Offseason anticipation almost over

KU safety Darrell Stuckey (25) breaks up a pass Saturday, Sept. 6, 2008 during the Jayhawks home game against Louisiana Tech.

KU safety Darrell Stuckey (25) breaks up a pass Saturday, Sept. 6, 2008 during the Jayhawks home game against Louisiana Tech.

Friday, September 4, 2009

There was a time, not too long ago, when the Kansas University football team’s offseason flew by with barely a peep.

Players disappeared, coaches went into hibernation and talk of offseason recruiting was left strictly to the basketball junkies.

That’s no longer the case. In today’s world, a place in which the Jayhawks lay legitimate claim to being Big 12 North contenders and bowl appearances pile up with regularity, the offseason has become a different animal altogether.

“From when I first stepped foot on campus here, a lot of times those offseasons would fly by and you’d find yourself in late August just like that,” senior wideout Kerry Meier said. “But now, when you get to consecutive bowl games and you start winning bowl games, the anticipation grows not only throughout the community but with the team as well. It seems like the offseasons are a long, long time, and they do feel like it, but we’re ready to go.”

Perhaps the biggest reason for the slow pace between seasons is the excitement and expectations that have become as much a part of KU football as waving the wheat or watching a game from the hill. No longer do fans — or players and coaches — dread what’s ahead. Instead, they look forward to it, longingly awaiting that next chance to take on Texas or tackle the Sooners.

The Jayhawks have both perennial powers on their schedule this season, but first must deal with Saturday’s season opener against Northern Colorado.

For most Jayhawks, the thrill of finally having the offseason behind them simply bolsters the excitement surrounding opening week.

“It’s been awhile, seeing how I got maybe a week-and-a-half of summer vacation,” said freshman wideout Bradley McDougald, who committed to KU in March. “June 6 we had to report, and then we immediately started classes. Starting then, I felt like I would never make it to game week, but finally it’s here. Our team’s coming together, depth charts are finally assembled, and we’re just basically getting the troops ready to go.”

For a small minority, including junior defensive back Chris Harris, the arrival of yet another season opener only adds to the feeling that careers are flying by.

“Every offseason has gone by so fast,” Harris said. “This is the fastest one yet. It seems like I just got here yesterday.”

Both McDougald’s anticipation and Harris’ fly-by make sense according to one Jayhawk. Consider senior safety Darrell Stuckey’s roller-coaster account of what it feels like to go through an offseason.

“In the winter, it seems so slow,” Stuckey said. “The workouts go by fast, but it just seems so far away from the season. But when we get into spring ball, it reminds you that’s it’s coming up faster than you think it is. Then, when we get into the summer, that’s when everything picks up, everything starts moving so fast, and you think it’s going to get here so fast. Then when we get into two-a-days, everything slows down again.

“It’s kind of like, the season’s here, but what’s taking it so long? The days go by fast, but the camp itself goes by so slow, especially when school starts. Then it goes by even slower.”

The Jayhawks combat the offseason doldrums in a variety of ways. Many players hang out together off the field, something that kicker Jacob Branstetter said helps build team chemistry. Others, like true freshmen McDougald and Toben Opurum, focus on sharpening the mental aspect of their games through film and study sessions. Even KU coach Mark Mangino has a hand in helping pass the time between seasons. Mangino’s focus is on making sure his players stay humble and hungry.

“During training camp, coach brought in alumni players who played here when this program wasn’t what it is now,” McDougald said. “He was just trying to get us to realize what the players had to put in to get to this point. This didn’t happen overnight. Coach has really humbled a lot of us, especially the freshmen.”

Thanks to a senior class that’s loaded with talent, experience and, perhaps most importantly, top-tier leadership, the Jayhawks don’t expect to need much humbling when game day finally rolls around.

“We’re excited to see some different defenses and some different colors and get back onto the field at Memorial Stadium,” Meier said.

Added Stuckey: “Now that it’s game week, it’s like, ‘Dang, we’re here already.’ It seems like just yesterday when we were in winter conditioning playing tug-of-war against the offense.”