FRISCO (AP) – Kansas running back Khalil Herbert still isn’t comfortable talking publicly about his connection to the Florida school shooting five months after it happened.
Herbert attended Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School through his junior year before going elsewhere for his final football season. Despite the move, Herbert remained close to one of his coaches, Aaron Feis, also a security specialist who tried to shield students from bullets and was among the 17 killed in the Valentine’s Day massacre.
“Coach Feis taught me a lot about the game,” Herbert said Monday, the first of two Big 12 media days in the Dallas area. “Taught me to believe in myself and my abilities. He’s a huge part of why I’m here right now. It’s still tough to talk about.”
That’s how most of the Kansas junior’s answers ended through repeated questions as different reporters cycled through the interview area, unaware of how many times Herbert had been asked about the shooting.
The questions came because coach David Beaty brought it up during his opening remarks, later making a point to say he didn’t want to go into too much detail out of respect for Herbert.
The Jayhawks worked with the NCAA to pay for Herbert to make the trip home for Feis’ funeral, and Beaty was asked how he tried to handle the sensitive topic once Herbert returned to the team.
“We were there for him,” Beaty said. “When he returned, we have a thing we do every week on Wednesday and it’s a thing we call, ‘Triple H.’ It’s guys that get up, they talk about their hero, their hardship (and highlight). Our guys were sitting on the edge of their seats because he had not spoken about it yet. That was a powerful day.”
With that, Beaty glanced at a member of the media relations staff, taking the cue that he had said enough, perhaps too much.
“He’s still in the grieving process,” Beaty said.
Herbert got some football questions, too. After all, he had a career day with 291 yards and a 67-yard touchdown against West Virginia, a showing that accounts for 34 percent of his career yardage over two seasons.
That big day also was a 56-34 loss to the Mountaineers , the start of the second winless Big 12 season in three years under Beaty. Kansas went 1-11 last year and is 3-33 under the former Texas high school coach.
The conversation kept coming back to Feis, and Herbert would open up a little when asked what made their relationship special.
“He was always driving around in his golf cart, giving me rides to class, giving everybody rides to class,” Herbert said. “He was really friendly. If I ever needed anybody to talk to outside of football, he was there.”
Herbert said he didn’t know many Stoneman Douglas students because it had been nearly three years since he attended the school. But it was still hard for him to watch news coverage.
“It’s hard to like sum it all up,” he said. “It’s like, where I grew up, it’s home. So it’s kind of rough to look at that at be like, ‘Everybody knows it now.'”
Kansas receiver Steven Sims Jr. said it was easy for teammates to see how the shooting affected Herbert. And Sims believes all the Jayhawks will share a bond when they take the field in 2018.
“It’s more fuel to his fire, just to go harder for his coach,” Sims said. “I know he’s up above watching us. I know we’re all going to go hard for Khalil and every one of our brothers on the team.”
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