Thursday, April 11, 2013

Back in the picture: Darius Willis pleasant surprise for KU football this spring

Kansas defensive end Darius Willis pumps his fist after sacking Texas quarterback David Ash during the third quarter on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas defensive end Darius Willis pumps his fist after sacking Texas quarterback David Ash during the third quarter on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012 at Memorial Stadium.



Kansas defensive end Darius Willis pumps his fist after sacking Texas quarterback David Ash during the third quarter on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012 at Memorial Stadium.

When Darius Willis transferred to Kansas University from Buffalo before the 2010 season, he came to play out his college career for the man who first recruited him.

But two seasons into Willis’ time as a Jayhawk, former KU coach Turner Gill was fired, and Willis fell completely off the depth chart and moved into a starring role on new coach Charlie Weis’ scout team.

Down but not out, Willis began working his way back into the picture, late last season at a new position on the defensive line and this spring at his old spot at middle linebacker.

“It became more of a motivational tool for me,” Willis said. “It was to the point where I felt I had to prove something to myself, and that’s what drove me. It wasn’t anything outside, it was just me and finding that person inside of me that I know I can be.”

Willis’ resurgence has earned the respect of Weis, who recently singled out the 6-foot-2, 240-pound senior as one of the pleasant surprises of spring practice.

“When you go over to the show team, one of two things can happen,” Weis explained. “Either you’re going to go through the motions and you’ll be anonymous the rest of your career, or you’ll fight your way back. He worked his butt off. He worked his butt off in everything he did, (and) eventually I said, ‘We need to find something for him to do.’”

That “something” turned out to be rushing the passer, and Willis began to work at defensive end behind former Jayhawk Toben Opurum. Weis said Willis’ quickness and fast-twitch skills made him suited to help the Jayhawks off the edge, but it was his change in attitude that made it possible.

“When you’re trying to run everybody out of here — because I would have gotten rid of 50 if I had to — some guys will go the other way,” Weis said. “You always hear about the guys who are gone, but you don’t hear much about the success stories, about the guys who had one foot out the door and fought their way back, not only to be around, but to be productive.”

Willis, whom Weis quickly pegged as “one of those entitled guys,” is one of those success stories. He’s back playing the spot he had played his entire career, one that better fits his frame and mind-set.

“It’s a lot of fun actually being in space again and running people down, not having to worry about being in the trenches and always fighting with a guard or a tackle,” Willis said. “I really haven’t gotten to the point where I want to be, so I’m really not too confident. I feel like there’s so much work left to do, and this is just one step closer to what we want to accomplish, and that’s to be a good defense.”

Willis has impressed so much this spring that Weis said it was no longer a given that junior Ben Heeney, last year’s leading tackler who finished third in the Big 12 in tackles, would dominate the reps at middle linebacker.

“It’s not a run-away with Heeney in first,” Weis said. “(Willis) is pushing him for playing time. It’s been a nice competition, and I’ve been very pleased with Willis. He’s one of those guys that could have thrown in the towel, but he went in the other direction. And kudos to him, because that’s why he is where he is right now.”

During the past week, Heeney has returned to the form he showed during the 2012 season, and his resurgence and Willis’ emergence has left Weis feeling pretty good about his middle-linebacker position.

“Ben Heeney, early in camp, I actually was a little disappointed with,” Weis said. “I think he felt good that he had a zillion tackles last year. I reminded him that he had a zillion tackles on a team that went 1-11. As of late, he’s been on a very, very big rise.”

KU Cowboys?

Former Jayhawks Opurum and Greg Brown worked out for the Dallas Cowboys on Wednesday in Dallas.

Patriots workout

Three former KU starters recently worked out with the New England Patriots in Lawrence in preparation for the upcoming NFL Draft, April 25-27.

Shortly after KU’s pro day, which attracted scouts from 17 NFL teams, Opurum, quarterback Dayne Crist and safety Bradley McDougald went through additional drills at the request of the Patriots.

NFL Network analyst Gil Brandt first reported the workouts and said several of the scouts were impressed by what they saw from Crist, who ran a 4.94-second 40-yard dash, pushed 15 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press and turned in respectable vertical (29 inches) and broad (8 feet, 11 inches) jumps.

Webb tears ACL

Former KU quarterback Jordan Webb, who started for most of the 2010 and 2011 seasons and transferred to Colorado before the 2012 season, recently tore his ACL and will miss the 2013 season.

According to a report in the Denver Post, Webb, a fifth-year senior who started at CU last year and led the Buffs to their only victory, plans to apply for a sixth season after rehabbing the injury.

“It’s another obstacle that I have to overcome,” Webb said in a statement.


April13 9 years, 5 months ago

Give Webb his year - he's earned it.

Andy Tweedy 9 years, 5 months ago

Webb is going to have a doctorate by the time he's done playing football.

jhox 9 years, 5 months ago

We were thinking the same thing rock chalk 1990, but you beat me to it by a couple of minutes.

jhox 9 years, 5 months ago

Sorry to hear of Jordan Webb's injury. He's a tough young man. He'll be back. On the plus side, maybe he can have his PhD completed by the end of his career.

April13 9 years, 5 months ago

You guys actually bring up a point that I've thought for many years makes great sense: if a kid is a full-time student, on pace for completion of either a first undergraduate, first masters or first doctorate, why not let him/her play collegiate sports?

Perhaps an 8-year limit - regardless of injury/redshirt. I could see a good number of players using the master's option while the doctorate would be a rarity. To me, there would be a lot of upside with virtually no negatives.

Keeping those non-pro players in the program would provide depth, stability and some parity - especially in college football.

Dirk Medema 9 years, 5 months ago

Because you could potentially have a 28 year old man (20 yr old freshmen + 8 yrs) playing against a 17 yr old kid. That's a huge negative. The Purdue Boilermakers got their nickname because of it. The football coach had grown tired of losing to IU, so he recruited some of the local factory laborers to take some of his PE classes and play football. They destroyed IU that year. As good as it is to destroy IU anytime, it ultimately is not good for college athletics to have men playing boys.

KGphoto 9 years, 5 months ago

Doesn’t stop the NCAA from letting former professional baseball players come back and play football (or basketball). In fact the most infuriating thing I ever saw was Chris Weinke winning the Heisman at the age of 28. WTF!! Brandon Weeden was the same age.

Yet somehow Jeremy Bloom was declared ineligible for taking sponsor money to compete in amateur skiing events. The NCAA is a complete clusterf##k.

A little off track with that rant. Sorry.

April13 9 years, 5 months ago

Most freshmen are 18 - not 20. Most freshmen who play have developed the physical skills that allow them to compete at almost any level. If they don't have the size and ability, then they work hard and develop it as juniors and seniors. Your argument makes absolutely no sense.

nuleafjhawk 9 years, 5 months ago

He was referring to Mizzery players. Those first three freshmen years of high school are the worst.

dylans 9 years, 5 months ago

Brady Morningstar would still be playing on this team. What is he 40 years old? For the slow to recognize sarcasm I realize he is only 35.

troutsee 9 years, 5 months ago

Kudos to Willis perseverance and enthusiasm. KU 8-4 this season.

Chris Bailey 9 years, 5 months ago

Crist impresses??????????????? Really??? He was terrible! Webb would have been an upgrade! I can't imagine Crist making an NFL team. Was he a really nice young man? Sure but that doesn't mean he's a player. I see him coaching football in college someday. And also I think I remember hearing how good he was throwing the ball in practice when the red jersey was on. Maybe he's gotten over that being scared. Trust me I wish him the best I'm just not sure from what we saw last year he's even got a chance.

Congrats to Willis. I thought he'd be a beast in the middle when he transferred. I'm a Hutchinson guy though so I'm pulling for the hometown guy! Good luck to Ben Heeney this fall hope he tears it up in the middle. It would be great to have a player that you can sub in if needed and have little to no drop in talent. Wish we could have them both on the field.

Rock Chalk!

texashawk10 9 years, 5 months ago

Crist has always been a great practice player and that's all these work outs are. Crist has all the physical tools you want to see in an NFL QB so that will always get attention and interest from scouts, but the game film should always be the biggest scouting tool out there and the game film says Crist can't get it done when the lights are on and there's no chance he gets drafted. Crist will probably even get an invite to training camp somewhere, but he won't make the 53 roster or even the practice squad. I don't blame NFL scouts for taking a look at Crist because he does have the physical tools to be an NFL QB, but that's about it.

kerbyd 9 years, 5 months ago

" I reminded him he had a zillion tackles on a team that went 1-11. As of late he has been on a very very big rise." I love it.

jaybate 9 years, 5 months ago

The photo of KU and Tayhorse uniforms makes me think KU's uniforms are preventing KU from fully manning up in football. It was a nice idea to create brand consistency between football and basketball uniforms, and piggy back football on the KU basketball legacy, but the sports are fundamentally different and require different design approaches. Alabama's football and basketball uniforms bear no resemblance, for example. Nor do Nebraska's. Nor do Oklahoma's. Nor do USC's. And so on.

So: since KU has no strong, positive football legacy to live up to, and football and basketball uniforms tend to diverge anyway, I would suggest that KU ask for uniforms to be redesigned that are MORE manly than Tayhorse's uniforms. Recall Darrell Royal set the Texas standard, when asked why Texas wore pants with no stripes, he responded something like: these are work clothes, not formal wear.

Minimum change scenario: Same uniforms, but lose the stripes on pants and change type face of Kansas and the jersey number to same block style as Texas, only LARGER. Texas is the competitive standard in football. Set our sights to beat them, not to meet them. Screw finesse and subtlety in football uniforms. Next, lose the KU on the helmet and the blue color. The KU logo just barks inferiority complex, since the jersey already states the obvious. Paint the helmets white with a small Jayhawk emblem on each side sized just slightly larger than the long horn emblem. Again, these are work clothes, not formal wear. And if you can't stand not having a letter on the helmet put a small, crimson K, in a script like the K on the shoulder drapes that were once used in pictures of KU lettermen.

Maximum change scenario: Add a Prussian spike to the top of the helmets of KU defensive players.

When you are trying to play catch up, first show you can at least master the competitive standard in uniforms.

KU guys shouldn't have to walk out on the field looking like North Carolina football sissies.

Texas' uniforms communicate: we're big, we're bad, we mean business and here we come.

KU's uniform's communicate: we don't know what we are, we are second class footballers, we're going to get our asses kicked, so we're stylin'.

Rock Chalk!

ahpersecoachingexperience 9 years, 5 months ago

Whatever...Just DON'T go "Impact Camo" on the football unis too!

texashawk10 9 years, 5 months ago

I would say just go back to the uniforms of 5 years ago except with block numbers instead of trajan font numbers. When KU went back the royal blue uniforms instead of the navy blue ones, they were near duplicates of the New York Giants at the time and the New York Giants are about as blue collar, traditionalist as it gets in football.

KGphoto 9 years, 5 months ago

I always liked the Texas uniforms. The bleach white away uni with no stripes, only burnt orange letters and helmet logo with a small logo on each hip. Even the face mask is white. I would love to see KU do something similar.

How about this helmet? (except with a white face mask, instead of gray)

KGphoto 9 years, 5 months ago

Whatever. It won’t let me submit the photo.

April13 9 years, 5 months ago

Bama, OU, Texas, Penn State, Nebraska, USC, LSU, Michigan, Ohio State....all have signature uni's and all are pretty straightforward. My hat is off to Oregon for developing a uniform strategy that every kid under 18 in America wants in on. There can be no debate, the Ducks struck a nerve with young recruits.

If you put 100 of us in a room, we'll design 100 different uniforms. Jaybate's main point is on point: get something with a specific attitude, that screams mean and that doesn't change for awhile.

The "Trajan" font adopted by the corporate identity folks on the hill needs to be set aside for use on letterhead from the chancellor. It has no place on a sports uniform.

Jeff Coffman 9 years, 5 months ago

Wasn't crist the mvp of the senior bowl when he actually had receivers?

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