of other football meccas that have showed interest.
"People were asking me if they gave me something," Jason says of his decision. "Everybody was going crazy. They wanted to know what I was thinking. I'm just going to be me."
Fans, recruiting analysts and coaches alike have explored the aftershocks of Jason's choice. Upon hearing he had committed to Kansas, assistant coaches competing for his services were in awe.
"Kansas," one coach texted him. "Really?"
Others have followed suit in questioning his decision, while fans of SEC programs and beyond have shared their thoughts on his historically unique decision. Rivals currently ranks Jason as the nation's 22nd-best overall prospect in the class of 2018 and the No. 4 wideout. He was only recently upgraded to a 5-star.
"I've been doing this long enough to know that this is a unicorn," says Mike Farrell, national recruiting director for Rivals. "I've never seen one in person, and I don't know if they exist. If this sticks, it will prove that they do."
Farrell has essentially covered college football recruiting since it was modernized into a business, seeing firsthand the notable outliers over the past few decades. But even he struggles to find a comparison to Jason. Even though it's only a verbal pledge for now, few star prospects have ever made this kind of statement at any point in the recruiting process.
Last season, Jason helped lead Landry-Walker to a 5A state championship. He finished the year with 51 catches for 1,018 yards and 17 touchdowns. He also scored five two-point conversions.
Standing 6'3" and 217 pounds, Jason possesses NFL-caliber size for a receiver. For much of his youth, he played other positions because of his stature. He started on the offensive line before switching over to defensive line and eventually tight end. When his coaches split him out wide to catch passes and saw how he was able to use his body, he stopped changing positions.
"He's big and physical and has a great catch radius," Farrell added. "The one question we still have about him is his flat-out speed. We had a debate about him while making him a 5-star, and that was the one thing. Is he fast enough?"
Because he's had significant playing time on varsity since he was a freshman, Jason's recruitment began early. Having grown up a short drive from LSU's campus, he always viewed the Tigers as his dream school.
After a successful freshman season, LSU was the first program to offer Jason a scholarship. He committed in November 2015, although he eventually decommitted last July, overwhelmed at the pace of his recruiting process and how he was suddenly flooded with interest. For a while, he took a break from the process entirely.
All told, Jason now holds roughly 30 offers. Alabama still regularly checks in, hoping to sway his commitment. LSU head coach Ed Orgeron still communicates with him from time to time, as he has not given up on the possibility of keeping one of Louisiana's own from leaving the state.
Others such as Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Georgia and Florida State still feel they have a shot as well.
"He has every offer you can almost imagine," Landry-Walker head coach Emanuel Powell says. "You name the program and he probably has an offer from it."
Currently, however, Jason is committed to a program that has not won more than three games in a season since 2009. Over the past six years, Kansas has won a combined 11 games. For perspective, Alabama has yet to win fewer than 11 games in a season during that span.
"It really didn't get to me," Jason says. "I know they went 2-10 and 0-12 the year before. It's really not about what school you go to or being a big fish in a big pond. It's about your future and making an impact on your life. It's about being known and recognized."
Earlier this year, Jason and teammate Corione Harris, a 4-star defensive back garnering substantial interest of his own, took the nearly 900-mile trip to Lawrence, Kansas, to see what the school had to offer.
While most prospects would disregard the Jayhawks' offer and throw it in a pile, they did not. This, if anything, marked the opportunity to be different. And perhaps even more significant, it emphasized someone could be comfortable and content in a place outside of the football norm.
His mother, Tamara, joined him. Like Jason, she also fell in love.
Jason spent time with head coach David Beaty, who outlined his vision for the future and how Jason would fit in. He sat down with new offensive coordinator Doug Meacham, one of the brightest young offensive minds in the sport, and watched film of what his role would be in the new offense.
Tony Hull, a former New Orleans high school coach and now the running backs coach at Kansas, played a significant role in making the connection in the first place.
"Being as far away as I was," Jason says, "it still felt like home."
Without hesitation, the two friends with more than 60 scholarship offers between them committed to a program seeking a spark.
Content with everything they were sold, they committed to play for a team that has been the Big 12's doormat since before they entered high school. They bought into the future of Kansas, which is far brighter than it's been in some time thanks in large part to Beaty and the staff he's assembled.
But even now, Jason still fields calls and texts from coaches wanting to see where he stands—inquiries to see just how committed he is. He plans to take his official visits this fall during his senior season and has by no means shut down this line of communication.
His current head coach, who has more than 10 players on his current roster with Division I offers, is taking similar inquiries as well. While initially surprised by Jason's decision given his robust list of offers, Powell has made it a point to not sway him one way or another.
"All you can do is support your player and hope he makes the best decision for him and his family," Powell says.
With a season still to play, Jason plans to graduate high school early and officially sign with a team in December—college football's new early signing period. If all goes accordingly, he will be enrolled with his future school come January. Right now, that school is Kansas.
"Maybe he is the one guy who will buck this trend, but it would be a lot considering the offers he has." Farrell says. "Let's say Kansas struggles again and LSU competes for the SEC West when the season comes around. Will this stick? That's the question that I have, and I really don't have the answer."
To sway him, Jason says it will require a perfect match: a mix of comfort and offensive promise that can trump what Kansas has presented thus far. As unusual as that might seem, this is the current standard.
Tamara will be have to swayed as well.
In the meantime, Kansas has taken advantage of the momentum. On Tuesday, it picked up the commitment of 3-star defensive end Miles Emery, the top defensive end in the state. The program is assembling one of the best classes in its history, thanks in large part to what Jason stands for.
Many assume this class will unravel and Jason will ultimately sign with an Alabama or an LSU. Balance will eventually be restored within the recruiting world and things will return to normal.
Perhaps that is the case. Or maybe Jason is a unicorn after all.