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KU seniors say it's been fun to watch football support grow

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Kansas senior linebacker Arist Wright and senior safety Darrell Stuckey have seen the development of the Jayhawks' football program from the beginning.

Both players redshirted as freshmen during the 2005 season when coach Mark Mangino culminated the season with a victory over Houston in the Fort Worth Bowl.

Before that time, attention on the Kansas football program was almost non-existent, the players said.

"I'd go out to the malls and shops and not see any apparel or gear anywhere," Wright said. "It was all basketball, all the time. People used to see us and think we were on the basketball team."

But after winning three bowl games in the past four years and making the first back-to-back bowl appearances in the 119-year history of the program, the change in attention on the Kansas football program is striking to Stuckey.

"Before, you'd never see a Kansas football jersey anywhere, unless it was game day in Lawrence," Stuckey said. "But that's changing."

The most visible sign of Kansas' football support was when Stuckey attended several Kansas men's basketball games after the Jayhawks' Insight Bowl victory over Minnesota last season.

"Now people are coming up to us and telling us how excited they are in the football team and how they wish the season was starting," Stuckey said. "It's been great to be a part of all that."

While football might never overstep basketball at Kansas -- it is, after all, the birthplace of the game -- Mangino's program has carved out some impressive growth in recent seasons.

Excitement in the program has arguably never been higher than the upcoming season, when 14 returning starters have helped make the Jayhawks a fashionable pick to contend for their first Big 12 North title.

Seeing the program and comparing it to where it was when he arrived at Kansas has been one of the most rewarding parts of Stuckey's college career.

"It was a little weird talking about football around here in March. But we can only make it more balanced by adding another top sport here," Stuckey said. "To be here and be a part of witnessing the growth of the football program has really been something to be proud to be a part of."