Most football coaches secretly love it when the temperature soars during conditioning season. They await reports from strength coaches regarding which players melted, which pushed through the heat to stand above peers, which embraced the reality that every second not spent getting better is a second spent getting worse.
What player among the incoming freshmen has begun earning respect on his way to becoming known as the program’s workout warrior, the way James Holt did during his time in Lawrence? Holt arrived at Kansas too small to play linebacker, not quick enough for the secondary, the classic ’tweener.
Bit by bit, one weight-room scream at a time, one sprinting through the finish when others let up at a time, Holt turned himself into a NFL player by becoming so much more explosive, stronger and faster. He could not have done it without getting pushed out of his comfort zone constantly by the staff of strength and conditioning coach Chris Dawson, now working for Kansas State.
Are the KU football players being pushed harder now and logging more miles running now than a year ago? The answer has to be an emphatic yes or all the apparent recruiting gains will be nullified because college football is at least as much about developing as it is recruiting. That’s why so many football players red-shirt. If properly developed, they can offer a team far more in their fifth year than their first.
A development program, Kansas can’t afford to wait that long at some positions. Defensive end is paramount among them. Someone needs to emerge to join Toben Opurum in flying off the edge.
“We’ll look at anybody who can rush the quarterback and if they do a good job of rushing the quarterback, they will play,” defensive line coach/co-defensive coordinator Buddy Wyatt said of incoming freshmen.
Michael Reynolds (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) of Wichita, Ben Goodman (6-3, 245) of Beaumont, Texas and Javonte Daniel (6-4, 215) of LaGrange, Ga., all have a shot at forcing their way into consideration both during conditioning sessions and preseason camp.
Red-shirt freshman Pat Lewandowski and sophomore Keba Agostinho will push for playing time at defensive end on the opposite side of Opurum, the team’s leading rusher as a freshman, a linebacker the first third of his sophomore season and an end the rest of the way.
“Toben had a really good spring, I mean he was intense, every day he came to practice he came to get better and he’s still learning the position,” Wyatt said. “We moved him to defensive end the fifth game into the season. He was learning what he was supposed to do that week. He wasn’t learning how to play the position. He got a chance to learn the position in the spring and he got better. He got better. So he has a chance to make some plays for us and we’re hoping as summer goes and fall camp goes he continues to get better so he can really set himself apart, not only on our team but in the conference as a playmaker.”
A vastly improved defensive line represents KU’s only chance of slowing Big 12 offenses and without any reason to believe the pocket will get pushed from the middle, the pressure must come from the edges.