Wednesday, July 22, 2009


The next McAnderson?

Freshman Toben Opurum, mature beyond his years, ready for next level

Running back Toben Opurum will join the Jayhawk football team next season.

Running back Toben Opurum will join the Jayhawk football team next season.


Freshman footballer Opurum ready to roll

There's a running back filling uniform No. 35 at Memorial Stadium -- but it's not Brandon McAnderson.

Teenagers generally don’t talk the way Toben Opurum talks. They haven’t lived long enough to exhibit the sort of wisdom Opurum revealed when answering questions before he handed out meals to the homeless in town recently with a few teammates.

A freshman running back from Plano, Texas, Opurum saw past the end of his nose, saw hype for its worthlessness and generally showed he already has a feel for what makes Kansas football a winning program under the direction of Mark Mangino.

If Opurum proves as mature and talented on the football field as he came across during an interview, Kansas has itself a future leader.

Opurum, who averaged 8.2 yards per carry as a senior, was listed at 6-foot-2 and 229 pounds in high school. He caught 31 passes and developed a reputation as a strong pass-blocker. Notre Dame and Purdue had him on campus for visits and offered him a scholarship. He was set to visit Arkansas and Florida, but once he came to Lawrence and was shown the ins and outs of the KU football program, he canceled the final two visits and committed to Kansas.

“A lot of coaches saw my size and immediately they were thinking, ‘OK, well, there’s a fullback,’ or ‘There’s a linebacker.’ But coach (Mark) Mangino, coach (David) Beaty, they realized that I could run the ball, so that was a lot of the reason why I came here,” Opurum said. “I could play running back still.”

It’s easy to tell a high school athlete he will stay at his preferred position in college. Quarterbacks who project as tight ends routinely are told that and believe it. The coaches who would land Opurum’s signature on a letter of intent needed to do more than tell him the right things. They needed to show him and show him they did. During his recruiting visit, Opurum watched film of Brandon McAnderson, KU’s former featured running back built like a fullback.

“When they recruited me that’s the first thing they told me about, Brandon McAnderson and how he ran and how they wanted me to fill the spot that he left open,” Opurum said.

He wore No. 35 for Plano East High and will wear it for KU. He saw enough film of McAnderson, who wore 35 in college, to draw conclusions about what made him successful.

“The fact is he’s real smart, he’s real football smart,” Opurum said. “He knows he’s not the fastest dude on the field, but he knows exactly how to get himself in position to make plays and knows exactly where he needs to be going, so I definitely like that about him.”

McAnderson worked as a paraprofessional and assistant football coach at Lawrence High last school year. He said he wants to give his NFL dream one more go this year and then, if he can’t catch on, will pursue another career, perhaps trying to land an entry-level college football coaching job. His understanding of the game makes him a natural for teaching the sport and his directness as a communicator gives him excellent potential as a recruiter. He sounds excited about watching Opurum back up Jake Sharp.

Told of Opurum’s assessment of him on film, McAnderson said, “He’s thinking the right way.”

McAnderson said he has watched Opurum’s highlight video online.

“His size and speed are undeniable,” McAnderson said. “Size and speed are usually things that translate well to college.”

Usually, but as was shown in the cases of Angus Quigley and Jocques Crawford, usually doesn’t mean always. McAnderson showed such a great feel for the position when running at Kansas, so it’s worth wondering what he’ll be looking for early in Opurum’s career to see if he has the intangibles it takes to run the football well against defenses loaded with big and fast players.

“The primary thing would be decisiveness,” McAnderson said. “Being able to move at a pace and make decisions on the move. What I look for is decisiveness. If you hesitate or second-guess your cuts, you miss opportunities to make a 15-yard run on the same play that if you just barrel your head in and run you would get three yards. The offensive line could be producing and performing well but because you hesitate no one can see that.”

Crawford showed great speed last summer for a man his size, which led to great expectations that never were fulfilled.

“That’s the first thing I noticed about Jocques, he couldn’t make a decision,” McAnderson said. “I had heard he had everything, all the skills, but he couldn’t put them together. The biggest thing is to be patient, make the right decisions, find a way to get through there.”

Opurum was decisive when making a college choice and to hear him talk about the KU football program is to believe he did his homework. The chance to be used as a featured running back played a big part in his decision, but he is fully aware that playing the position for Mangino entails far more than tucking the football under his arm.

“A lot of guys can only do one thing, but I’m a lot more versatile,” he said. “I can do multiple things when I get to a defender, so I think that’s one of my biggest strengths. I understand why schools would see my size and say, ‘There’s a fullback.’ I’m actually a pretty good blocker, but I definitely think my pass-blocking is better than my run-blocking.”

Listen to how Opurum evaluated quarterback Todd Reesing, Sharp and Mangino and see if you don’t think he comes across as a very mature freshman.

On Reesing: “I think the thing that impressed me most about him was his pocket presence. He knows where he is at all times in the pocket and he knows how to get around and make extended plays. With the size that I bring and the style of play that Reesing has — he moves around a lot, you’ve got to be able to protect him — I think I’ll be able to help out and protect him.”

On Sharp: “His speed is the first thing you notice. He’s probably the fastest guy on the team. His speed’s definitely impressive, but he has more than that. He’s tough, too.”

On his own status as a highly regarded recruit: “A lot of times a player’s recruitment doesn’t always tell how he’s going to pan out on the field. I think coach Mangino and his crew, they have a knack for finding players who fit what they want and they’ll be able to play with that. They don’t need to find high-profile recruits. I don’t think that really matters. That’s what coach Mangino’s strength is. He can see how to use a player to his best assets. He doesn’t just go off what the recruiting file says. He’ll take a player and put him in the place to make the best contribution he can.”

Every time the guy moves his lips he sounds like a winner.


Kman_blue 10 years, 6 months ago

I agree, you have to like the things he says and the way he carries himself off the field. He can certainly talk the talk and he's got the talent and size and smarts to walk the walk. I'm excited to see him out on the field!

John Brown 10 years, 6 months ago

I am so ready for football season to start. I hope this kid runs like McAnderson. We really missed that instinct and power last year. McAnderson always extended the drive and worn down defenses.

Jonathan Allison 10 years, 6 months ago

You've gotta love that we constantly try to tab freshman as 'the next so-and-so'. Toben Oporum is the next Brandon McAnderson. Tyshawn Taylor is the next Mario Chalmers. Quintrell Thomas was the next Darnell Jackson.

Hopefully Toben will have the opportunity to craft his own legacy at KU. B-Mac had to wait till his 5th year in the uniform till he was able to flourish in the spotlight. If Oporum is as good as we all hope that he is, then he will split time with Sharp this year and be the featured back for at least 2 or 3 more years. McAnderson led us to an Orange Bowl Championship. Maybe we'll see a Big 12 title before Oporum is done. Hey, K-State won one with Ell Roberson and Darren Spoles.

Ben Kane 10 years, 6 months ago

three cheers for a football article. Let's get pumped!

Jfanallways 10 years, 6 months ago

i love the attitude im excited to see what kind of player he becomes. from what this article offers i see a very special player that brings more than just height weight and speed he seems to have the intangibles that great players have. if he can get it all together on the field we may have somthing special but like plastic said its not time to annoint him yet.

rolo2383 10 years, 6 months ago

Awesome article. I can't wait for the season to start.

David Robinett 10 years, 6 months ago

I'm seeing his name in the ring of honor someday.

KGphoto 10 years, 6 months ago

Angus averaged over 5 yards a carry. He just couldn't hang on to it.

One thing you'll see in almost every successful back is a low pad level. In 2007 McAnderson kept his pads and center of gravity down tight. Jake Sharp does the same. Even when they are running in the second level of defenders. It allows them to execute those quick decisions and keep their momentum. It also presents a smaller package that's harder to tackle, and harder to take the ball from. That's why Angus wasn't as successful, IMO.

Toben may never get into that armadillo position. Not that he won't try. But he may also be the exception to the rule as Chris Brown was in 2001 for the Buffs. I was at that game and it was just absolutely crazy.

Opurum reminds me so much of Brown not only because of his relative size, but because he gets away with running upright. He is deceptively fast both in a straight line and with his cuts. Chris Brown always amazed me when got by a defender because he looked like he was in slow motion. But then there he was, standing in the endzone.

You're my guy Toben. You're gonna do great things.

Rick Arnoldy 10 years, 6 months ago

Cool. He turned down visit to a school that won 2 of the last 3 BCS championships after visiting Kansas.

truefan 10 years, 6 months ago

I really hope he pans out, because he is really easy to root for. If he is half as good as B-Mac he will be everyone's favorite player shortly.

justanotherfan 10 years, 6 months ago

I know we are a spread team now, but I would like to see us utilize more two back sets to help our run game out.

Last year especially, we struggled to run the ball at critical times. At first, I was putting blame on the backs and line, but the more I thought about it, part of the problem was that, although we spread teams out, the instant a team with good speed like OU or Texas recognized run, they could swarm to the football and overwhelm the point of attack. It's tough for a lineman to adjust a pick up a guy who's off the line and angling towards the back. It's much easier for a FB to use his vision to pick up the extra guy at the POA. We have seen time and again what Sharp can do when he gets to daylight. We need to get him to daylight more often. If we can play Opurum and Sharp together and BOTH are threats to run, that would seem to give us a better chance of keeping the defense off balance.

This isn't to say I don't like the spread. Our best offensive weapons are Briscoe and Meier, and I am not advocating that we keep that tandem from getting touches. I think that they NEED to get 15 touches a game between the two of them, minimum. My argument is that, if we add a solid running game to that, with the threat of Sharp or Opurum or whoever else getting 5-7 yards, or possibly breaking a big run, that will open up more single coverage for Briscoe and Meier, or maybe put Jonathan Wilson or others into favorable matchups.

My real concern, though, is the defense. Pass defense especially since we are in the Big XII and we will see three of the best passing teams in the country this year (OU, UT and Tech). That will start up front with the d-line getting pressure to take some of the heat off the secondary.

Likewise, we need a #1 corner to emerge. Someone that can take ownership of a side and dictate that side of the field. He doesn't have to be Aqib Talib or even Charles Gordon. If we just have a solid corner on one side to take away big plays, that will be a huge benefit.

pmohr13 10 years, 6 months ago


I was saying that all last year. We came out in the second half against OU and ran a two back set our first drive. Almost every play was a run and we scored in about five or six plays. then we completely abandoned the two back set after that drive for the rest of the season.

pmohr13 10 years, 6 months ago

my bad it was second drive. started with a pass then five consecutive rushes. four by sharp, 1 by briscoe. All but one over 10 yards. But we rarely saw the two back set again that season.

Here's the play-by-play

Joe Baker 10 years, 6 months ago

We have the talent and experience to win an outright B12 Championship and a solid bowl game. Let's bring some $$$ to KU through the football program!!


Go get 'em Mangino!!

hailtoku 10 years, 6 months ago

Toben Opurum and Elijah Robinson are my new favorite Jayhawks.

These guys are on board, and are FANS of the school. That's what you have to be. Crawford was never on board and was a problem from the get-go.

STLJHawk86 10 years, 6 months ago

Is it official that Crawford is no longer a member of the team? Several comments refer to him in the past tense but I never saw an official announcement.

rasta_meta 10 years, 6 months ago

Opurum seems like a very impressive young man, one that simply "gets it". Let's hope the impression is reality and that he is able to adapt to college life and the college game quickly without losing some of perspective he currently has. I have seen many guys come in with this perspective, have success, and it all goes to their head. I heard from one of our coaches that this is what has happened with one of current WR stars. I would hate to see it happen to Opurum as well.

Jayhawker413 10 years, 6 months ago

hailtoku.... Cmon if you are gonna call Elijah one of your favorite players you could at least get his name right


yovoy 10 years, 6 months ago

KG and JAF, excellent points, and you too p13.

b-mac didn't take 5 years. he played behind cornish, and did a great job of backing him up.

i've ALWAYS liked quigley. his story is a great one for future jayhawks of any sport.

briscoe runs pretty upright, but he breaks the "h" out of tackles. granted, he's not a back, but he makes the first 2 people miss him, or he's untouched on the cross, but he is shifty and he's rarely low unless he's in the grasp. it's like he's plastic man or something.

from what he says about his blocking and catching the ball, with his size, weight, and speed, he'll be an excellent threat to run that shovel pass. the d-backs won't have such an easy time snuffing it if they read it. they, bounce off, and t.o. gets it into high gear. lots of positive yardage w/ him and this thing. maybe. i don't remember running it much w/ b-mac. he was always getting little swing passes or screens, but i don't recall him getting shovel passes. did we run that with him?

i will tell you this: this kind knows he's cool, but he's not a jerk about it. doesn't put it in your face; knows he doesn't have to and knows that you know. he knows who he is, and here's hoping that he doesn't get that taken away from him by anyone or anything. he has the confidence and the wisdom that makes special players. when was the last time you didn't cringe when a kufb player was being interviewed? let me put it this way, when you see a mic in this kid's face, you probably move forward in your seat.

hawk316 10 years, 6 months ago

Sounds like we've got a terrific kid here. Really nice article, Mr. Keegan.

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