Jayhawks Use Brains As Well As Brawn To Get To Orange Bowl

Altogether, 46 Kansas players have an overall grade point average of C-plus or better

Jan. 1, 2008

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) - Brawn alone did not bring Kansas to the Orange Bowl.

The Jayhawks believe brains had something to do with their 11-1 season, too, and they've got the stats to back up their case.

Both the starting defensive ends, Russell Brorsen and John Larson, have been named to academic All-America teams. Quarterback Todd Reesing averaged straight-A's in high school and was admitted into the university's honors program almost immediately.

Altogether, 46 Kansas players have an overall grade point average of C-plus or better. Coaches and players alike believe their intelligence and their application to academics are key reasons they'll come into the game against Virginia Tech on Thursday night as one of the most mistake-free teams in the country.

"I feel we have a pretty smart team," said Brorsen, who has a 3.95 grade point average in a pre-med chemistry program. "We have a lot of smart guys on this team."

That may sound like big talk coming from a school whose recent past includes an NCAA probation for violations that included academic fraud. But most of the problem had to do with some junior college transfers several years ago of questionable academic standing.

Nevertheless, the penalty and the embarrassment stung.

So efforts were stepped up to recruit student-athletes as well as athletic students, and something called the academic board now occupies a prominent place in the football locker room. Every semester, players' names are listed under three categories - those with grade points between 2.5 and 2.99, 3.0 to 3.49 and 3.5 to 4.0.

There are 15 in the first group and 20 in the second. In the highest grouping - those who make almost all A's - eleven players are named.

"I think the board has been very helpful," said linebacker Mike Rivera. "We've got a bunch of smart guys who don't make many mistakes, and that's always nice. We've got good discipline."


 

 

As coach Mark Mangino had hoped, the board has stirred competition as well as good-natured ribbing among the players.

"Most of the guys know who it is who make the good grades and work hard at it," said Reesing. "Most of the guys carry pretty good GPAs and work pretty hard at school. That's something we pride ourselves on. Somebody told me that last semester we had the highest GPA in our team's history."

Safety Darrell Stuckey even seems almost embarrassed by a GPA slightly below 3.0.

"I want it to be better than that," he said.

That the won-loss percentage began trending upward at the same time the GPA improved may not be purely accidental.

While winning a school-record 11 games this season and advancing to their first major bowl in almost four decades, the Jayhawks were one of the two least penalized teams in the country. They were third nationwide in fewest turnovers, and seventh in most takeaways. Reesing, while obliterating school passing records, threw only six interceptions in 409 attempts - and two of those bounced off the receivers.

In other words, the blockers and receivers knew where they were supposed to be.

"You have to learn your assignments and learn the tendencies of other teams," Brorsen said. "We've done a really good job of that this year, and a really good job of applying it in the games. So being a smart team definitely helps you on the field. Most of the time, people are in the right place doing the right thing."

Defensive coordinator Bill Young, a 38-year coaching veteran, remembers a lot of teams and players who would forget what they learned in meetings by the time they got to the practice field.

With this team, he's actually had players approach him with suggestions.

"Smart players are players who can make adjustments real easily," Young said. "They understand what you're talking about."

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