2011 football schedule
Saturday — McNEESE STATE, 6 p.m.
Sept. 10 — NORTHERN ILLINOIS, 6 p.m.
Sept. 17 — at Georgia Tech, 11:30 a.m.
Oct. 1 — TEXAS TECH, TBA
Oct. 8 — at Oklahoma State, TBA
Oct. 15 — OKLAHOMA, TBA
Oct. 22 — KANSAS STATE, TBA
Oct. 29 — at Texas, TBA
Nov. 5 — at Iowa State, TBA
Nov. 12 — BAYLOR, TBA
Nov. 19 — at Texas A&M, TBA
Nov. 26 — MISSOURI, 11 a.m.
HOME GAMES IN ALL CAPS
LAWRENCE — Bradley McDougald and Toben Opurum went from hunted to hunters. For wide receiver Kale Pick, last year’s opening day quarterback, the adjustment has been fling to cling.
Position switches are nothing new in college football. Talented athletes are still young and resilient enough at 18- to 20 years old to adapt to major changes in what they’ve been doing since they first strapped on a pee wee league helmet..
But if Kansas is to make significant improvement from their 3-9 campaign in coach Turner Gill’s second year, the Jayhawks will need big contributions from some key players who’ve been asked to switched positions.
With Saturday’s season opener against McNeese State growing near, Gill is happy so far with what his switchers have shown.
McDougald, a 6-foot-1 junior from Dublin, Ohio, turned down Ohio State because the Buckeyes planned to play him at safety and then-coach Mark Mangino said he could be a wide receiver for the Jayhawks. Last year, he tied for third with 19 catches for 240 yards and a TD. But he started his final two games at safety and looked so good, he’s been named to the Paul Hornung Award watch list that’s given to the most versatile player in college football.
Opurum, a solidly built 6-2, 240-pound Texas native, led Kansas in rushing as a true freshman with 554 yards. But he was switched to linebacker in Gill’s first year and then moved to defensive end. Popular with his teammates, he was the only non-senior voted by his teammates as a team captain this year.
Gill insists the changes were not made willy-nilly.
“We were lacking, I thought, some speed and playmaking ability on the defensive side,” Gill said. “Those guys had size, they had quickness, they had some football savvy about them. I talked to them about it to see if they were at least open. And they were.”
Gill knew the moves would not work if the players were unhappy. At first, they were less than thrilled.
“At times I did miss playing offense,” said McDougald. “I had always wanted to play offense.”
Opurum, who was also a skilled pass-catcher out of the backfield, gave the entire situation a lot of thought before committing.
The players and Gill all knew that transferring was an option.
“I talked to my family about it,” Opurum said. “Really, we just tried to come up with the best decision for me academically and football-wise. When I started to get a chance to play more on defense and get more comfortable with what I was doing, I decided to stay, and I’m glad I did.”
He finally decided Gill and his coaches knew what they were doing.
“They want to win just as much as anyone else. For me it was a humbling experience. I had to humble myself and realize I could help the team on the other side of the ball and so far it’s a move that’s helped.’’”
Pick was another who was asked to switch late last year as Gill and his staff sought to find the right pieces. After playing the last two games at wide receiver, he, like Opurum and McDougald, appears to have found a permanent home.
“Kale Pick is a great example is one guy that’s a great example of how you want a KU football player to be,” Gill said of the Dodge City product. “He is very, very passionate about the game of football. A great work ethic, very talented, understands the game, team player and he wants to be the best. He wants to be the best on the team, wants to be the best in the conference, wants to be the best in the country.”
As a former quarterback, Pick thinks he already knew a thing or two about catching passes. But one skill that that goes with his new position that was absolutely foreign to him.
“I never made a block in my life,” he said with a sheepish grin. “And blocking is emphasized big-time by the coaches here. I think I’m doing it well.”