With the start of Big 12 Conference play looming, the Kansas University football team is not hiding its intentions.
“It’s like a new season is starting,” junior wide receiver Daymond Patterson said. “You get a chance to fight for that Big 12 North title and try and make it to that Big 12 championship. I think when conference comes, you turn it up a level.”
So, then, is it accurate to say that the Jayhawks, who had their ups and downs during the non-conference schedule, actually believe they can win the North in 2010?
“Definitely. Definitely,” senior safety Olaitan Oguntodu said. “Playing in the Big 12, you take care of the North and that’s the opportunity you have. We don’t believe in selling ourselves short. That’s not the plan that coach (Turner) Gill has laid before us. We believe in striving for excellence.”
Some coaches drive that goal home every day. Others use gimmicks and off-the-wall motivational tactics to remind their players what they’re playing for. Not Gill.
“I’m not going to say we talk about it every day or every week, but we talked about it in the beginning of the year,” Gill said. “We’re just like everybody else, (winning the Big 12 is) a goal of ours and this is the first step.”
Said freshman quarterback Jordan Webb, who will start the first Big 12 game of his career on Saturday: “It’s definitely exciting, because these games are what matter the most. Every game is important, but when you get to conference play those games take a little more meaning.”
Though KU’s 2-2 start was not exactly what many had hoped for, Oguntodu said all that the Jayhawks endured during their first four games made them a stronger team.
“I think we are ready,” Oguntodu said. “We have prepared. We have faced some trials in our non-conference games. They have helped us come to expect to have ups and downs within the game and be able to bounce back. That is something that we have been pleased with this season. That is a sign of our defense maturing and our team maturing and getting better.”
The buzz word Oguntodu used when describing where his team was at was “identity.”
“I think we have an identity, surely as a defense we have an identity,” Oguntodu said. “I love the fact that I can run up to a pile and our linebackers have already made the play. That’s awesome. That’s awesome.”
Gill agreed and said improvement should be easier to come by now that the groundwork is in place.
“After four ballgames, I think everybody has a better understanding of who we are, what we are, and what we’re trying to do,” Gill said.