Thursday, July 23, 2009

Something to prove

Kansas’ Sharp motivated by doubters

Kansas University’s Jake Sharp (1) bowls over a Kansas State defender in this file photo from Nov. 1, 2008. Sharp rushed for 181 yards against the Wildcats.

Kansas University’s Jake Sharp (1) bowls over a Kansas State defender in this file photo from Nov. 1, 2008. Sharp rushed for 181 yards against the Wildcats.


Jake Sharp had just started playing football as a fifth-grader when he brought the newspaper article to his father.

In the photo, Salina Central running back Parker Wallace was hurdling a Liberal defender in the state championship game.

“Dad,” Jake said, “do you think I could do that?”

Rick Sharp didn’t hesitate.

“I don’t think there’d be any problem with that, if you just set your mind to it and go do it.”

Jake couldn’t hold back his excitement.

“That’s the coolest thing in the world,” the young Jake said. “That’s what I want to do.”

Understanding Jake Sharp

So who exactly is Jake Sharp, the person, when he’s not Jake Sharp, the Kansas University senior running back?

Well, for starters, his nickname in high school was “Looking Sharp.” His freshman year, he kept telling his friends that one day a big story was going to be written about him in the paper, and the headline would read, “Looking Sharp.”

Sure enough, on the preview story for the state title game his senior year — as Jake’s Salina Central squad prepared to take on Blue Valley in the Class 5A championship game — his prediction came true: The headline was exactly as he foretold.

But his best friend from high school, David Diener, admits that getting a true read on Sharp is harder than it seems. Jake is a people person — someone who always has liked being the center of attention.

But, then again, he’s a loner.

“Unless you knew Jake,” David says, “you’d think he was a little weird.”

There were times in high school when David was with friends, and someone would wonder where Jake was. They’d call him, and Jake would tell them thanks for the invitation, but on that day, he just wanted to hang out at his place.

Jake claims it’s an inherited trait from his father. He likes being around people, but doesn’t necessarily like big crowds. He’s more than happy being on his own.

He also likes to set aside some of the day for “my time,” a term his girlfriend has grown to hate.

But David says there’s something else you need to know about Jake: He was always trying to show that he was tops in everything he did. That could be backyards hoops, sprints, go-karts or paintball.

“He definitely wants to prove to everybody that he’s the best athlete around,” David Diener says. “It’s been that way since I’ve ever known him.”

KU wide receiver Kerry Meier might deal with Jake’s competitiveness the most. The two have the same major (sports management) and nearly identical schedules, and Jake constantly bugs him: “How’d you do on the test?”

“If I’m not the best, it drives me insane,” Jake says. “That’s always been the way I am.”

His high school friends knew it for sure.

Whenever the back started to get a big head, someone would yell out four words — “Six carries, three yards” — Jake’s rushing total during a sub-state game his sophomore year.

Jake being Jake, the words always got to him.

“It’s a joke,” Jake says, “but it drove me nuts.”

Chip on his shoulder?

Maybe that’s where the stigma came from. Perhaps it is his constant drive to be the best that has somehow warped into the perception that he is a “mad-at-the-world running back.”

Jake Sharp doesn’t seem angry.

He sits in a chair a few feet away, wearing a white T-shirt, with his long, blond hair making him look more like a happy-go-lucky college kid than a football player with a Kansas-sized chip on his shoulder.

But isn’t he the latter?

Everyone seems to say it: “Jake Sharp runs angry.”

Is it true? Does he run hard just to stick it to his doubters?

“Who told you that?” he says with a warm smile, leaning forward in his chair while rubbing his hands together.

Turns out, this answer isn’t so easy, either.

He admits he has been fortunate. He came from a good family. He spent lots of time fishing and weight lifting with his dad growing up. His mom babied the tar out of him.

But there’s something else there. The 5-foot-10, 190-pounder hasn’t reached this point by listening to those who have praised him.

He got here by listening to those voices who told him he couldn’t.

Early doubters

The doubters didn’t start just before Jake Sharp headed off to KU. They started before his freshman year at Salina Central High.

Jake grew up in the country between Salina and the small town of Bennington. His family’s house was in both districts, so he could choose between going to 5A Salina Central and 2A Bennington.

He chose Salina Central. And he never forgot the negative words — words, he says, stick with him to this day.

“Yeah,” he says with a grin, “I guess I have a chip.”

Sometimes, he says, his anger affects his running.

He was most guilty in high school when facing crosstown rival Salina South.

“T’d off at the world, I guess,” Jake says. “I’d run terrible. I’d put my head down, and I’d just bulldoze into people.”

Jake Sharp’s high school coach, Marvin Diener, noticed. Jake says he had to sit in on film sessions where the coach compared his running against Salina South to other games earlier in the season.

Against South, Jake’s whole body was rigid when he ran.

In short, he was running like a fullback.

It’s a problem Sharp admits he still sometimes fights today.

“You’re just thinking about picking a guy out and trying to give him a blow,” he says. “That’s something I always have to work on. I just have to work on calming down, being calm and enjoying the game instead of just pressing the game.”

Leaving his mark

Marvin Diener is on the telephone, and he has a ton of stories to tell about Jake Sharp.

The first time he saw Jake at his son, David’s, fifth-grade football tryouts, the then-Salina Central football coach was pulled aside by his pastor: “Coach, man, you’ve got to come see this kid.”

It was Marvin’s first look at Jake. And, already, Jake was one of the fastest he’d seen at that level.

“Even then, just the way he moved, how hard he played,” Marvin says, “you knew right away that this kid was really something special.”

During Jake’s freshman year, Marvin remembers the first day he watched Jake practice.

When the lightning-quick back went in for reps, he remembers everyone stopped what they were doing just to see him run.

“He wanted to score every time he touched the ball,” Marvin says, “and he tried very hard to do it.”

But there was always more to Jake. He was likeable. Others wanted him to succeed.

And he worked as hard as anyone.

He loved the gym so much in high school that he spent the night of his senior prom working out.

And he has earned quite a reputation for his workout prowess at KU. He was honored earlier this year as one of Bruce Feldman’s “Workout Warriors” in an ESPN the Magazine article.

“If you’re doing extra stuff after the workouts here, like me and Kerry Meier do every day, that’s saying something,” Jake says. “You really want it.”

Though the work is serious, Jake makes sure to keep the mood light with his teammates around. Sometimes, in the weight room, he throws chalk up in the air like LeBron James. Other times, he jams out on his air guitar to rock music.

“Honestly, I would almost say I enjoy lifting weights and fitness and sculpting the body more than I like sports,” Jake says. “That’s hilarious, but it’s true.”

‘Is he that good ... ?’

During the Salina Central senior scrimmage, Jake Sharp was nearly untackleable, breaking off long run after long run.

A dejected David Diener came to the sideline and found his father. He had to ask him a serious question.

“Is he that good,” the linebacker said, “or are we that bad?”

Marvin still remembers his response.

“Dave,” the coach said to his son, “that kid’s pretty good.”

Marvin laughs at the memory.

But he saves his best Jake Sharp story for last.

Saving his best

Jake Sharp took the handoff, fourth-and-one, everyone in the stadium knowing he was getting the ball.

The Salina Central tailback already had scored four times and had run for more than 250 yards in the 2005 5A state championship game at Welch Stadium in Emporia.

He had helped the Mustangs to the brink of a state title, as Central led Blue Valley, 29-21, with five minutes left.

But two plays earlier, Sharp had hobbled back to the huddle favoring his right knee, and now, facing fourth down on Central’s 14-yard line, Sharp had the ball in his hands again.

He had been known to go over the top of piles for the first down, and this would have been a perfect time, perhaps for his own Parker Wallace moment.

Blue Valley’s linebackers planned on a leap, though, coming over the top of the line in hopes of meeting Jake for a collision.

Jake wasn’t fooled, abandoning any thoughts of a jump before jerking himself to the right.

“He was on one leg,” Marvin says, “and makes a great cut at the line of scrimmage.”

Though there wasn’t much there, Jake wiggled through a small seam and fell forward. He gained two yards.

No measurement was needed. Salina Central had its first down.

The next play called for Jake to block an oncoming defender. He tried, but immediately his knee buckled under him.

Though he didn’t want to leave the game, Jake was helped off the field and didn’t return.

Five minutes later, after a punt and a defensive stand, Salina Central won its sixth state championship.

Jake finished with 265 rushing yards, but Marvin Diener will tell you those two yards were the most memorable.

Jake had been hurting. His coach could see that much.

But Marvin wouldn’t know just how much pain his running back was in until after the game.

“I knew Jake could get one yard,” Marvin says, “but he did it on a torn MCL.”

And immediately it’s obvious why the memory stands out in Marvin’s mind.

This play, more than any other, encapsulated Jake Sharp, the running back.

And also Jake Sharp, the person.

“We’ve had a lot of great, competitive players,” Marvin says, “but there are none that are more competitive.”


William James 13 years, 2 months ago

I'm so grateful for Jake Sharp. Last year most everyone was saying that Crawford should be the starting RB. I was hoping that Quigley would get it. Well, I don't know what I was thinking but I learned my lesson. Jake completely took over in the 2d half in Ames last year and shut me up for the rest of the year about who should be the RB.
I met him on the field after we beat KSU in 2006. He was walking past me and I said good job Jake and he looked right at me. He was really surprised I knew who he was apparently. If I ever meet him again, I'm gonna thank him for telling Ron Prince to get lost back in 2005. If I remember right, Ron drove to Salina after Jake committed and showed up at his house. Jake epitomizes everything the Fighting Manginos stand for and why college football is the best sport on the planet.

CrimsonPhoenix 13 years, 2 months ago

This is a great article. Can't wait to see Sharp tear it up next season!

Brad Avery 13 years, 2 months ago

A star running back playing for KU who is not from Texas. Absolutely a hero.

4jhawks4ku 13 years, 2 months ago

Thanks for a well written and informative article... learned a lot of history about our running back I never knew. How about more of these articles on our other stars before the season starts?

Joe Baker 13 years, 2 months ago

We definitely have football anticipation and I like this attitude. I hope each player develops a similar attitude this season. He's dangerous to our opponents. Keep the focus and bring home a Conference Champion and ultimately a NC one game at a time!


Rivethead 13 years, 2 months ago

Jake Sharp is......well, fabio already said it perfectly.

Rick Arnoldy 13 years, 2 months ago

I'm as impressed with Jesse's writing as I am Jake's running.

prairie_dog 13 years, 2 months ago

I have heard rumors that Jake is running crazy 40 times this summer, like 4.4, 4.3.... That's in Maclin territory.

Anyone have any color on this?

Jonathan Allison 13 years, 2 months ago

I liked Jake Sharp from the first time I saw him returning kicks as a freshman. He was fast and I knew he'd be good. I hope he has a HUGE year. It was painful watching those first 4 games last year when we couldn't run the ball worth a lick.

Big 12 Media Days start Monday. Prepare for some football coverage. Finally.

vmwskywalk 13 years, 2 months ago

I have to agree with everyone here. Great article. Jesse, this is the type of story that makes a casual fan a fanatic. It gives us a small piece of what these guys go through and who they are as a person. I beg you, PLEASE, write as many of these articles as you can on as many of our starters as you can. GO Hawks!

truefan 13 years, 2 months ago

This is the kind of article I love to read. It brings the attention and excitment back to the people who got KU were it is right now. I love our incoming recruits, but Toben Opurum said it best when he said "a lot of times a player’s recruitment doesn’t always tell how he’s going to pan out on the field." Those kids can add a lot, but players like Jake Sharp, Kerry Meier, Todd Reesing, and Darrel Stuckey are going to decide if KU gets to the Big XII Title game.

KGphoto 13 years, 2 months ago

Theory of Competition

"The theory of evolution claims only the strong shall survive. Maybe so. Maybe so. But the theory of competition says, just because they're the strong doesn't mean they can't get their asses kicked.

That's right. Don't be surprised if someone decides to flip the script, and take a pass on yelling uncle. And then suddenly, as the old saying goes, we got ourselves a game."

That's what Jake Sharp is for KU. And the best commercial ever features Jake at 1:27 and 1:45. If you watch closely, you'll see that they were very careful picking athletes and moments to represent the theory. It's no mistake he made the cut. I'm telling you. A team full of guys like Jake and Todd, may never lose.

Beat Oklahoma!

Beat Texas!

d_prowess 13 years, 2 months ago

Great video. I did think it was funny that they included clips of hunters though. Wouldn't the underdog in that match-up be the animal?

MinnesotaJay 13 years, 2 months ago

Jake doesn't have anything to prove to me, but I hope he maintains the attitude anyway. Glad he's a Jayhawk.

chezlog 13 years, 2 months ago

I've been in College Station all week talking about the up coming football season. The Jayhawks are getting plenty or respect down here and these folks are glad the Aggies are playing the bottom half of the Big 12 North (ISU, CU and KSU) this year. The one funny thing is that all these football fans hate Jake. Of course, it's just jealousy but I think it's funny. They don't like him 'cause he doesn't fit the running back mold (one thing mentioned is he's white.) I thinks it's a bit over the top when they say they hate him but loved or hated they respect him.

hailtoku 13 years, 2 months ago

I'm still not a fan of Sharp.

Sure when people think of him they think of him catching a pass on a wheel route. But he's not a good RUNNING BACK. Great athlete, poor running back.

Anyone remember Quigley running over that Texas defender? That's what we need; a true running back.

Jake can't break arm tackles and its frustrating to watch when our linemen make great blocks yet he can't shake one guy. I prefer Brandon McAnderson and Angus Quigley-like backs. Especially for our system. Those guys were big and a great complement to our offense. Jake doesn't provide the running threat we need.

kansas22 13 years, 2 months ago

Best High School running back I've ever seen. Ran for 360 and 6 TD's on my high school in the state tournament. This year could be magical. Beat OU, Beat Mizzou, but maybe most of all Beat Nebraska!

davelass 13 years, 2 months ago

Jake Sharp deserves the recognition, whether or not anyone thinks he's a good running back. Personally the man is a machine. I watched him his senior year take a kick back 98 yards on the first play of the game. Just because it was only against high school kids doesn't mean it wasn't a heck of a run. Hailtoku, Sharp fits the spread better than Quigley and McAnderson. The lanes are much bigger to run in, and I would hardly say Sharp got the same blocking last year as McAnderson did the year before, Not to mention playing the tougher 3 of the South. For almost having 900 yards on half a season of really getting the ball that's pretty good in a spread offense. Rock Chalk.

waywardJay 13 years, 2 months ago

This is the kind of Article I want to see just about everyday, Thanks Jesse.

Sharp's a fighter. That's about all I have learned about him, and please keep doubting. That's causing him to fight harder.

I want to see his improvements, because i think there will always be those sort of improvements with a kid like this. He will morph into a pit viper on the field, a wild boar and then a gazelle in the same play. I miss MAC and Cheese the unit, but the cheese is still getting ripe. I want 4 digits Sharp. preferably twice.

Max Ledom 13 years, 2 months ago


Jake is a great RB considering he finished in the top 5 in Big 12 rushing last year and he didnt even start until the second half of Iowa State. And you want Angus? He can'thold on to the ball to save his life. Lets see....right after that hit he put on the Texas player..he fumbled 2 plays later. Yeah thats what we need. And McAnderson and Angus were not very fast, so they had trouble getting the gaps. Jake is fast enough to do that. Also McAnderson had a great O-Line when he started so that made it easier for him. Jake doesn't have that (even though it looks like we have a excellent O-Line from what i saw at the spring game). And Jake has an excellent work ethic. Better then a lot of runningbacks from the past. That wasn't a wise statement by you.

railer1122 13 years, 2 months ago

hailtoku- You are a complete idiot. He played great against K-State, outstanding against MU with some jacked up ribs. And being a running back is not about running over people. It is about getting tough yards and out-running defenders. He jump-started our team against Iowa State. He caught that 67 yard pass then on the next offensive posession took a shovel pitch for about 50 yards. You can take Quigley and his fumbling, stone hands all you want, and we will take Jake.

I am tired of people doubting the abilitly of our starters. They start at a Division 1 program for a reason. They might have some lapses, or just run into some great players, but our starters can play, as they start on a team that is in the top 25 for most of the year.

Kirk 13 years, 2 months ago

This is a nicely written article. I sure wish the LJW bothered to run features on football a LOT more often.

I like Sharp, but he's not GREAT -- he's good. Could use another true threat to help spell him. And yes, I'd rather have B-Mac any day.

And what a treat to see a feature on a football player from the LJW! Too few of these.

I'm glad ton the roster, but I agree with whoever said they'd much rather have B-Mac on this team. BOTH would be the best choice.

kranny 13 years, 2 months ago

This kid is a great athlete. He ran a 10.4 100 m in high school and long jumped over 24 feet. Got to hand it to Warriner and Mangino for modifying the offense to suit his running style last year. I can't help but think they'll put in a few more twists for him this year. I'd like to see a few more passes to him on wheel routes and screens in space and let his speed take over. Sharp had a great game against OU last year. Too bad our Defense couldn't contain Bradford, but hopefully that will change this season too.

Jonathan Allison 13 years, 2 months ago

Jake may not have been the greatest running back in KU history, but he's a downhill runner, he hits the hole, hits it hard, and hits it fast. He has gotten better and making his cuts through the course of his career. At first he just depended on being fast and getting as far upfield as he could before he got hit. I think we'll see a much more patient and a much more confident Jake Sharp this year. I expect him to be better about at making guys miss. He should have a super senior campaign.

djgratt59 13 years, 2 months ago

KGphoto, - YES, the eyes of Texas will be upon us this season. May God grant us a beat-down in Austin, Amen.

MNHawk23 13 years, 2 months ago

i'd like a story on how daymond patterson is developing as a CB. i loved him as a WR, but it seemed like he had a ton of potential on the defensive side with his crazy speed and quickness.

batsandgats 13 years, 2 months ago

highlights from previous years of Jake Sharp, guy is great, has great speed and underrated power

KGphoto 13 years, 2 months ago

thanks bats.

This is why Jake is different. He gets first downs. He wins.

Whoever thinks Jake isn't a running back is obviously foolish. He is a couple of dynamic points short of Barry Sanders. He can spin, accelerate, burrow and score.

Get over his whiteness. He is THAT fast. And he is KU's starting RB in 2009.

Thank god!!

Jonathan Briles 13 years, 2 months ago

I will admit that I used to be a big Jake Sharp hater but as last year went on I really started to warm up to him. That video that bats posted really showed it because if you look at some of the clips at the start he was going down very easy and he would fall sideways and backwards but towards the middle when they showed games from middle and late last year you can see he ran differently. He ran slower at the start and was patient and then burst through and when he got hit he would fall forward. I really agree with PlasticJhawk. I really think that there will be a new and improved JS this year. I think its going to be a breakout year for him and now I'm a big believer in sharp. I cant wait for this season. Rock Chalk.

IBRONNIEB 13 years, 2 months ago

With the heart of Reesing, the consistency of Meier, and the competitive desire to be the best, of Sharp. The ability to get the best from his players of Mangino. You have the correct mix for a very special season.

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