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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Focused and ready

Jake Sharp is finally the undisputed No. 1 RB for the Jayhawks

Kansas running back Jake Sharp tears up the field during the second quarter of the Insight Bowl Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2008 at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona.

Kansas running back Jake Sharp tears up the field during the second quarter of the Insight Bowl Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2008 at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona.

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KU's offensive cupboard far from bare

Over the past two seasons, the KU offense has been outstanding. This season, KU is hoping to keep rolling.

Jake Sharp is locked in. There’s no doubting that, as the running back sits in a padded chair, surrounded by reporters at Kansas University’s media day. He looks straight ahead, as if zeroing in on a target, and rarely blinks.

When Sharp talks about football, the dialogue is serious.

“He’s all about football,” fellow running back Toben Opurum said of Sharp. “He was actually my roommate for a little while at the beginning of training camp. We had a meeting, and right after we were done with our meeting, we came back, and he was ready to fall asleep. I was like, ‘Man!’ It was early.”

Sharp usually hits the sheets by 10 p.m. during the season. He’s awake — and focused — at 7 a.m the next day.

“Jake Sharp is a determined young guy,” KU coach Mark Mangino said. “Football is his whole life. He eats it, sleeps it. He is one of the first guys out every day. This is important to him. I’m sure he dreads the day when he can’t play football anymore. It will be a tough day for him because he enjoys it.”

To understand Sharp’s focus is to understand how he diligently answered the questions that surrounded him on the football field last season.

After Kansas went 12-1 and won the Orange Bowl in the 2007 season — a year in which Sharp shared carries with senior Brandon McAnderson and rushed for 821 yards and seven scores — Sharp seemed like the front-runner for the bulk of the carries in 2008. Instead, the Jayhawks brought in junior college transfer Jocques Crawford and increased the workload of Angus Quigley.

In the first four games last season, Sharp averaged only 6.5 carries per game. His highest rushing output in any of those four games was 29 yards.

KU coaches quickly learned Crawford wasn’t cut out for the job, and Quigley seemed to be more effective in short yardage and goal-line situations.

Sharp’s presence began to be felt as Big 12 play began. In KU’s first conference game, Sharp carried 19 times and torched Iowa State for 186 total yards in Ames. Later in the season, he obliterated Kansas State for 257 total yards and four scores at home.

The starting running back picture became clear. Sharp deserved to be the No. 1 guy. By the end of the year, Sharp compiled 860 yards and 12 touchdowns. Not counting the first four games, he averaged 17.7 carries and 86 yards on the ground.

In the offseason, Crawford left the program and Quigley changed positions to linebacker.

It took awhile, but Sharp finally enters the season as the undisputed No. 1 running back at KU.

Despite all the talk in previous years about Sharp being a complementary back, or Sharp lacking the size (5-foot-10, 190 pounds) to be an every-down runner, the Salina native remains unfazed. As a senior leader on a team trying to win its first outright Big 12 North title in school history, he doesn’t care much about the doubters. He’s already silenced them.

“I feel that more than ever, the team’s counting on me to produce and help them out, and I like that,” Sharp said. “I’ll do anything not to let people down, especially my teammates. That’s a feeling collectively. It’s not about so-and-so and whatever they want to do. It’s about our team and everybody’s going to lay it on the line for the team, and I think if that happens, we’re going to have a good shot.”

Now, the question is who will spell Sharp? KU has options — junior Daniel Porter, sophomore Rell Lewis and freshman Opurum — but none has registered a carry in a Kansas uniform.

“All you hear about is Jake. And Jake is doing a really good job,” Opurum said. “But I think as far as depth, we have a lot of unproven talent. You know, a lot of people haven’t heard of us or seen us play at the Division I level yet, but I think the talent is definitely there. Whenever we get on the field, people will see.”

Kansas ranked 83rd in the country last year (ninth in Big 12) with 126.77 rushing yards per game. When the Jayhawks featured McAnderson and Sharp in 2007, they ranked 31st in the nation with 188.77 yards per game.

It’s unknown how prominently offensive coordinator Ed Warinner will feature the No. 2 running back in the offense.

This much is clear, though: Sharp is the No. 1 option.

And in arguably his last season playing football — Sharp is considered a long shot for the NFL — he’ll likely do anything to stay on the field. It’s certainly evident in the speedster’s no-nonsense running style.

“It’s a realization. That’s the reality of it,” Sharp said of possibly playing his last year of football. “So basically, the seniors, we want to go out there and give everything we have to this team and to this game and enjoy it. We’re blessed to have this opportunity. We’re blessed with abilities, and I feel like we’d let a lot of people down, including ourselves, if we didn’t go out and play this game the way it’s supposed to be played.”

Comments

gardenjay 4 years, 8 months ago

nschmi04 -

Well, I am more like Mr. Sharp - however, seriously, if they can't think of a use for Jake in the NFL what good is the NFL?

The Canadian league is a possibility, I had forgotten how successful we have been over there. There is also this German fascination with our football, so the larger towns there have teams. Then they would notice how good he is and probably sign him for a multi-million dollar soccer contract!

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bayareajhawk 4 years, 8 months ago

I admire Jake Sharp and think he is a very good college football player. I respect the way he represents the University and his home state. I can't wait to see him rush for 1,000 yards this year.

As for the NFL, I doubt that it is in his future. The MJD comparison is interesting in terms of height, but jayhawkfan96 is right to point out the weight difference. I was a grad student at UCLA when MJD was there and I saw him around campus a lot. He may be short but that guy is thick. I think his thighs are the size of Jake's torso.

Sproles is another little guy who plays running back in the NFL and is probably a better comparison. He is listed at 5'6" and 181 lbs. I hate to say this about a former Wildcat, but Sproles is probably a little better than Jake at bouncing off of tacklers. If Jake can bulk up a bit more and get more YAC this season, I think he would be a very similar player to Sproles and would have a chance at the NFL as a special-teams guy. Ugh, I can't believe I'm favorably comparing a Wildcat to Jake Sharp. Now I feel dirty.

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Scatterhawk 4 years, 8 months ago

Maurice Jones-Drew is the exception. Sports fans always love to point to the exception. Name the other small backs that have made it. Hell, look at Reggie Bush, bigger than Sharp- small for an NFL RB- but can't stay on the field cause he can't take the punishment. And Sharp isn't even a 1000 yard rusher in college. I love the kid, he's from my home town, and he's a damned good Jayhawk. He's not an NFL back. Though, I'd be happy to see him prove me wrong.

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Sparko 4 years, 8 months ago

The kid has hands, speed, and elusiveness. He has a shot--even as a kick returner. The Chiefs could use him this year. A break-out year is possible if he gets some blocks. What hurt him last year was how predictable Kansas became in the first half of the season. Sharp was the only run option when he appeared and teams stacked the box. Later, he was used more intelligently for play action and left unguarded in the pass lanes lit up the Big XII. Bruised ribs kept down his production though. That stretch where even the O-Line was dinged up put the hurt on him and Reesing.

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waywardJay 4 years, 8 months ago

Im Jim Leonhard can become amarketable free agent, Jake sharp can play in the NFL.... that's all im saying.

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jayhawkfan96 4 years, 8 months ago

waywardJay- I'll agree that little guys can get it done. But MJD, while being 3 inches shorter than Jake, outweighs him by almost 30 pounds. He's able to take a lot more abuse than Jake can. I do expect Jake to get some looks in the NFL as a free agent. He could be a good 3rd down back/returner eventually. You can't coach speed and guts.

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waywardJay 4 years, 8 months ago

three little words for you.....

Maurice, Jones, Drew.

If you think a little guy can't get it done. Think again.

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KU 4 years, 8 months ago

Speaking of Jake Sharpe.....My first impression--formed in person--was formed during an open practice the fall of Sharpe's freshman year. I tried to size him up and he couldn't have been more than 5'9 and 170 pounds. But that kid hit the line of scrimmage at full speed and had no fear of getting hit. He ran with reckless abandon. The thing I will always remember about Sharpe is that he is a fearless competitor.

Here's to a great senior season!

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Robert Brock 4 years, 8 months ago

There is always Canadian football, eh?

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Sean Rodger 4 years, 8 months ago

Sharp is ridiculous for his size! He wears number 1 for a reason - 1 is the starting role at running back, 1 is the starting number to get to 1,000 yards, and 1 is the start for 15 touchdowns or more this season....

Go and get it!

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DoubleDD 4 years, 8 months ago

All right Sharp, a running back that is hungry. I like it!!!

"I feel like we’d let a lot of people down, including ourselves, if we didn’t go out and play this game the way it’s supposed to be played."

Dude thats quote for the year. I don't get the NFL anymore they used to draft guys on heart and talent. Here we have Sharp who is a hard worker, dedicated to football, has speed that rivals the pros and the guy is a playmaker, but do you think the NFL will even take a look at him. Doubt it. No they rather draft somebody that fits the mold of a pro player. Some guy that never amounts to nothing but leads the league in brushes with the law.

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nschmi04 4 years, 8 months ago

Whoa! Take it easy Mrs. Sharp!

I don't believe this is Jake's last year either. Certainly there's a spot available in Canada for $100K a year.

Jake has been a pleasure to watch. We need more Kansas-born 'Hawks like him. A true legend of the state of Kansas.

Go get Crawford's 2K yards, Jake. We'll be watching.

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gardenjay 4 years, 8 months ago

Jake - I hope you try out for the NFL. Your body size never mattered to me, it was your amazing speed that makes you so cool to watch. Maybe I would watch the NFL if you were in the NFL. Plus, you hung in there for four years of college. Way to go man. Right there, you get huge points.

You are also amazing, because running back just might be the most difficult position in the game of football, and to my thinking at times it makes you a lot like the bullfighters in Spain. I don't envy you, but I admire you. Ole! Ole! Here's to a great season,

Rock Chalk.

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