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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Back in action: Battle-tested Toben Opurum making up for lost time

Kansas University’s Toben Opurum has made the switch from running back to linebacker in 2010. Coach Turner Gill announced Thursday night that Opurum had sprained an ankle, making him questionable for the game against Georgia Tech.

Kansas University’s Toben Opurum has made the switch from running back to linebacker in 2010. Coach Turner Gill announced Thursday night that Opurum had sprained an ankle, making him questionable for the game against Georgia Tech.

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Because he carried the ball 133 times, rushed for 554 yards and scored nine touchdowns in 2009, people may have a small misconception about Kansas University running back Toben Opurum.

“I think people forget that I’m only 19 years old because I had success my freshman year,” Opurum said Monday at KU’s annual media day. “This is only my second year here at Kansas. But I think it helps that I’ve had a year here, played in the Big 12 and faced heavy competition.”

Oklahoma, Texas and Nebraska may have been tough. But those schools are nothing compared to the battle Opurum has tackled during the past eight months.

Hampered by an ankle injury that limited him to just two carries during the final two games of 2009, Opurum entered rehab mode while the Jayhawks attempted to reload. Gone was the coach who continually gave Opurum the rock and in to take his place was a new coach, Turner Gill, who brought a new offense, a new coaching staff, new opportunities and a reputation as a player’s coach with him.

As Opurum’s teammates did their best to make good first impressions, the sophomore from Plano, Texas, limped through practices. While Angus Quigley, Rell Lewis and the rest of the KU running backs ran drills full speed this spring, Opurum fought like mad just to make it through them. The result was a depth chart that did not include Opurum’s name anywhere on it.

“I was kind of in a bad situation with the new staff coming in and me being fresh off injuring my ankle,” Opurum said. “At the same time, though, I can’t really use that as an excuse. The spring is gone, we’re in training camp right now and that’s my opportunity, so I’m going to take advantage of it.”

As far as Opurum’s concerned, the next step has nothing to do with rehashing the heroics associated with his 2009 season.

“I felt like I had some success here and there but, overall, if you lose seven games straight (the way KU did in finishing 5-7) you can’t really feel pleased with anything,” he said. “I could’ve rushed for 2,000 yards, but if we lost seven games straight, I can’t be satisfied with the effort I gave.”

“What I did last year, that’s gone with everybody else,” he added. “So I gotta show this new staff what I can do.”

Maturity is the one skill Opurum would like to showcase most. At 6-foot-1, 240 pounds, Opurum is still the same bullish running back who is best between the tackles and when he’s able to use his size to his advantage. He likes contact, does his best to absorb it and almost always finds the extra effort that helps him fall forward.

Finally, after 15 practices this spring in which almost none of that was possible, Opurum feels as if he’s back to his old self.

“I’m running pretty good right now,” he said. “I’m done with my rehab so there’s really no limitations on what I can do. I’m just out here working hard. The running back competition is just making each and every one of us better each week.”

Many of Opurum’s teammates have been impressed by the way last year’s leading rusher has come back from the injury.

“He’s been doing real well,” Quigley said. “He came back after the spring and he’s been working. I think he’s making a lot of progress in scrimmages and practice. He thinks he’s a little lighter, but he looks about the same, still a big guy.”

Added junior receiver Daymond Patterson: “He was thrown out there (last year) and he showed he could play. We’ve never had any problems with him in the program as far as working, and that’s what he’s come out here to do. He’s the same back, he’s still the same Toben you all saw last year, and he’s going to be even better this year.”

Opurum’s long road toward a return was just one of a handful of stories that emerged from media day, all of which shared the common theme that has come through since Gill took over the program.

“Our guys have done a great job coming together as a team and I see a great bond forming,” Gill said. “We are moving ahead in the right direction and have been moving well in the first week of practice ... I have seen progress that was made over the summer. Obviously, we still have things we need to improve on before the first game, but I know we still have some time.”

The Jayhawks open the season Sept. 4 at home against North Dakota State.

Comments

KU_Alumn_2000 9 years, 9 months ago

Our offense could be bruising to the opposition. Playing smashmouth football could work toward the strengths of this team when you consider Toben, Angus, and Bourbon. We could run big bruising RB's in and out all day long and wear out the opposing defense. We have the offensive line to do this as well.

I'm extremely concerned about our defense now. WIth Huldon and Travis Stephens out...these guys are dropping like flies...and we were thin to begin with. Could be a long frustrating year if our defense struggles to stop anyone. Torbush has his hands full.

Tony Bandle 9 years, 9 months ago

An added bonus would be time clock management [a polite way of saying we keep our defense off the field as much as possible.] One, it does not overexpose a team weakness and, two, the defense will remain freaher and possibly gain an edge on opponents offenses during the latter stages of the game.

Mark Lindrud 9 years, 9 months ago

This is why we need our running game even more. We need to win the time of possession battle so we can give our defense time to rest. We have the chance to have a very good offense, but we need to help our defense out so it can focus on making turnovers and big stops instead of being on the field all the time and tired.

Tony Bandle 9 years, 9 months ago

Sorry, baldjedi...I typed in before I read your comment which was exactly what I was trying to say......great minds...huh!!

JJHawq 9 years, 9 months ago

you'll notice our season turned when Toben stopped getting the ball...

Benjamin Piehler 9 years, 9 months ago

true that jjhawq, ill take toben opurum over jake sharp any day.

Jeff Coffman 9 years, 9 months ago

I asked the question before whether anyone thought Quigley was going to be the starter.

Now I know for sure he won't be, Oporum or Bourbon will ultimately be the starter.

Ron Prichard 9 years, 9 months ago

“I could’ve rushed for 2,000 yards, but if we lost seven games straight, I can’t be satisfied with the effort I gave.”

I love this quote. I love having players that place the team above individual accomplishments. I hope Oporum comes back with a vengeance.

number1jayhawker 9 years, 9 months ago

Don't be so tough on jake Sharp. He was injured early last year, but played through it to help the team. When he was healthy, he was probably the fastest guy on the team. Ask Daymond Patterson.

lonestar90 9 years, 9 months ago

I truly believe that TO is going to surprise people this year. Remember a year ago when everyone was in love with him like they are now with BB? Then as soon as a new recruit comes along, (don't get me wrong BB and Sims are great backs), people tend to get caught up to much in recruiting rankings instead of proven production. If you look back to TO's first career start against Southern Miss last season, he was in the entire game, scored two touchdowns (his hands are a very valuable asset), and if I recall was the first running back to break the century mark against them in almost 9 or 10 games. I have personally seen and talked to TO and he is in some of the best physical shape and conditioning he has ever been in.

Being a bigger back that is the best north south runner on the team, he is suited perfectly for a power running game with a lead blocker in front. It was hard for him to get up to full speed as fast last year because he normally had to come flat footed out of the gun making his first half step or so east-west. Coming out of the I formation he will be able to get up to full speed faster and be that much harder to bring down. While there are many who only see a short-yardage power back in Opurum, he has solid/underrated speed for his size which will only improve as he continues his KU career, and is very agile for a big man. I truly believe given the chance in a run oriented offense, he will be able to break down the defensive front 7 the first half and will be able to break off the long runs in the third and fourth quarter.

Rivethead 9 years, 9 months ago

Your first paragraph is some of the sanest writing on this board in months. Well done!

I'm not as confident as you in TO's ability to break down the defensive front 7.....I guess being in the stands at the Texas game and seeing their D damn near snap TO into two pieces has jaded my mind. That kid is lucky he's returning to football after that punishment.

lonestar90 9 years, 9 months ago

Thanks Rivet...and ya his ankle injury was nasty but that was just a freak accident I believe he can take the pounding and wear the d down...heck his first run in that game almost went all the way...if he did not get injured would we even be having this discussion?

JBurtin 9 years, 9 months ago

He definitely has good speed for a guy his size. Unfortunately he just isn't faster than the average outside linebacker.

Don't get me wrong as I was the first guy to freak out on the message boards about the fact that we were recruiting him nearly a year before he signed with us. I think he has great ability and can be a huge asset to the team, but a coach definitely has to work within his skill set. He's great up the gut and does a terrific job if you can get him the ball in the flat instead of relying on him to turn the corner. I would also suspect that his size could help him to be a pretty solid blocker.

He signed with Kansas because we were one of the few teams that were willing to let him play halfback instead of fullback. I suspect part of his decision was due to the fact that Kanas didn't use a fullback at all, and he would have little danger of having a coach try to change his position. However, I really think that someone needs to sit down with him and ask him if he wants to be a pretty good college halfback, or a future NFL fullback.

lonestar90 9 years, 9 months ago

He did sign with KU because of the opportunity to play running back but they were not the only ones willing to let him play rb. In fact there were only a few schools who wanted him as a fb.

Christopher Hauser 9 years, 9 months ago

we are going to use some two back sets this year from what the coaching staff has said, anyone want to speculate who will be the full back in the two back set?

JBurtin 9 years, 9 months ago

Most likely Stephen Foster to start, but if Opurum starts losing a bit of playing time to faster players I could see him competing for some time at FB as well just to get on the field.

Rivethead 9 years, 9 months ago

Is Foster out of Gill's doghouse yet?

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