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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Kansas OL Gavin Howard ‘has stepped up’

Kansas offensive lineman Gavin Howard stretches out as the team warms up during practice on Thursday, Aug. 2, 2012.

Kansas offensive lineman Gavin Howard stretches out as the team warms up during practice on Thursday, Aug. 2, 2012.

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Kansas offensive lineman Gavin Howard stretches out as the team warms up during practice on Thursday, Aug. 2, 2012.

When Kansas University’s first depth chart of the 2012 regular season is released today, junior offensive lineman Gavin Howard figures to find his name in two places — starting right guard and reserve right tackle.

Not bad for a guy who entered spring drills with lukewarm confidence from his new coach.

“Well, you have to put somebody as the fifth guy right? He’s the fifth,” KU boss Charlie Weis said in April, asked what Howard had done to earn the first-string spot on the offensive line. “I think that’s kind of open game. That’s not a finite thing. But based on what we’ve seen so far, he would hold a slight edge over the other guys.”

Nearly five months later, Howard appears to have widened the gap and emerged as another reliable option on an offensive line loaded with talent and experience.

Although Howard downplayed Weis’ comment and said he did not expect to hear anything different, teammates said the 6-foot-4, 300-pound junior from Owasso, Okla., used those words as a reason to improve.

“I definitely think that’s driving him,” said senior co-captain Tanner Hawkinson, a four-year starter at tackle. “Gavin’s a great competitor, and he’s probably one of the smartest guys on the team. He’s done a great job for us.”

Added quarterback Dayne Crist, who has a strong interest in the talent level of the guys protecting: “He knows that his time is now, and his name is being called, and he has stepped up in that regard. Physically, he’s turned it on, and he’s working really hard to make a name for himself.”

Although the extra motivation certainly did not hurt, Howard’s step forward came because of his biggest strength — his brain. A double major in math and finance who also will have enough math credits to earn a teaching certificate, Howard is the poster boy for the movement toward the thinking-man’s offensive lineman. No longer are big bodies and bulk enough to play in the trenches.

“That’s what a lot of people think,” Howard said. “But especially with this coach Weis offense, it’s so much to learn, and everyone has to be sharp because if you’re not sharp there’s no way that you can play in this offense.”

That’s never been a problem for Howard. According to Crist, who knows KU’s offense almost as well as the man who designed it, picking up the playbook came easily for Howard.

“In terms of X’s and O’s, he gets it,” Crist said.

Howard also appears to “get it” in many other ways. Never one to take himself too seriously, Howard is comfortable with how his career has played out but admits he would like to see it finish on a higher note than it began.

“When we started the spring and I was a starter, that was probably the first real time where I thought, ‘Oh, this could be a chance,’” Howard recalled. “But it’s always something you strive for. It’s never your goal to go in and be a backup.”

Now that he’s been given the chance to step to the front of the line, Howard has found that all of the preparation he did as a reserve during his first three seasons in Lawrence have paid off.

“I’ve been labeled as a second-string guy since my red-shirt freshman year,” Howard said. “And going into game-type stuff, you have to focus just as much as a starter. The biggest difference between then and now is just that in practice you get more reps each day.”

Heeney on top

Weis said during his weekly “Hawk Talk” radio show Monday night that sophomore linebacker Ben Heeney would enter the season as the Jayhawks’ starter at middle linebacker.

Heeney, who made a name for himself on special teams as a true freshman in 2011, began camp as an outside linebacker but slid to the middle when senior transfer Anthony McDonald missed time because of injury. Competing with freshman Schyler Miles and a banged-up McDonald, Heeney emerged as the top option at arguably the defense’s most important spot.

“The one thing he’s done better than just about everybody in training camp is make plays all over the field,” Weis said Monday. “We’ve been impressed by his physicality, and I think he’s gonna play a lot for us.”

SDSU QB injured?

According to reports, South Dakota State quarterback Austin Sumner, a sophomore who was a finalist for FCS freshman of the year in 2011, has missed a couple of recent practices and may not be full strength for Saturday’s season opener.

Weis acknowledged Monday that he had heard the reports, but added that he was not about to pay them much attention.

“There are rumors out that he’s banged up his thumb,” Weis said. “So we’ll be ready for him. You never know what you’re gonna get in the opener … you gotta practice for pretty much everything because you never know what you’re gonna get.”

Stick around. Please?

A little more than a week after joking about starting a fist fight with any KU students who left football games early, Weis once again made his pitch for the student body to stay until the end of Saturday’s game.

“Everyone knows we’re going to go sing the alma mater at the end of the game, and it’s not the same if they’re not there,” Weis said. “We’re going (to the KU student section) anyway. I really want to see a connection between our players and the student body, and that’s a two-way street.”

Comments

David Leathers 2 years, 1 month ago

"...and he’s working really hard to a name for himself.”

I'm assuming you meant "...to [make] a name for himself."

Phil Leister 2 years, 1 month ago

I caught that too. Not sure why the editors/Tait didn't :/

I really hope our students make a strong showing this weekend. Come on!

Kyle Cornish 2 years, 1 month ago

Leave them alone. Everyone nitpicks all day. Can we come to your work and pick apart every little thing you do? They don't owe you anything and it is FREE CONTENT. Just read, enjoy and say thank you.

april28 2 years, 1 month ago

Charlie...if you win, people will be in the stands.

jhox 2 years, 1 month ago

I don't know about that. The students even left early in 2007.

jhawkrulz 2 years, 1 month ago

Wasn't there an article about how Weis knows how to push people's buttons to motivate them...seems like he figured out the button to push for Howard.

Is there some kind of countdown yet?

qringer 2 years, 1 month ago

How is this article an indication that we are better at that position? I hope that we are (we couldn't be any worse), but all it indicates is that Howard is the best available at that position. The local press hypes the team every year going into the season whether we have a decent team or not. But after the last two seasons, taking a "wait and see" attitude won't lead to a big letdown when we go 3-9.

NebraskaJayhawk 2 years, 1 month ago

First of all let me say how much I have enjoyed all the preseason football coverage on this website. Great job, LJW.

qringer- I agree whoeheartedly with you. As excited as I am about the season starting and as happy as I am about Coach Weis coming to Kansas, these articles mean nothing if this team comes out and flops once the real season begins. I do have a feeling that a "toughness" might be returning to this team as it was in the Mangino era which is obviously huge in football. As far as the entire team being an upgrade....we'll see. I have a feeling that we'll win 5....maybe 6 games. If Weis can get 6 wins this season, look out. We will be all over the media and every parent in the U.S. opens their door to Weis & Co. However, a 3-4 win season and everyone just says, "Meh...KU still sucks." and we continue on the path to mediocrity. That's not to say we won't improve over the course of Weis's tenure, I'm just saying things could change a LOT faster if we put together some wins this season. That's my two cents on this upcoming season. A losing season is NOT an option!

KGphoto 2 years, 1 month ago

Good job Gavin.

Now for something really important. It's four days til the season opener and they don't have the times for the games set. (Yes I realize the first 3 are.) I'm planning on going home for a game this year and I can't make plans because I don't know if it's gonna be a night game, a day game or what?

It's ludicrous! I know TV money is at the root of it, but how can they be allowed to hang the fans out like this? Have some accountability. My god I just wanna slap somebody.

Ron Prichard 2 years, 1 month ago

I feel your pain, KG, but I think they only have to give two weeks advance notice on game times. On the good side, it makes sure the televised matchups later in the season are the best games. On the down side, it sucks to try to plan for tailgating or what days you will need a hotel, etc. I'm just glad the first game isn't an 11:00 a.m. game. I'm planning on tailgating Saturday and didn't want to get up at the crack of dawn to do it.

Only four more days!!

741hawk 2 years, 1 month ago

These days, TV controls of college football. MOST game times are not set until the Monday two weeks before each game. That way, Tier 1 rights holders can assure themselves of the best conference game to broadcast. We've traveled to games across the country for many years and learned this guideline. Sorry. You'll just have to get used to it.

jhawkrulz 2 years, 1 month ago

make it an entire day of it...come early and tailgate, if it is an afternoon game you'll just have that much more fun, if it is a night game, you will have made a ton of friends. Just bring a good setup and have a directv (or something like that) setup close by.

Can't have more fun then making the entire day an event.

Matt Tait 2 years, 1 month ago

I did, but I expected it to be at right tackle, hence the lede of this story. Oh well. It's a nice move and it gives the O-Line some decent depth, too.

clevelandjayhawker 2 years, 1 month ago

hahah thanks, i knew they would get it on here soon

Sam Brockert 2 years, 1 month ago

I had a nightmare last night that I had to go to a wedding on saturday and that I would miss the season opener...I woke up soooo depressed. Not because of the dream, but because I realized...I wasn't dreaming.

nuleafjhawk 2 years, 1 month ago

if it's like some of the weddings i've been to lately, the game will last longer than the marriage.

hope that's not the case with yours.

and i hope that you have reason to be upset about missing the game !

nuleafjhawk 2 years, 1 month ago

Charles- I was hoping someone would give you a quick, easy answer. I changed mine over a year ago and it seemed like it was a real pain in the ahperse. Actually, I think I just had to start over with a whole new account ?? Come on folks - help out a brotha - any quick solutions for name changes?

Besides divorce......

Randy Bombardier 2 years, 1 month ago

To keep 'em in the stands:

During the final minutes have the Student Activities give away Spring Break trips to Cancun for students in attendance (must be present to win) paid for by gate receipts.

Students smuggle booze in and leave early to begin partying, win or loss. Strongly consider liquor sales, starting at half-time so students don't get too wasted.

Have an alumni hiring event right after the game in the parking lot. (Maybe the seniors will stay).

Hire a bunch of K-State fans to come to every game threatening to take down the goal posts.(My goodness, people, what is it going to take?)

Open the gates at half-time and bus in local kid's clubs to take the place of exiting students.

Find the hottest chicks on the campus of our opponent for the week, bus them in, pay their way and seat them in our student section. Our guys will stay in their seats and their girlfriends will make sure we don't have to do that again.

Allow anonymous wifi access to section of the big screen in the fourth quarter where students can advertise: Sr. Engineering student seeks hot female Accounting Major, row, section, seat.

All this to say I sure wish some actual effort were made to address this issue. It is a black eye for KU when we have televised games.

Randy Bombardier 2 years, 1 month ago

The bars are one thing, the frats another. Don't know that we can do anything or even try to affect off-campus, but on-campus and at the game there is a lot we can do. Someone just needs to get creative. Maybe the student activities could get paid to pick up trash after the game and students who participate get credits toward the aforementioned Cancun or Ft. Lauderdale Spring Break trip. If there is enough self-interest students will stay. Has to be a carrot, though, not a stick. And make it fun and the students will be there.

Randy Bombardier 2 years, 1 month ago

And yes, eventually the winning is going to keep them there unless it is a blowout. I hate to once again compare us to K-State but oh my goodness the atmosphere over there is crazy with excitement. We can do that. I don't subscribe to the idea that being excited about the game is lowly, low-class, or it's only football. I have always felt that aura at KU games, not students mind you. They are only half the issue. But our alum seem quite docile sometimes.

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