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Khalil Herbert rushed for 291 yards and didn’t win Big 12 weekly honor

Kansas running back Khalil Herbert (10) tries to break away from the West Virginia defense during the first quarter on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas running back Khalil Herbert (10) tries to break away from the West Virginia defense during the first quarter on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

Kansas sophomore running back Khalil Herbert didn't land Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week honors, even though he rushed for 131 more yards than did TCU's Darius Anderson (three touchdowns, plus four receptions for 41 yards), presumably getting the nod because the Horned Frogs scored the most impressive victory of the week, 44-31, in Stillwater vs. favored Oklahoma State.

Tough break for Herbert, whose effort came in a 56-34 loss to West Virginia, but the talent Herbert showed suggests he'll win the award, perhaps multiple times, before his career is over.

Herbert's was the third-best rushing yardage total in KU history and the 20th 200-yard-plus rushing performance in Kansas football history. The top 20:

Name, Class
Yards Opponent Date
1 - Tony Sands, Sr.
396 Missouri 11-23-91
2 - Nolan Cromwell, Jr.
294 Oregon State
9-27-75
3 - Khalil Herbert, So.
291 West Virginia
9-25-17
4 - Gale Sayers, So.
283 Oklahoma State
10-27-62
5 - David Winbush, So.
268 Colorado 10-24-98
6 - Wade Stinson, Jr.
239 Utah 11-04-50
7 - June Henley, Fr.
237 Iowa State
10-16-93
8 - Laverne Smith, Jr.
236 Missouri 11-22-75
9 - Reggie Duncan, So.
227 Texas Tech
10-06-01
10 - June Henley, Sr.
226 Iowa State
11-02-96
11 - L.T. Levine, Jr.
221 Missouri 11-19-94
12 - Tony Sands, So.
217 Kansas State
10-28-89
13 - June Henley, Sr./
Kerwin Bell, Fr.
216 Utah/K-State 9-28-96/11-1-80
15 - Tony Sands, So.
215 Missouri 11-18-89
16 - James Sims, Sr.
211 West Virginia
11-16-13
17 - June Henley, Sr.
209 Texas
11-16-96
18 - Tony Pierson, So.
202 Texas Tech
11-10-12
19 - Jon Cornish, Sr./June Henley, Sr.
201 Kansas State/TCU
11-18-06/9-14/96
Source: Kansas football media guide
Reply 10 comments from Kent Gaylor Dale Rogers Jmfitz85 Dirk Medema Tom Keegan Andy Godwin Michael Maris Brett McCabe Dego88

Zach Hannon transforms from Missouri Tigers fan to Kansas Jayhawks blocker

KU offensive lineman Zach Hannon

KU offensive lineman Zach Hannon

Then a junior at Rockhurst High, Kansas offensive lineman Zach Hannon sat in the stands and watched Tyshawn Taylor score nine of his 24 points in overtime to lead the Jayhawks to an 87-86 victory against Missouri in the final game between the bitter rivals.

Hannon watched with Montell Cozart, Ben Johnson and other recruits. He watched Kansas whittle away at Missouri’s 19-point lead. He watched and he stewed.

“It was so tough for me not to cheer for Missouri,” Hannon said. “I was trying to keep my mouth shut."

It’s a shame late Kansas football player and coach Don Fambrough was not around to see what the coach would have considered Hannon’s transformation from foolish teenager to wise, young husband and father.

“I never thought I’d be a Jayhawk because both of my parents and my grandma were Tigers,” Hannon said. “I actually grew up hating KU, but my parents love it for me and I love it.” For one thing, he’s getting to play. He watched others play during his four years at Nebraska before coming to Kansas as a graduate transfer.

Hannon earned his roster spot in Saturday’s loss at Ohio. It became increasingly evident that sophomore right tackle Antione Frazier needs more seasoning, so offensive line coach Zach Yenser turned to Hannon early in the game and the former Cornhusker gave a credible performance, especially for someone who had not played tackle since high school.

His reps throughout fall camp all came at guard and he just moved to tackle during last week’s practices.

At not quite 6-foot-4, 315 pounds and not blessed with particularly long arms, Hannon is built more like a guard.

“Definitely a little bit different,” Hannon said of playing without his hand on the ground. “It’s fun when you’re out on an island like they call it. It’s just you one-on-one against the D-end and you get an opportunity to show what you’ve got.”

Hannon’s not fast but has better footwork than his body type might suggest. He attributes that to playing lacrosse from a young age. His father, Tim Hannon, is on the lacrosse coaching staff at Rockhurst High.

“So even though I’m a shorter, heavier dude, I still can keep up because I have the feet,” Hannon said.

He’s atop the depth chart, expected to make his first college O-line start Saturday vs. West Virginia at Memorial Stadium, 11 a.m. kickoff.

So far, transfer Charles Baldwin has done a much better job of working himself into the coach’s doghouse than out of it — he was not in uniform the past two games — but remains KU’s most talented option at right tackle. Even if Baldwin eventually earns the job, Hannon will supply valuable depth at multiple positions.

Hannon said no to Charlie Weis out of high school and yes to Beaty when Texas Tech and Nevada recruited him as a graduate transfer.

“One of the reasons I wanted to play close to home was my dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer,” Hannon said.

So even when he didn’t play in the first two games, he said he was “extremely grateful. I wouldn’t exchange this experience for anything, and as of Monday we found out my dad is cancer-free, so God is good. Everything is going great.”

He said his father underwent 49 sessions of radiation and described him as “a fighter, man. He’s always been a very positive role model, a great example of the type of man that I want to be, the type of father that I want to be, the type of husband that I want to be. I’m just very blessed to have him as a father."

Hannon and receiver Ryan Schadler are the only married players on the KU roster. Hannon and wife Jennifer, who “started talking,” as freshmen in high school, per Zach, have a 2-year-old daughter, Harper.

“My daughter’s a blessing,” Hannon said. “She came at a perfect time. She helped me and my wife through so many different things. When the coaching change happened, I was starting to get upset with my playing time, then I would come home and see her. “Then when I found out about my father being sick, whenever she was in the room with my parents or Jennifer’s parents, she just lights up the room. She definitely has her grandparents wrapped around her finger.”

Hannon has taken over at right tackle for the moment, junior-college transfer Andru Tovi at left guard, two friends ascending on the depth chart at the same time. Tovi calls Hannon, “Old Man.”

“After practices, I’m not as young as I used to be, so you can catch me limping off the field,” Hannon said. “They tell me I need a cane.”

He doesn’t need one of those yet, but he did need a chance. He came to a place where one was available and he made the most of his first shot at the age of 23.

Reply 1 comment from John Brazelton

Baylor has become the game to circle on Kansas football calendar

Kansas head coach David Beaty, right, screams from the sidelines during the third quarter on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017 at Peden Stadium in Athens, Ohio.

Kansas head coach David Beaty, right, screams from the sidelines during the third quarter on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017 at Peden Stadium in Athens, Ohio. by Nick Krug

Kansas head coach David Beaty, in his third season of trying to build something out of the rubble left him, went out of his way to praise the school's football fan base at his weekly press conference.

"I would just say that we've got unbelievable fans," Beaty said. "They've been patient. We certainly appreciate it. There's no doubt about that. But the plan is a great plan. We believe in it. We know it will work. There's no doubt in our mind."

During the offseason, Beaty underrated the importance of experience and physical maturity and talked in a way that made many believe he tought a bowl game was possible this season. Reality has set in.

"We've got some young guys," Beaty said. "We're not going to use that as an excuse. You know what, we've got some young dudes. Probably 53 percent or more of our roster that we traveled with the other day were sophomores or juniors. Only three of them, three of those guys were redshirt juniors in Joe (Dineen), and Keith (Loneker), guys like that. You're talking about there's a lot of youth there."

Young doesn't necessarily mean eventually good. Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn't. You can guess which side Beaty stands on with that one.

"I would say that the future looks bright," Beaty said. "The good thing is we're 1-2. That's where we're at. There's a bunch of teams out there that are 1-2. I would just say, Hey, listen, don't make it more than it is."

Beaty didn't mean that 1-2 is a good record when the only victory came against Southeast Missouri State, an FCS program, followed by a pair of losses to MAC schools Central Michigan and Ohio. He meant that 75 percent of the season remains and it's too early to tune out.

"We've got a great opportunity this Saturday against West Virginia," Beaty said. "Show up. Be there. Bring five friends. Let's get after 'em."

At this point, KU probably needs to show something on the field for that fan-recruiting talk to resonate. As is the only appropriate focus for a football coach, Beaty's attention remains trained on the next game, against a team blessed with a quarterback, Florida transfer Will Grier, well-armed to shred the Jayhawks' secondary.

I like the "bring five friends," pitch though. And if every KU student who goes to KU football games talks five friends into coming to one game, the more time she or he has to make that pitch, the better. So it's not difficult to know which game on the brutal Big 12 schedule is the best one for KU fans to circle if they can make it to just one game this season: Baylor.

The beleaguered Bears visit Memorial Stadium on Nov. 4, which we'll call, "Bring Five Friends Day." Baylor has lost to Turner Gill-coached Liberty, 48-45, UT-San Antonio, 17-10, and at Duke, 34-20.

Circle it, bring five friends, and in the event that Kansas should win, know that you had a part in what very well could be a victory that keeps the Jayhawks out of last place, a sign of progress.

Reply 12 comments from Tom Keegan Jhawki78 John Brazelton Brock Wells Jmfitz85 Brett McCabe Chrisdeweese Oldjayhawkjack Titus Canby

Peyton Bender a little better than so-so so far

Kansas quarterback Peyton Bender (7) is driven to the turf by Ohio linebacker Dylan Conner (35) and Ohio linebacker Quentin Poling (32) during the third quarter on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017 at Peden Stadium in Athens, Ohio.

Kansas quarterback Peyton Bender (7) is driven to the turf by Ohio linebacker Dylan Conner (35) and Ohio linebacker Quentin Poling (32) during the third quarter on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017 at Peden Stadium in Athens, Ohio. by Nick Krug

Any time a team loses football games by significant margins human nature dictates that most of the time analyzing the outcome focuses on what factors contributed to the loss.

In the case of Peyton Bender, it’s easy to pinpoint the negatives. First, he throws too many interceptions, five in three games to be exact. Second, he does a poor job of recognizing blitzes, a weakness that contributes to him being sacked too many times, eight to be exact.

But head coach David Beaty isn’t just being nice when he follows up talking about those deficiencies by saying that Bender is “doing some really good things.” He’s right about that.

Bender has shown toughness in making throws while taking hits. He’s also zipped a number of passes into small windows and as offensive coordinator Doug Meacham pointed out, when Bender doesn’t miss by a mile, he’s an accurate thrower.

The fact Bender hits so many receivers every game suggests that he does a nice job of going through his progressions and finding the right target.

He seems to be developing nice chemistry with Evan Fairs, a 6-foot-3, 195-pound sophomore who knows how to attack the ball. Keep an eye on Fairs. He's a keeper and so is Chase Harrell.

Let's look at Bender's numbers, before doing so, I’ll issue a qualifier by saying that I agree with Vin Scully, the friendly retired Dodgers broadcaster, who once said: “Statistics are used much like a drunk uses a lamppost: for support, not illumination.”

Here goes: Kansas ranks 12th in the nation in passing yardage with 343.3 yards per game. The rest of the numbers are less impressive and more illuminating. Bender completes 58.2 percent of his passes and he has one more touchdown pass (six) than his interception total.

Bender's not the problem, but can develop into part of the solution.

So far, not great, but not so bad either.

Reply 10 comments from John Brazelton Bob Bailey Tom Keegan Bville Hawk Mike Nicco Lcjayhawk Catsandwich Jhawki78 Chrisdeweese Joe Ross

Kansas receiver Ryan Schadler back playing sport he loves most

Kansas freshman Ryan Schadler returns a kick in the Jayhawks' 23-17 loss to TCU on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015, in Fort Worth, Texas.

Kansas freshman Ryan Schadler returns a kick in the Jayhawks' 23-17 loss to TCU on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015, in Fort Worth, Texas. by Richard Gwin

As is the case with much of the Kansas roster, junior slot receiver Ryan Schadler didn’t have any Div. I football scholarship offers when he played his final high school game.

Schadler had more options than most, but no Div. I football offers.

Selected 4A state player of the year after rushing for 2,541 yards and 42 touchdowns, Schadler had a slew of Div. II offers from which to choose. One of four players to average more than 12 points a game on Hesston High’s 26-0 4A state-champion basketball squad, he was recruited to play guard by many junior colleges and NAIA schools, including Baker University.

State champion in the 400 meters and long jump and state runner-up in the 100 and 200 meters as a senior, Schadler ultimately chose to accept a partial scholarship to run for nearby Wichita State.

“I decided to give up football and focus on track,” Schadler said. “I thought it would be better for my body. But when I got there I just missed football way too much. Right when football season began I said, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ It was killing me.”

So he asked for and eventually was granted his release from Wichita State, which does not have a football program. He and his high school coaches became pro-active in trying to drum up interest in him as a football player by sending video of his high school highlights.

He said he was on the verge of committing to Missouri State, but it was then that coach Terry Allen was fired.

“Then I was about to commit to Pitt State to be a dual-sport athlete in track and football,” Schadler said. “Then the next day Clint Bowen called me on my head coach’s phone and said “We want you to be part of our team. He’s big on Kansas kids and that’s something I really value in him. You see the guys 90 miles down the road doing it well for years now and it’s really cool how he’s helped Kansas with that.”

Since scientists haven’t yet figured out how to clone human beings, Schadler won’t be playing for Bowen. Otherwise, he might be a safety. Offensive coordinator Doug Meacham is happy to have Schadler in his stable of receivers, even though he’s new to it and needs reps before mastering the nuances of the position.

It was Meacham who suggested to head coach David Beaty that Schadler convert from running back to receiver.

Schadler already made a positive impact in KU’s second game of the season. He not only ran 33 yards for a touchdown on a double reverse and returned a kickoff 46 yards against Central Michigan, he also caught six passes for 60 yards.

“I do have a lot to work on and I feel like I’m getting a lot more comfortable,” said Schadler, who missed last season after undergoing offseason abdominal surgery to address a birth defect that led to excruciating pain. “The first game, especially after my injury, I was a little anxious and I probably wasn’t thinking as much as I should during plays. The last game I felt more comfortable.”

Beaty has coached receivers for much of his career and likes Schadler’s ceiling at the position. “There are still some things that as you go through the tape, you’re like, ‘OK, he hasn’t played that position yet.’ . . . He’s getting better every week," Beaty said. "He improved greatly (from first game to second).”

Meacham said he shrunk the number of plays he used Schadler on and put tight end Ben Johnson in the slot more often, so as not to give Schadler too much too soon.

“We made the volume of things he needed to know a little smaller,” Meacham said. “There are some little things he’s still trying to figure out. It’s really just coverage read things. It’s not the actually running in a particular route, it’s how you run it into this or that (coverage), where you go. So we try to put him in there when we know he’s going to know.”

That Schadler’s first touchdown run happened to cover 33 yards gave it an eerie quality. He has worn No. 33 his entire life and when he had his surgery, his mother, Donna Schadler, said that when she saw his patient number was 33 that made her feel as if everything would turn out fine.

Schadler was born with a malrotation of his small and large intestines and his appendix. “It’s still twisted up, but it doesn’t affect me because they cut the strands that were really long and twisting around,” Schadler said. “My intestines are still in the wrong spot.”

Yet, he’s still on the football field, which he is convinced is the absolute right spot for him to showcase his athleticism. His two autumns away from the sport, one to focus on track, one to recover from surgery, hammered home what he already knew, that football is his favorite sport.

Reply 2 comments from Dego88 Eliott Reeder

Kansas defensive line coach Jesse Williams liked discipline he saw during recruiting visit to KU

Kansas defensive line coach Jesse Williams flashes a smile during spring football practice on Thursday, March 30, 2017.

Kansas defensive line coach Jesse Williams flashes a smile during spring football practice on Thursday, March 30, 2017. by Nick Krug

First-year Kansas defensive line coach Jesse Williams didn’t see a strong performance from the Jayhawks when he visited Lawrence last season as part of Frank Solich’s Ohio staff, but he decided to make the move anyway.

Ohio defeated Kansas 37-21 at Memorial Stadium after jumping to a 25-0 lead. Kansas managed just 21 yards in total offense in the first half in that one. The Jayhawks never drew closer than 10 points.

So why did Williams make the move?

“I definitely saw it as a program on the rise,” Williams said during the summer. “When I was able to come on my visit, you saw the discipline. That locker room was pristine. When I was on my visit I toured it three times: before a workout, after a workout, on the tour. Not one time was something on the ground, so you knew there was discipline within the room. You knew there was talent in the room and you knew there were some good coaches in the building. That’s why I felt like it was on the rise.”

That discipline hasn’t shown on the field yet as Kansas continues to turn it over too often and draw costly penalties, but Williams didn’t expect the program to turn around overnight.

Reply 7 comments from Dirk Medema Jmfitz85 John Gorski Titus Canby Joe Ross Chrisdeweese

Kansas losingest FBS program of this decade

Kansas head coach David Beaty gives a pat on the back to Kansas wide receiver LaQuvionte Gonzalez (1) after Gonzalez fumbled a punt during the second quarter on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas head coach David Beaty gives a pat on the back to Kansas wide receiver LaQuvionte Gonzalez (1) after Gonzalez fumbled a punt during the second quarter on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

Third-year Kansas football coach David Beaty lost some followers with Saturday's loss to Central Michigan, but his team hasn't lost him as a believer. Beaty remains bullish on the Jayhawks.

"We're still a good football team," Beaty said Tuesday at his weekly presser. "That's the thing I'm excited about. We're still a good football team. Nothing's changed."

Nothing has changed, but Kansas hasn't been a good football team since last decade. In fact, nobody in the FBS has been worse than KU this decade in terms of W's and L's.

Staring at 10 games in which it will be the underdog, unless favored against Baylor in Lawrence, the Kansas football program doesn't stand a chance of climbing out of last place among all FBS schools this decade any time soon.

Two games into the eighth season of the decade, KU has a .174 winning percentage. New Mexico State is next worst with a .207 mark.

If KU (1-1) somehow still can squeeze two more victories out of the schedule, it will remain in last place, even if New Mexico State goes winless for the rest of the season.

Turner Gill (.217 winning percentage at KU), hired by Lew Perkins to replace ousted Mark Mangino (.510), coached the first two seasons of the decade. Sheahon Zenger hires Charlie Weis, interim Clint Bowen and third-year coach David Beaty have combined for a .161 winning percentage.

These are facts, which makes them slanted neither positively nor negatively. Cold, hard facts.

Here's how the 20 losingest FBS football programs of this decade have fared:

School
Record Pct. Current HC (rec.)
1- Kansas
15-71 .174 David Beaty (3-23)
2- New Mexico State
18-69 .207 Doug Martin (11-39)
3 - UNLV
23-67 .256 Tony Sanchez (8-18)
4- Florida Atlantic
23-63 .267 Lane Kiffin (0-2)
5 - Eastern Michigan
24-63 .276 Chris Creighton (12-27)
6- Idaho
25-62 .287 Paul Petrino (16-34)
7 - Tulane
26-62 .295 Willie Fritz (5-9)
8 - Purdue
27-61 .307 Jeff Brohm (1-1)
9 - Akron
27-60 .310 Terry Bowden (24-38)
10 - Iowa State
29-59 .330 Matt Campbell (4-10)
11t - Miami (Ohio)
30-59 .337 Chuck Martin (12-27)
11t - New Mexico
30-59 .337 Bob Davie (28-37)
11t - Buffalo
29-57
.337
Lance Leipold (7-19)
14 - Colorado
31-59
.344
Mike McIntyre (22-31)
15 - Virginia
30-57
.345 Bronco Mendenhall (3-11)
16 - Army
31-57 .352 Jeff Monken (16-23)
17t - Indiana
32-56 .364 Tom Allen (1-1)
17t - UTEP
32-56 .364 Sean Kugler (18-33)
19t - North Texas
36-58 .383 Seth Littrell (6-9)
19t - Hawaii
36-58 .383 Nick Rolovich (9-8)

Georgia State (10-40) and Massachusetts (10-53) did not qualify for this list because they moved up from the FCS in mid-decade. UAB (19-43) also was not included because it discontinued its football program for a couple of seasons.

Reply 29 comments from Joe Ross Bryan Mohr Brian_leslie Table_rock_jayhawk Jayhawkinaustin Larrym Catsandwich Realisthawk Layne Pierce Brett McCabe and 11 others

Offensive line disappoints in loss to Central Michigan

Kansas quarterback Peyton Bender (7) passes while under pressure from the CMU defense during the Jayhawks game against Central Michigan Saturday, Sept. 9 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas quarterback Peyton Bender (7) passes while under pressure from the CMU defense during the Jayhawks game against Central Michigan Saturday, Sept. 9 at Memorial Stadium. by Mike Yoder

The most obvious difference in performance when comparing units from Central Michigan of the Mid-American Conference and Kansas from the Big 12 came at offensive line.

The Chippewas' O-line held KU’s talented front four in check and didn’t allow a sack. KU linebacker Joe Dineen was the only one credited with a quarterback hurry.

Kansas did a decent job against the run (3.5 yards per carry), but thanks in part to sound pass protection and his mobility, lefty quarterback Shane Morris shredded KU’s overmatched, green secondary for 467 passing yards and five touchdowns without throwing an interception.

In contrast, Peyton Bender was under fire all day, largely because of breakdowns on the right side of the line, where tackle Antione Frazier showed his inexperience.

How can a MAC O-line be so much better than one from the Big 12?

The biggest factor is experience. To what degree making the right decisions in recruiting also is a factor will play out in coming seasons as we learn how KU’s young blockers develop.

Central Michigan started four fifth-year seniors who were all high school recruits who were part of the Class of 2013 and redshirted in 2013. A third-year sophomore started at left guard.

Conversely, Kansas started a true sophomore at left tackle, a third-year senior at left guard, a third-year sophomore at center, a true sophomore at right guard and a second-year freshman at right tackle.

Head coach David Beaty and offensive line coach Zach Yenser expressed confidence throughout camp that the line had made big strides from a year ago. It didn’t show Saturday, at least not in the area of pass protection.

It will be interesting to see if any shakeup is in store, heading into Saturday’s game at Ohio.

Charles Baldwin, dismissed from Alabama’s program after spending one spring with the Crimson Tide, has not earned playing time yet at right tackle. If he hasn’t earned it and Yenser determines Frazier needs more seasoning, no obvious place to turn is available.

Backup junior right guard Larry Hughes played right tackle as a freshman, so that’s an option.

A more drastic step would involve putting fourth-year senior Jacob Bragg at center and moving Mesa Ribordy to right tackle, where he never has played. That alignment at least would have KU’s most talented, smartest blockers at the tackle spot with Hakeem Adeniji at left tackle.

Shifting backup left tackle Clyde McCauley to starting right tackle also could be tried. Or, Yenser could decide to keep the line in tact and hope that all Frazier needs to hold his own are game reps.

Heading into the season, I thought the O-line was a year away, but based on Saturday’s performance, that projection seems a little optimistic. There is no rushing the development of offensive linemen.

Reply 16 comments from Bob Bailey Jim Stauffer Mlbenn35 Dirk Medema Jay Hawkinson Cshjhawk Brett McCabe Jmfitz85 Maxhawk Tom Keegan and 2 others

Kansas football top 25 difference-makers: No. 1, DE Dorance Armstrong

Kansas defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr. (2) puts Texas running back D'Onta Foreman (33) on the ground after recovering a fumble during the second quarter on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr. (2) puts Texas running back D'Onta Foreman (33) on the ground after recovering a fumble during the second quarter on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

Even those who come to Memorial Stadium to honor the Orange Bowl team of 10 seasons ago and don’t know much about the current roster surely know this much: Junior defensive end Dorance Armstrong is the team’s best player.

Armstrong earned unanimous first-team All-Big 12 honors as a sophomore, when he had 10 sacks and 20 tackles for loss, and is this season’s Big 12 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year.

He’s KU’s best defensive player since Aqib Talib, who is in town this weekend for a reunion with teammates and to see his name go up on KU’s Ring of Honor, along with that of former teammate left tackle Anthony Collins.

Talib and Armstrong have distinctly different personalities. Talib, an extrovert, can be on the loud side. At times, he treated some team rules as if they were made to be broken. Armstrong is on the quiet side and a stickler for following rules.

Yet, they do have a common trait. Armstrong and Talib are obsessive students of the game, forever intent on becoming better at their different but linked crafts. Put Armstrong on that 2007 team that went 12-1 and who knows what that record might have been. Put Talib on this KU team and bowl talk would gain credibility.

Listening to coaches and teammates talk about how Armstrong approaches his job calls to mind the way those who coached and teamed with Talib at Kansas viewed him.

“In practice every day I kind of notice that he’s very attentive to the details,” reserve center Jacob Bragg said of Armstrong. “Like when other people are going, you can kind of watch him studying their mistakes and he can pick up on it pretty quickly. I feel like he doesn’t make a lot of mistakes other people do because he pays attention, just because he’s such a good student of the game.”

Really good players can’t be called great unless they make teammates better. Talib did that by covering so much of the field and by knowing where everybody on the defense was supposed to be on every play and not being afraid to challenge someone out of place or off in space.

Armstrong makes the secondary better by getting to the quarterback in a hurry. He soaks up so much of the attention from opposing offensive lines that he makes the rest of the defensive line better.

“He’s a damn good player,” Bragg said. “He pushes the D-line to do better. Any time you have a player who’s on a high level and gets recognition, everyone wants to get where he’s at and it just makes everyone around him better. I know our offensive tackles are going to be a lot better because of him.”

Mesa Ribordy was recruited out of high school as a 245-pound tight end from Louisburg and as a third-year sophomore has worked his way into becoming a second-year starter at center who weighs 305 pounds. He knows dedication when he sees it.

“I think the most important thing for Dorance is as talented as he is he still has one of the best work ethics on the team and I think that’s what’s going to take him to his full potential,” Ribordy said. “He’s not one of those guys who has tons of talent but won’t work. He gives it his all every day.”

Right tackle Antione Frazier, a sophomore, drew consistent praise from all levels of the coaching staff for his commitment to improvement during the offseason.

“He’s a different guy,” Frazier said. “He’s a very different guy and I used to think I was a different guy when we worked out, among my peers, but he’s a different guy. He sticks out. He doesn’t really say too much, but he works. If someone’s not working, I’ve seen him plenty of times call out whoever’s slacking. He doesn’t stand for it.”

Nobody had a greater impact than Armstrong on KU’s biggest of 14 victories in the eight post-Mark Mangino years. He had 11 tackles (nine solo), three TFLs, two sacks, and forced and recovered a fumble in the 24-21 overtime victory against Texas. His stiff-arm of massive Longhorns running back D'Onta Foreman on a fumble return captured the game in one play.

It was an unforgettable performance and made Armstrong an easy choice for postseason/preseason honors, which he uses for motivation to improve.

“I’m ready for the season to start so I can prove to people I am the defensive player of the year,” Armstrong said. “It was never a goal. I never thought of it. It never came on my mind. And then once I was told that, I said, ‘OK, now I’ve got to go get that along with the rest of the awards.' Then I rolled my sleeves back up and got to work.”

First-year defensive line coach Jesse Williams appreciates the many ways that Armstrong makes his job easier.

“When you walk in you want your hardest worker to be your best player not your hardest worker to be your worst player,” Williams said. “It just helps me as far as when I’m pointing out examples on film and even off the field, how to carry yourself, how you’re supposed to do things, doing things right. I think he’s a great model for the young guys and for the new guys coming in.”

KU football's top 25 difference-makers

25 - Quan Hampton

24 - Ryan Schadler

23 - Taylor Martin

22 - Ben Johnson

21 - Isaiah Bean

20 - Josh Ehambe

19 - Bryce Torneden

18 - Keith Loneker Jr.

17 - Dom Williams

16 - Derrick Neal

15 - Khalil Herbert

14 - Charles Baldwin

13 - Shakial Taylor

12 - Chase Harrell

11 - Joe Dineen

10 - Hasan Defense

9 - Mesa Ribordy

8 - Carter Stanley

7 - Mike Lee

6 - Hakeem Adeniji

5 - Daylon Charlot

4 - Peyton Bender

3 - Steven Sims

2 - Daniel Wise

Reply 5 comments from Jim Stauffer Greg Ledom Randy Bombardier Dirk Medema Brock Wells

Country-strong J.J. Holmes surges to top of Kansas football depth chart

J.J. Holmes

J.J. Holmes

Kansas junior defensive tackle J.J. Holmes said he didn’t play football for Chipley High in the small Florida panhandle town until his senior year. Basketball was his sport before that. But the seeds were sewn for football success long, long before he debuted.

For as long as Holmes can remember, he worked for the family firewood business, which has branched into other businesses, including an antique shop.

“I was 4 or 5 when I first got on the job, 6 or 7 when I knew what I was doing,” Holmes said.

When he returns to Chipley, Holmes said, his parents still put him to work.

“Every day,” he said. “I cut trees, carry furniture, things like that."

On one of those trips earlier this year, Holmes enjoyed too much “good country food,” at the dinner table at home and put on about 15 pounds.

The strength and conditioning staff has educated him on the best methods to take off excess weight and although nobody has said he is at his ideal weight yet, he has impressed coaches enough that he is listed at the top of the depth chart at nose tackle, starting on the same defensive line as tackle Daniel Wise and ends Josh Ehambe and Dorance Armstrong.

"I love playing with J.J.," Armstrong said. "He's always quick with everything he does. I just love the way he plays. He has fast feet as big as he is. I’m ready to see what he can do.”"

Holmes, pursued doggedly by recruiting coordinator Kenny Perry during his two seasons at Hutchinson County Community College, said he also received scholarship offers from Florida State, Kentucky, Missouri, South Florida and Tennessee. Perry beat all of those schools to the punch and Holmes never forgot that.

“I felt like I was at home on my visit,” Holmes said. “Coach Perry really influenced me because of the person he is.”

He is listed at 6-foot-3, 335 pounds, built for the position he plays and blessed with nimble enough feet to play the sport that was his first love.

“I was a basketball star back home and I just tried football,” Holmes said. “I was at left tackle and they tried me at defensive tackle. I made a couple of plays, so they played me both ways.”

He became a full-time defensive player in junior college.

“I like D-tackle better,” Holmes said. “I get to hit people, be more aggressive. O-line is a lot of sitting back and waiting instead of attacking.”

Holmes identified his greatest tools as, “probably my hand strength and my aggression, moving the line of scrimmage I’m pretty good at.”

As first-year defensive line coach Jesse Williams put it, Holmes is “country strong.”

“We saw the talent from Day 1, but the biggest thing he’s done in his transformation from spring to fall camp is he’s gotten himself in way better shape so he’s able to play extra snaps,” Williams said. “Now his athletic talent is starting to come. By no means is he a a finished product, but he’s doing a nice job.”

In the process, he still finds time to crack up teammates.

“Every fourth word has some sort of humor in it, and that’s not a bad thing,” Williams said. “He’s just a big, fun-loving guy and if we can get that going in the right way then that can be productive for the Jayhawks. You can’t help but chuckle a little at some of the things he says. Sometimes it’s a little hard understanding him with his southern drawl, but I think we’re all getting a little used to it.”

Armstrong likes the impact Holmes' humor has on peers.

“The dude’s a comedian," Armstrong said. "He always has positive energy. He’s never a Debbie Downer, always in a good mood. I think that’s something that fits into our D-line room, a lot of funny guys who keep the dudes laughing and in a positive mood.”

Defensive coordinator Clint Bowen sounded as if he expects to see a better No. 88 in the middle of the D-line as his two-year Kansas career progresses.

“J.J. has talent and he’s learning what it takes to play at this level day in and day out and the mentality that he has to bring,” defensive coordinator Clint Bowen said. “He’s a talented guy and when he gets it figured out — and he will because he cares — he’s going to be a really good player for us. He’s proven he can hold his own in there. He’s a big man and it’s hard to move him.”

He’s at the top of the depth chart and he has the talent to stay there. It might be hard to move him.

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