Wednesday, April 24, 2013


Opinion: Speedy KU LB Heeney making up for time spent standing still

Kansas linebacker Ben Heeney chases down Texas Tech receiver Eric Ward after a catch during the first quarter on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012 at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas.

Kansas linebacker Ben Heeney chases down Texas Tech receiver Eric Ward after a catch during the first quarter on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012 at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas.


Watching Ben Heeney play football is a bit like viewing a high-speed demolition derby. He has no problem sacrificing his body, throwing it into harm’s way at a very high speed. In fact, he appears to enjoy it quite a bit. Just don’t tell him to stand still and watch.

Heeney played so well as Kansas University’s starting middle linebacker as a sophomore in his first game experience on plays from scrimmage that he ranked third in the Big 12 in tackles (112), fifth in tackles for loss (12) and earned second-team All-Big 12 honors.

So why didn’t Heeney ever get a chance at even one play from scrimmage for the nation’s worst defense in 2011?

“I’d be standing out there in practice thinking, ‘Why did I burn this year?’ In practice, I literally did nothing at linebacker,” Heeney said. “After Week 4, I didn’t even get a chance to play any linebacker on the scout team. I’d stand on the sideline talking to people, waiting for that 20 minutes that the special teams practiced. Then I’d go back to chilling on the sideline.”

He said he asked former KU coach Turner Gill’s linebacker coach, whose name (Vantz Singletary) he had trouble remembering, if he could have some reps and said he was told, “I’ll tell you when to go in.”

“He pushed me aside and I never went in,” Heeney said.

Positive surprises can be difficult to find on a 1-11 football team, but Heeney clearly ranked first in that department in 2012 and outside linebacker Jake Love didn’t rank too far behind him. The way they played, both flying to the ball, it looked as if perhaps they had bonded the previous year on the scout team. But that wasn’t the case. While Love practiced with what Gill called the “show team,” Heeney stood on the sideline and watched the starters practice.

He took out his frustrations as a freshman on opposing return men as a gunner on the punt team and a head-hunter who sprinted directly to the ball on the kickoff team. He showcased impressive speed, which such a slow defense certainly could have used.

During his surprising sophomore season, Heeney drew consistent praise for his toughness, determination and athleticism from head coach Charlie Weis and defensive coordinator Dave Campo. Both men cautioned he had a long way to go in terms of always knowing where to be and when. He consistently ran hard and hit hard, but sometimes he ran so hard he put himself out of position. He might have looked like he was born to play linebacker — a head stuck on top of a block of chiseled granite with no neck to speak of — but the truth was it wasn’t until the change in the coaching staff that Heeney started to learn basic linebacker lessons.

In playing for three consecutive state champions at Hutchinson High — the school’s fifth, sixth and seventh in a row — Heeney started at safety his sophomore and junior seasons and at fullback as a senior. Hutch had so much well-drilled depth at every position coach Randy Dreiling didn’t believe in using players both ways.

Heeney recalled an early season game against Derby his senior year when he ran for “about 270 yards” and scored five touchdowns, four on the ground and one on a 68-yard reception. The game was called at halftime because of lightning.

Despite his dominance and strong numbers on the stopwatch — he said he was hand-timed at 4.43 and 4.48 in the 40 at a summer camp at Kansas State heading into his senior season — scholarship offers didn’t come flying at him. Until KU offered in October of his senior season — “I accepted it right on the spot,” he said — Colorado State had been the only full ride from a Division I school. He wondered if that would have been different had he gone to exposure camps, not that it would have mattered. SEC powerhouses could have waged a bidding war for him and it wouldn’t have changed his destination.

“I always dreamt of playing at KU,” said Heeney, voted the defensive MVP of the spring game.

His father and two uncles played baseball for KU. His older brother and three cousins are students now and his mother and several aunts and uncles walked down the hill wearing a cap and gown.

He never dreamt of standing on the sideline in practice, a man in limbo, a football player eager to hit somebody and relegated to spectator status as a freshman, other than on special teams.

Once given the chance to play linebacker, Heeney flew all over the field hitting people. It felt so good he hasn’t stopped since.


BringBackMark 5 years, 1 month ago

The puzzling thing about how this story has unfolded is Turner Gill having brains enough to offer the scholarship in the first place. I guess he finally proved his intelligence by letting the kid stand on the sidelines. "Fun to Watch" is the best description for Heeney.

Weis needs to focus on finding more talent that other schools overlook and develop those kids through the redshirt program into Big 12 caliber players. The juco route just won't work.

David Leathers 5 years, 1 month ago

The JUCO route won't work if you're expecting a Big 12 championship (unless you're Bill Snyder), but it will help to produce a better product than the previous 3 seasons. Some of these incoming guys are pretty darn talented and will provide an immediate boost at a lot of positions.

I do agree with a better blend of JUCOs and high-schoolers. Weis is great at developing players and he needs his time to do so.I honestly can't wait for this season. It's going to be fun!

Jayhawker111 5 years ago

Weis is great at developing players ???

That remains to be seen.

If Crist is any indication of how Wies develops players, then your statement is bogus.

Micky Baker 5 years ago

To bring up Crist and knowing that Weis had him as a freshman and fifth year senior, your statement is, "I just don't like Charlie Weis". It's not very objective.

NebraskaJayhawk 5 years ago

Actually he's been criticized for not being able to develop players by critics. So yeah, the tape is still out on him. We'll see in the next year or two.

Lawkan 5 years ago

The Juco route sure worked for Auburn when Newton and Fairley carried a very average at best team to the BCS title.

kellerman411 5 years ago

Juco doesn't work if you're just getting Juco to get Juco. When you're landing 7 or 8 guys off the ESPN Juco100 list, I'd say you're probably getting a more talented player than KU could normally get right out of high school. Would you agree?

Juco or not, Weis and Campo are bringing in the most talented class KU has gotten in a long time.

Joe Ross 5 years, 1 month ago

I dont understand on what basis you are concluding the "Juco route won't work". This is supposition and hunch-work, and it seems to be based on absolutely nothing. Jucos are recruited because they make teams better. Making teams better and "working" go hand in hand. Billy Synder, Mack Brown, Bob Stoops and others have all proven this

Crazy, man. Crazy.

Ray Winger 5 years ago

Agree. Remember Bill Whitemore, Don Goode....there are an abundance of good jc/cc talent that we have had over time.

NebraskaJayhawk 5 years ago

You're putting Mack Brown and Bob Stoops in the same conversation with Bill Snyder when it comes to Juco recruiting? I don't think so... Neither Texas or Oklahoma have to fill voids with Juco recruiting. That's not to say they don't nab one every now and then, but they shouldn't even be mentioned in the same sentence with what Snyder has done with the Juco world.

Joe Ross 5 years ago

Not putting Mach Brown and Bob Stoops in the same category. Im putting all juco players in the same category, because they are recruited to DI programs for their ability to make teams better. Actually, the coaches who recruiting them is logically could have been ANYONE, but I chose coaches who have had recruited jucos and had success in their programs and were familiar to the original poster, though it wasn't necessary that I do so. The quantity of juco recruits used by each team is also accidental. Two-year players'--in whatever numbers they are sought--are sought because they upgrade particular positions, and that is the relevant point I was making, because it redresses the notion that "the juco route won't work".

NebraskaJayhawk 5 years ago

Not trying to be arguementative, but there is a big difference between having 3-4 juco players on your roster and having 15-20 juco players on your roster which is what the original post is basically referencing. And so when he says "the juco route won't work", he isn't talking about coaches like Mack Brown or Bob Stoops because their rosters aren't filled with juco players. They are filled with top tier high school talent year in and year out. He's talking about people like Snyder who have transformed teams with juco recruiting. I'm not saying I agree with the original post, but I would say that time will tell whether this method will work for Weis or not. Hope it does.

BringBackMark 5 years ago

Pepper Rogers tried it two years removed from the Orange Bowl team. Total disaster! Yes, a handful of athletic juco players may fill gaps. That is how Snyder has used them. WE RECRUITED 19! Now you bring in 19 players from at least 16 different juco's, all coming from different coaching styles, and you expect them to mesh as a team in a few months? Get serious! The first year will mostly be confusion. Then they're seniors.

What's wrong with identifying decent talent, red-shirting them, and building a program that's sustainable? Is everyone so burned out on losing that we're willing to take this "quick fix" approache knowing that the next year we may be back at 1-11?

There's a term call CHEMISTRY in athletics that plays a huge part in being successful. Weis apparently doesn't believe in it.

Jack Jones 5 years, 1 month ago

"The JUCO route won't work......(unless you're Bill Snyder) ~ and, just exactly what magic potion does Coach Snyder have in his bag of "tricks" that explains your premise?

jhox 5 years ago

I think I saw Heeney play fullback in a high school game on television a few years back. I was in a sports bar and there was no sound on the TV, so I didn't get his name, but Hutch had this large fullback who was out running everyone on the field. I recall thinking if I was a college FBI coach I'd be offering that kid a scholarship on the spot. I had no idea that kid was Heeney, but from his size, the time frame when I saw it, and the listed 40 times, it had to be Ben.

Chris Bailey 5 years ago

It could've been Josh Smith too. He was a brusing runner. He was a preferred walk on under the Gill staff. Smith was the starter two consecutive years and was an absolute stud as a running back. Not to take anything away from Heeney. He was the only quality back when he was there. Smith had Dinwiddie to share the burden. Smith Rushed for just over 2000 yards as a senior but the other back had somewhere around 1200 yards not to mention the QB had a nice total I think between 800-900. So long story short it could've been either guy.

KGphoto 5 years ago

Josh Smith’s highlights are insane. I always wondered why he wasn’t incorporated somehow. He looked like he could’ve been a great goal line back, but still had speed to house it from distance.

Chris Bailey 5 years ago

Agree totally! Although, I saw Heeney play in high school and he was fast! He outran or ran over most everyone that tried to stop him. He was a beast! The defenses knew what was coming (Heeney) everytime and they still couldn't stop him. Well except for that second game against Bishop Carroll. They shut the Hutch offense down that day. They keyed on Heeney and no one else could beat em. But make no mistake he was a stud! He was a punishing runner. Big, strong and really fast!

Matt Kenton 5 years ago

I hate to bring this up, but didn't he have some off the field trouble recently? I want to say he roughed up some bouncers at a bar. I first read the headline and thought maybe he had to sit out the Spring Game and practices because of it. Hopefully it's been dealth with already and no games will be missed. Pretty minor incident if you ask me.

rockchalk_dpu 5 years ago

Yes, he had a run-in with a bouncer shortly after the season ended. While I don't know the usual punishment for offenses under Weis, it wouldn't surprise me if Heeney were to miss the first 3 games like Sims did last year and one of our players will this year (can't remember his name right now) and this will be announced in the fall.

Hopefully we won't suffer too much without him, but I like that players are held accountable and punishments are the same for similar offenses regardless of their importance on the team.

vd 5 years ago

And look at our RBs. No doubt Gill didn't know hwat he was doing.

lv_jhwk 5 years ago

Gill's inept handling of Heeney (specifically the non-use of his redshirt just to play special teams) is yet another head-scratching decision by Gill we'll be reliving over the next two years. To think that Ben and Jake would both be sophomores on the field...smh.

Al Martin 5 years ago

So, a bit off topic, but what's up with Schyler Miles? He was pretty highly touted when we got him last year. Just wondering if anyone has any perspective on how's he's developing.

NebraskaJayhawk 5 years ago

Been wondering the same thing. He looks small in photos.

Doug Merrill 5 years ago

The jury is not still out on whether or not HCCW AND HIS STAFF can develop players. Coach has managed that well with QBs. No one can credibly say Campo hasn't done the same on the defense side.

NebraskaJayhawk 5 years ago

We were 1-11 last year if you didn't notice. I remain hopeful that Weis can turn things around though. I think like most that Heaps will be a big upgrade this year. Grunny better have that line in tip-top shape though.

Jayhawker111 5 years ago

Coach has managed that well with QBs???

Are you trying to say that Wies and staff managed the quarterback position well last year?

Crist was 116 out of 116 in quarterback ratings.... Wies should have benched him after the second game but continued to start and play him the first 6 games --played Crist in 10 games and even started Crist in the last game against West Virginia.

If you think that Wies did a good job working with Crist and getting the most out of the QB position, --then you must be on crack!

The Qb play last year was brutal to watch (Grade D-).

Brad Avery 5 years ago

Gee, there's no prejudice against Kansas high school players, is there? Kid runs 4.43 in camp and is the best defensive player KU has and he gets two offers in his senior year? If he lived in Green Snot, Texas. or some other God forsaken place on the Mexican border, he would have had 100 offers before he finished spring practice in his junior year.

kureader 5 years ago

What does prejudice have to do with anything? He was a 6' 210 lb. linebacker in high school ... that'll get you a couple D1 offers ... maybe. The kid's got a big heart and he worked his way into KU's lineup. He's not the first kid to do that, and he won't be the last. Kudos to Heeney.

Bob Bailey 5 years ago

Funny all the optimism!

Personally posted an after spring game.

Won 0 Lost 12 !!!!

Weis is a terrific Jayhawk and a great recruiter and perhaps he will be great offensively!

Unfortunately he practices against a lousy Defensive team -- his Jayhawks!

Three things are required:



Defensive Scheme !!

The so-called Defensive Scheme hasn't worked for three years! ANY CHANCE IT WILL WORK NOW?

Campo and Bowen are great Jayhawks and RECRUITERS. But neither can coach tackling coverage and Bowen is perhaps responsible for the DDefensive Scheme -- a complete bust.

Iam impressed with the talent we have. To bad we aren't equipped to use them!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

DSommersby 5 years ago

I recall watching Heeney his true freshmen year and seeing his speed on special teams. He really seemed to go all out and create a lot of havoc. The group I sit with would always comment on how this guy should be getting a chance to play more. None of us could ever understand it. You fast forward to seeing Heeney finally get a chance with the new staff and it really makes you feel like Turner Gill and Singletary had no idea what they were doing. It validates what we were all thinking. How could they not see the effort, speed, and tenactiy this guy plays with and not try and give him at least some decent reps with the defense? We noticed it in little exposure to the player and team. I think Turner and his staff had pre-determined how they wanted to do things and were really on cruise control to collect their checks. I have Nebraska friends who I understand want to support one of their guys. They will cry and moan how KU did not give Turner a fair chance. Bull Malarkey! Turner was on cruise control and decisions like burning Heeney's red-shirt to barely let him play or even practice show their incompetence. I know Weis and his staff are improving things and I know the program is building up positively. I also know this article was reason # 10,692 why Turner was in over his head. You play a guy like Heeney!

Bob Bailey 5 years ago


You missed out on the facts. My comments had nothing to do with 3-4 or 4-3. And apparently you don't watch Defense much!

The team is obviously not schooled in the basics of tackling and coverage. The Defensive Scheme is totally irrelevant if they can't tackle. Some of us can quote KU's Spring Game that proves it out. Perhaps you should attend the Spring Game, and watch Defense as it is NOT played. Then get YOUR facts straight.

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