The question was simple and the answer astonishing.
Earlier this week, as Kansas University’s football team began its preparations for Saturday’s 6:30 p.m. kickoff at Rice, KU coach Charlie Weis asked his team of more than 100 Jayhawks if any of them had won a road game while at Kansas.
Although some of KU’s longest tenured players were a part of the program that September day in 2009 when KU last won a road game — 34-7 at UTEP — none of them played in the game and most did not even make the trip. Because of that, the responsibility of breaking KU’s 22-game road losing streak falls on a bunch of players who have yet to win away from Memorial Stadium during their Kansas careers.
“I can’t explain it, man,” junior linebacker Ben Heeney said. “That’s the focus this week, winning on the road.”
To help them zero in, strength coach Scott Holsopple plastered posters throughout football complex with a simple message written on them. Listed below a photo of a convoy of team buses following a police escort to a game, are the motivational words of the week: “Our last road win was Sept. 12, 2009 at UTEP.” Heeney snapped a photo of the poster and made it the background image on his phone. Just about everything the Jayhawks have done this week has been done with snapping the losing streak in mind.
“I think this game is gonna be one of the biggest games we play all year,” Heeney said. “There’s no one on our team that has gotten a road win at Kansas. It’s pretty crazy. But we’re ready for it. We need to get this one. It’s a game we feel like we should win.”
There have been a few close calls since KU topped UTEP on Sept. 12, 2009. Later that season, KU lost one-score games at Colorado and Kansas State; in road games at Iowa State in both 2010 and 2011, KU was within seven points of the Cyclones in the fourth quarter; and last year KU lost by a touchdown at Northern Illinois and Texas Tech, the latter coming in double overtime.
“I’ve only been here a year,” Weis said. “I could care less about any games before I got here. All I know is, for the program, winning last week got the losing streak out of the way. Winning this week would get the losing on the road out of the way. Winning three weeks from now could get the conference win out of the way. So there’s stepping stones you have to take, and this just gives us an opportunity to get one of those put aside.”
One Jayhawk who has road wins on his résumé is junior quarterback Jake Heaps, KU’s first-year starter who transferred from BYU following the 2011 season.
Heaps was a part of four road victories during his two seasons at BYU — at Colorado State, Ole Miss, Oregon State and Hawaii — and he still remembers the feeling after each.
“There’s nothing better,” he said. “You have the opportunity to go down and make that whole environment about your team, and you feel the crowd kind of give in and you know, at that point, you’ve won the game.”