Originally published August 24, 2009 at 12:00a.m., updated August 24, 2009 at 04:05p.m.
Reporters crowded around Todd Reesing at the annual Kansas University football Media Day. Ditto for Kerry Meier, Darrell Stuckey and Jake Sharp. They’re men in demand. Inquiring minds want to know what they think about this upcoming season full of promise, this additional proof that Kansas is so much more than a basketball school now.
And then there is sophomore Chris Heinz. He wasn’t in attendance. Nobody requested him. Nobody ever will. If Kerry Meier is Russell Crowe, Chris Heinz is the extra crossing the street. Heinz is a preferred walk-on, invited to play football at Kansas, but not granted a scholarship.
Nobody ever will write a screen play about Heinz because “Rudy” already has been made, and one film on a walk-on football player suffices until the end of time.
Heinz never has been on the field for a play during a Kansas football game, yet he’s an important part of his school’s team. Every teammate was reminded of that when they walked into the locker room for a week last season. His picture was on display along with the rest of the weekly honorees after the Sam Houston State game in 2008. Heinz was named scout team defensive player of the week for mimicking SHSU’s middle linebacker so well.
“Seeing that, it makes you want to work for it again,” Heinz said of his picture being displayed in the locker room.
It’s not his sole motivation. He thinks he could make a decent wedge buster on the kickoff team, so he strives to get onto the depth chart. In high school, he said, he was on the field for every play on offense, defense and special teams.
“When the wedges form, you go blow up as many guys as you can,” he said, then shared what else he liked so much about filling the wedge-buster role.
“Just that feeling you get, just that rush. During the week, you build up all this anger, and it’s just good to let it loose.”
It hit a little closer to home for Heinz when 101⁄2 years ago a pair of teenagers chose a far more destructive way to unleash anger. Heinz is from Littleton, Colo., a town that gained infamy with the shootings at nearby Columbine High. His elementary school was on break when the tragedy occurred, and he heard of it on the golf course, when his mother received a call from a friend. They immediately packed their clubs into the car and drove home.
“I watched it on TV that day until I went to bed,” Heinz remembered. “It was intense. I was just so shocked something like that could happen so close to home. ... I played basketball against Columbine a lot, and it was just so spooky when you’d walk down the hallways at Columbine. After that happened, we did a bunch of lock-down drills in school. We would turn off the lights, and we had to sit on the ground, and for a half hour nobody would say a word.”
He prepared for something he never had to experience, fortunately. Every day in practice, he prepares for an opportunity that might never come.
“I love the competition,” said Heinz, who has a brother who played football at Northwestern, another at Tulsa.
Competing daily in practice is what makes football teams better. Heinz and the rest of the walk-ons deserve credit for making Kansas football better.
• A previous version of this story contained an incorrect opponent. The KU football team defeated Sam Houston State in 2008.