Great Expecations

With a season of great expectations on the horizon, Mark Simmons and the rest of the Kansas offense spent their off-season committed to individual and team improvement. The junior wide receiver likes what he sees.

"Me and my teammates have been working really hard trying to get better," said Simmons. "We've been trying to get faster and trying to gain weight. I've put on 10 pounds since last season and I know other guys are making strides too. I can't wait for the season to get here. It's going to be a great year."

Simmons' excitement is contagious and it's not just his fellow receivers who are joining in.

"We've been asking the defensive backs to stay a little later after workouts for additional work. I've been trying to be more consistent with routing, running, catching with my hands and getting open. We're all helping each other get better."

The teamwork that Simmons speaks of can be found in every unit of the Kansas football team. The Desoto, Texas native says when it comes to the wide receivers corps, it carries over from the playing field into the rest of college life.

"We're a very close unit, on and off the field. We look after each other. If someone is falling behind, we try to pick him up whether it's in the classroom or in the weight room. That's going to make us better as a unit and as individuals," said Simmons.

Simmons knows the unit as a whole will be better in 2004 because of the great strides he has seen his teammates make this spring and summer. One of those teammates is senior Gary Heaggans, whom Simmons has labeled the most improved receiver from a year ago.

"Gary Heaggans has come a long way. He's one of the leaders, along with Brandon Rideau. He started at Purdue. Then when he came here he started at the bottom, but I think he's worked his way into the starting role."

There is no doubt that the competition will be tough at the wide receiver position. That's just fine by Simmons, though. He loves the competition and feels every position should be that way. Fortunately, it appears the 2004 offense should feature plenty of depth at each of the skill positions. Simmons is especially excited about the competition at running back.

"The running game has to be good this year, just like the receiving and pass game has to be good. With our backs, I have no worries. We have Clark Green who I call ‘The Workhorse'. He runs hard and has the ability to take it to the house. Then John Randle comes in and gives us quickness and agility. We have two great running backs here at KU."

Simmons is also impressed with the number of quality quarterbacks that will hopefully be finding him open downfield.

"(Adam Barmann has) pretty much learned all the offense like the back of his hand. He knows where all the receivers are at all times and he has confidence in us and we do in him as well.

"Our other quarterbacks like Brian Luke and John Nielsen are well experienced and good as well. Plus, Jason Swanson is coming along and starting to pick up the offense. He's got a strong arm and he throws it real far. He probably needs to work on accuracy, but that's just because he's still learning everything and learning where the receivers are going to be."

As good as the Kansas signal callers might be, replacing Bill Whittemore's savvy and leadership will be difficult. Simmons is well aware of this and is excited to take on a leadership role now that he is an upperclassman.

"I'm trying to lead by my actions so the younger players can see what you're supposed to do right and also what not to do. So, I have to take up my leadership and I'm ready to do that," emphasized Simmons.

While Simmons is eager to lead on the field, he is most excited about Kansas' leadership on the sidelines. The junior receiver thinks the KU staff is among the best in college football and is especially impressed with wide receivers coach Tyrone Dixon and associate head coach Nick Quartaro.

"Our coaching staff is one of the best. You've seen the amazing turnaround they did in just one year. They get after us, but they make it fun as well. I love working with Coach Dixon. He's been all over in the pros and a lot of places, so he brings a great deal of knowledge and experience.

"Coach Quartaro is great when he works with us as well. Whether it be with blocking and getting after the defensive backs or just coaching us to go hard every play, he's a great leader," said Simmons.

Going hard on every play has become a consistent theme among this tight group of Kansas pass catchers, and it's the personal mission of Simmons as he strives to be his very best.

"My goals are to just keep working hard. All my goals are just trying to be among the best in the Big 12 and in the nation. But I know it's not just given to you. You have to work hard every day for it," he said.

All summer Simmons and his buddies did just that as they attempted to plant the seeds of success. Now it's time to reap the benefits of all the hard work they have put in.

"This season we have so many expectations that I just can't wait to get into our schedule. I just know it's going to be a great season." Top Stories