The Kansas University football team’s roster is filled with players and coaches who have been involved in some impressive rivalries throughout the years.
From head coach Turner Gill’s first-hand knowledge of the classic Nebraska-Oklahoma battles of the 1980s to offensive coordinator Chuck Long’s experience in the Iowa-Iowa State games, as a player, and the Oklahoma-Texas wars, as a coach, as well as several current players who have been through a few showdowns with Big 12 rivals Kansas State and Missouri, the Jayhawks have plenty of experience in these types of high-energy games.
However, for some, this week’s Sunflower Showdown with Kansas State — 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Memorial Stadium — will be the first real taste of a college rivalry.
“This is pretty exciting for me because it will be the first time being on the sidelines for the KU-K-State game,” said offensive lineman Riley Spencer, who hails from Hesston, which sits about 40 miles north of Wichita. “I have a lot of friends and family back home that root for both teams.”
Though Spencer has a clear favorite in the rivalry this time around, it wasn’t always that way for the red-shirt freshman.
“Growing up in Kansas, especially in a small town, there were a lot of Kansas State fans,” he said. “My parents never really had a side, so I never grew up rooting for one or the other. I just kind of grew up watching this rivalry between best friends, saying who was going to win this year and who they thought was the best. Then, as I got into high school and knew I was going to go to KU, I started getting into it more.”
So, too, did Spencer’s parents, Brent and Sherie, who Spencer says now have become pretty wrapped up in rooting for the Jayhawks.
“It didn’t take long,” he said. “Once I really started to look at KU, they were quick to jump on board.”
With 20 players from the Sunflower State on KU’s roster, stories such as Spencer’s are not hard to come by. Sophomore lineman Tanner Hawkinson, who hails from McPherson, said he remembered going to Kansas State games as a child because his dad, Griff, was a K-State grad. Because McPherson, like so many Kansas towns, is split in its allegiances, Hawkinson always looks forward to K-State week because of the banter between him and his friends back home.
“I get some texts every now and then from friends back home who are K-State fans,” he said. “It’s all in good fun, and I can kind of talk back to ’em a little bit. But I enjoy it. There’s always just a little more excitement when the game rolls around.”
Though Gill is seasoned in rivalries of a different kind, he talked Monday about already having a real sense for the special nature of this one.
“Early on, the players talked about some things from that nature, and Kansas State is obviously a big game,” he said. “Every game is a big game, but the in-state deal you want to have the bragging rights from the players’ perspective, but also from the fans’ perspective, too. You’ve got your neighbors, some of ’em are K-State alumns and so on and so forth. It’s a special rivalry, and (this is) my introduction into it. I think as time goes along, I’ll get even a better feel, and I will get a better sense of it as we play this first ball game.”
During his career as a quarterback at Nebraska, Gill was 3-0 against the Sooners. He said the thing that made the Nebraska-Oklahoma rivalry games he played in so great was the passion he felt from the fans.
“That was intense from a player’s standpoint and also from a fan’s standpoint,” he said. “I think (it was) good teams, and we were always playing for a championship of some sort in most cases. (During those weeks) there was probably a lot more talk from players to players, coaches to coaches and, more than anything, fans to fans. I think the biggest thing is, the fans get a lot more excited, a lot more intense about it and very, very passionate about the game. And that’s one good thing about this particular game, too. People are going to get excited about it, and they want to see it, and they want to be a part of it. They want to have those bragging rights with their neighbors.”
Marrongelli out for the season
KU suffered yet another blow to its offensive line during the bye week when starting guard Trevor Marrongelli suffered a knee injury and will be out for the remainder of the season.
Marrongelli, a 6-foot-2, 293-pound sophomore from Austin, Texas, started the first four games of the season at right guard. Sophomore Duane Zlatnik, a starter in two games this season, is slated to step in for Marrongelli, and Gill said red-shirt freshman Riley Spencer, of Hesston, would move up to the sixth spot in the rotation.
Said Spencer of his new status: “Everyone wants to play, and everyone is going to be champing at the bit to go in. I certainly feel like I’m ready to do whatever’s needed and whatever’s asked of me.”
More injury updates
Gill said several Jayhawks who have missed the past couple of games might return this week against Kansas State.
Gill said freshman safety Keeston Terry and sophomore quarterback Kale Pick were questionable and that junior tight end AJ Steward and red-shirt freshman defensive lineman Tyrone Sellers would play.
Gill said senior safety Philip Strozier was doubtful due to a leg injury and that freshman linebacker Josh Richardson had moved to defensive end and might play.
Sims silenced for the season
Freshman running back James Sims has been awfully quiet since rushing for combined totals of 226 yards and three touchdowns in KU’s victories against Georgia Tech and New Mexico State. There’s a reason for that.
Gill said Monday that Sims would be unvailable for comment for the rest of the season because of a mutal decision between the two.
“We talked about it and sat down and chatted about where he was comfortable with things and all those things of that nature,” Gill said. “He felt he was uncomfortable about it, and I said, ‘Well, I tell you what, if you’re really, really adamant and you’re not going to follow through on things, well, I’d rather you not (talk to the media) this year and we’ll get you more involved next year.’ So it was a mutual thing.”
Gill vs. the Wildcats
Asked Monday what he remembered about his playing days against Kansas State, Gill deflected the answer with a statement about how this year’s game was not about him but, instead, about the 200-plus men on the two rosters.
He did, however, offer up a small glimpse into his memory.
“I probably had some good ones, I guess as a coach and as a player,” he said.
In three tries against Kansas State, Gill’s Cornhuskers were 3-0 and outscored KSU, 142-41, with an average margin of victory of 34 points.
Big 12 announces Oct. 23 start times
KU’s fifth home game of the season — Oct. 23 vs. Texas A&M; — will kick off at 6 p.m. and will be televised by Fox Sports Net, the Big 12 announced on Monday.
The match-up with the Aggies will mark the third straight KU game shown on FSN — along with last week’s loss to Baylor and this week’s Thursday night showdown with K-State — and the fourth overall during 2010.