It wasn’t the almost 40 media members that should have given Mangino a reason to be on edge, rather the vast uncertainty looming over almost every starting position on both sides of the ball and special teams.
“The only position that we have a lock for on the field is the quarterback position,” Mangino said shortly after beginning his 30-minute interview session.
That means only
one player – senior quarterback Bill Whittemore – has
a guaranteed job out of 96 players. Banks Floodman is surely a lock at linebacker
now that his knee is healthy (“It’s 100 percent,” he
Mangino isn’t guaranteeing his spot yet. Kicking mainstay Johnny Beck may get bumped by freshman Scott Webb, a product of Union High School in Tulsa, Okla., who has hit his share of 50-yard field goals. Tailback Clark Green, KU’s leading rusher in 2002 with 813 yards, could get bumped to a backup role by redshirt freshman Jerome Kemp (Wichita Southeast). Heck, sophomore Nick Reid has already been moved from linebacker to safety after leading the team in sacks a year ago. Then the entire offensive line is being overhauled.
An earthquake is stirring the Jayhawks in every direction, but there Mangino
is, a calm and focused look on his face, explaining why he’s
not worried about the prospect of having a repeat performance of last year’s
2-10 season. Simply put, he likes what he sees at practice. The baby steps of a year ago are developing into adult strides.
“At this point in time we’ve had five practices, and I’m very pleased,” Mangino said. “It’s starting to look like the type of football that should be on this campus.”
“You can’t sit around all summer and drink iced tea and then expect
with the big dogs. Our kids understand that.”
The new Anderson Family Strength Center has done wonders to the Jayhawks during the summer, Mangino said. As a result of its opening in the spring, he said he hardly recognizes some of his returning players because they are stronger, better toned and more agile.
Improved fitness has sparked a heightened intensity during drills, and the crop of junior college transfers expected to upgrade the offensive and defensive lines has players competing for spots in an aggressive manner that Mangino likes. With competition comes swagger, and swagger breeds success. Both are things the Jayhawks have lacked in recent seasons.
Mangino said he sees some swagger now, and he said his team is preparing to back that up with the success that fans have missed during the past seven years.
“We don’t care what anybody says about us or our program,” he said. “I like the attitude of our kids. I think they’re tired of losing… just like their coach.”