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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Keegan

Column: KU linebacker Heeney remarkable, irreplaceable

Texas Tech receiver Bradley Marquez makes a move against Kansas defenders Cassius Sendish (33), Ben Heeney (31), and Fish Smithson (9) during the second quarter on Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014 at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas.

Texas Tech receiver Bradley Marquez makes a move against Kansas defenders Cassius Sendish (33), Ben Heeney (31), and Fish Smithson (9) during the second quarter on Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014 at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas.

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Press Conferences & Post-Game Interviews

Clint Bowen on what went wrong in 34-21 loss at Texas Tech

Clint Bowen on what went wrong in 34-21 loss at Texas Tech

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TEXAS TECH 34, KANSAS 21

Box score

— Seldom has a football player who does everything so right and with all his might so often been asked to explain what went wrong as Ben Heeney.

Kansas University’s senior middle linebacker is a team captain and as such a team spokesman. His team usually loses. So he has to try to break down why. Even when he makes 21 tackles, 17 all by himself, intercepts a pass and returns it 37 yards to put teammates in position to score a touchdown that prevents the first-half score from reaching that feeling that the game was slipping out of reach.

“I mean, I had a lot of tackles, but we lost,” said Heeney, a bona fide first-team All-American candidate. It’s a shame he has to say that so often.

The Jayhawks lost. Again, this time by a score of 34-21 to a Texas Tech team that had lost four games in a row. Kansas is 0-3 under interim head coach Clint Bowen, but also 3-0 when compared to Las Vegas projections of the margin of defeat. Baby steps, the only ones that ever count over the long haul, are being made, as the clock on Heeney’s spectacular career ticks louder.

Heeney has averaged 8.3 solo tackles per game which will place him somewhere in the top five in the nation, perhaps as high as second, when all the weekend results are compiled.

The how of some of Saturday’s tackles was just as impressive as the how many. It took Heeney all the way until the second play from scrimmage to demonstrate his exceptional football skill and will.

Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech’s 5-foot-6, 169-pound receiver is on the field because he can really, really move and can catch what’s thrown his way.  Grant caught a pass from Davis Webb and broke free along the left sideline. As the 54,071 in attendance began counting to six, Heeney cut a perfect angle across the field. Still, it didn’t appear as if he could catch the blurry Grant. He caught him.

In a way, Heeney is to college football linebackers what Walter Payton was to NFL running backs. Payton always was a step faster than the guy chasing him. Heeney’s as fast as he needs to be to chase down the football.

“I never understood what game speed was until I watched Heeney play,” said Kansas tight end Jimmay Mundine, an All-Big 12 candidate. “I can get next to Heeney and we can run the 40 and I’ll be neck and neck with him, but if I get the ball and I’m running, he is just gaining on me every single step. That’s the difference between game speed and normal speed.”

Mundine talked about two of the many plays Heeney made Saturday that don’t happen very often in football games. 

“Even when No. 11 (Grant) got loose, who came and saved the day? Heeney comes out of nowhere gaining on him every step,” Mundine said. “That’s like their fastest player. So I mean, Heeney’s a freak of nature.”

The next was a reverse run by Texas Tech.

“He bit on the reverse, came all the way back and made the play,” Mundine said. “You don’t see many linebackers doing that. It’s just a testament to how good he is, how hard he works and how athletic he is.”

Quarterback Michael Cummings also can turn into a spectator when Heeney is on the hunt.

“Ben’s a special guy on and off the field,” Cummings said. “He’s a character. Ben’s a great player. He’s one of those guys who’s going to be hard, hard to replace when he’s gone. He’s definitely fun to watch when he’s out there playing.”

Bowen has been Heeney’s position coach for three seasons, his defensive coordinator for the past two and now is his third head coach at KU.

“Unbelievable performance,” Bowen said. “The kid goes out and plays as hard as he can. True leader of our team and really exactly what you’d want to see any football player on any team play like. The guy plays the game with his heart and soul. We’re lucky to have a guy like that.”

Kansas will have Heeney, whose 21 tackles were the most by any player in a Big 12 game this season, for five more games. Most of the best players on the Jayhawks (2-5 overall, 0-4 in the Big 12) are seniors. Losing them will be a setback and there is no question as to where the biggest hole will be, right in the middle of the defense, where a hard-hitting, fast, tough football player from Hutchinson will be gone, but never forgotten.

Comments

Doug Cramer 6 years, 1 month ago

Ben Heeney is unbelievable. I mean, it seems like the guy is tackling on EVERY play.

He could be THE BEST linebacker in the country. Hope the guy goes to the Chiefs.

Suzi Marshall 6 years, 1 month ago

Henney plays with remarkable skill and energy. He certainly should be strongly considered for 1st team All-American.

Unfortunately, some of the other guys, even the highly touted players, don't seem to be able to make plays. McDonald, one of the key guys in the secondary, needed to make that interception play. It was huge and TTU eventually scored a TD. Another was Harwell, who made a poor effort to make a play on the ball when he got behind the secondary. Last week he dropped a TD pass in the end zone. Every week I watched him and so many of his routes he runs lackadaisically. Both McDonald and Harwell are talented, key player. These guys need to make plays and play with the purpose Henney brings every play.

Richard Duran 6 years, 1 month ago

Imagine what Heeney could do if he had some stud DTs in front of him! Biggest thing to recruit for: A solid QB and studs on both lines!

Rick McGowwan 6 years, 1 month ago

They should retire #31, the second the clock hits "zero" on the final game of the season. I'm not kidding. These are dark, dark days for KU Football and Heeney deserves so much better. The University may not be able to field a team that can win (or be competitive), but it should honor the person that represents everything it is that we want in a football player, student and leader.

Noah Ball 6 years, 1 month ago

This article came from a mystical place, just like Heeney. Very well written.

Len Shaffer 6 years, 1 month ago

Such a crying shame that Heeney won't ever get to play in a bowl game. He deserves so much more.

Bryce Landon 6 years, 1 month ago

Perkins can only take the blame for the demise of KU football for so long. At what point does the blame shift to Sheahon Zenger?

Micky Baker 6 years, 1 month ago

Wait, Heeney was recruited by Gill and Gill wouldn't even play him when he was a freshman. It's long past the time to blame Perkins for what's happening now. Perkins. I don't blame Zenger either. It did make a difference that we had no AD at all for more than a year. That's Gray-Little's fault.

Bryce Landon 6 years, 1 month ago

It's a shame to see Heeney work his @$$ off week after week and have nothing to show for it because of bad coaching and/or putrid offense. Hopefully the rest of his life is kinder to him than his days of playing college football have been.

Shawn Darius 6 years, 1 month ago

Ben, you will play on Sundays. And if your coaches and teammates let you down in the pros, at least you'll get paid! Your grit and relentless effort on behalf of KU football will always be remembered. Great column, Keegs.

Micky Baker 6 years, 1 month ago

I'm with Keegan on this but there is a reason. This is not just about Heeney either. This about the players at KU. There are some good players on this team that weren't given real opportunities to win by Gill and Weis. Players that were terrible were given opportunities.

It's always easy to argue in retrospect, but this is how people learn from mistakes.

  1. Crist shouldn't have ever been brought in. We should have kept Jordan Webb.
  2. We had other guys that were given a bum deal as well. Sure, if you want to build your style of team as a new coach, I can understand that but when you first get to a program, you have to deal with what you have and work your scheme in slowly as you recruit the type of players for it. (Novel idea?)
  3. I don't have a problem with naming a starter in the Spring or after Spring practices, but it was a poor decision to name Cozart, and I don't wish any ill will towards him. He has abilities that can help this team, but not as a pass first QB. Cumming should have been stater after Heaps was benched last season. Many of these issues with the receivers probably would have been worked out by now. For example, put a little more air under the ball when you're throwing to Harwell when he's running the post or fly. Let him run under it. He's not the kind of guy that can go up and get the ball like King or McKay.

Cummings was shorted a lot too. If he had been starter since Heaps was benched, we probably would have won 2, maybe even 3 more games this season so far. The receivers have to adjust to the new QB as well, so you know they have to run their routes farther because of Cummings arm and Cummings has been pretty accurate in throwing the long ball. I hope that he remains starter the rest of this season and then bring Millweard in for mop up duty to get some reps in real games. He's probably the best we have right now, and who knows how Willis is going to be when he get's here. Millweard is just a sophomore. Cumming is a junior so Millweard will have his shot as a senior. If Cummings graduates and enrolls as a graduate student, I think he can get another season as QB and by that time he might be pretty darn good. We have a four star receive that is still committed to us, and if we pick up a couple of more solid recruits and get some of the other guys some experience this year, then we can build something.

We also need to bring in the younger offensive linemen right now to get them some playing time. I'm not saying they need to start, but use them in a certain package such as goal line situations or to bring one in as an extra blocker when we need max protect.

Chris Bailey 6 years, 1 month ago

I live in Hutchinson and have my entire life with exeption of college but I was fortunate enough to see Heeney at Hutch High. I still remember him playing running back as a senior. He carried that team. He rarely went down without gaining big yardage. He refused to stop pushing forward. I wish Bowen would put him in for goal-line or short yardage runs. I understand why he doesn't but the kid is a talent. He could get those 1 or 2 yards. Or punch it in from the goal line. Sadly, we have another former Jayhawk and Hutch High standout who played with Heeney and graduated the year before who could have helped us as well. He was the shrine bowl MVP and played along side 2 Kstate starters one at receiver and the other a RB. I'm not gonna say his name but if you're from Hutch you all remember and know the MOOSE! The guy was a gamer. It's sad that we never gave him a chance to show what he had because we would have had 2 former Salthawks possibly 3 had we kept Grissom from OU committed. What might have been........................

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