You can tell some things about a book by its cover. Last year, the Kansas University football program’s book of hype, known as the media guide, centered on one player, savior Dayne Crist, and had two others, Tanner Hawkinson and Toben Opurum, flanking him. The eye goes right to Crist though.
This year’s cover gives equal billing to three players who need no hype because they already have proven it on the field: running back James Sims, middle linebacker Ben Heeney and hybrid receiver/running back Tony Pierson.
Kansas coach Charlie Weis hypes this season’s newcomers plenty with his words, but he didn’t throw savior pressure on them before they had played a game for the Jayhawks. Unlike basketball counterpart Bill Self, Weis has multiple experienced options worthy of receiving the honor.
Had Weis gone with ballyhooed newcomers, he could have had no problem coming up with an appealing trio: quarterback Jake Heaps and his favorite target, Justin McCay, plus defensive tackle Marquel Combs. No hurry. If they are as good as Weis thinks they are, they can prove it on the field and then take their turns on the front of the 2014 media guide.
Sims, a senior, earned the distinction by leading Kansas in rushing every season since he stepped on campus. Recruited by the staffs of Mark Mangino and Turner Gill, Sims played two seasons for Gill and is in his second with Weis. None of the changes seem to bother Sims, and he just keeps plugging away by running with terrific vision, good power and just enough speed to get around the guy trying to bring him down. He has rushed for 2,482 yards and 27 touchdowns. He deserved better than second-team All-Big 12 honors last season in rushing for 1,013 yards in nine games.
Pierson, the most exciting player on the roster because he makes you watch every play he’s on the field for fear you’ll miss him dashing to the end zone, also earned a place on the cover. He averaged 6.5 yards on his 117 carries and 13.9 yards on his 26 receptions. A full-time running back a year ago as a sophomore, Pierson caught two more touchdown passes than all of the team’s wide receivers combined, which is another way of saying he caught two touchdown passes.
Heeney, a rugged middle linebacker blessed with speed, ranked third in the Big 12 in tackles (112, 9.3 per game) and fifth in tackles for loss (12). He earned second-team All-Big 12 honors.
Weis did bring newcomers Heaps and defensive back Cassius Sendish to Big 12 Media Day, also a nice honor, but wisely let returning players decorate the media guide. The Media Day honor goes to those who represent the program well in practice and public appearances. The front-of-the-publication honor speaks more to game performance.
Expectations already eased on Heaps because of how far short Crist fell, Weis leaving him off the cover of the media guide subtly helps as well.
Heaps, with better mobility and a cleaner injury history than Crist, is more suited to withstand the pressure defenses bring. Even before he takes a snap, he faces less pressure than Crist, who turned one season to make it happen into a half-season and was replaced by backup Michael Cummings.