2007: A Good Year to be a Jayhawk

The farther away I get from my own college career on Mount Oread, the more I seem to enjoy KU sports.

Maybe it's because athletics is my only real connection to the University nowadays. Or maybe it's because I'm at an age where just watching these guys do the amazing things they do makes me want to visit my chiropractor.

It was especially easy to be a Jayhawk fan in 2007. If I go out on a limb and predict a win against Yale next Saturday, the KU basketball and football teams will have posted a combined 45-4 record during the calendar year.

I'd like to take this opportunity as 2007 winds down to say thanks to some of the people who made the plays – both on the court or field and off – that made this year so much fun.

Mark Mangino: When he was hired, I said I wasn't sure where he'd take KU football, but I guaranteed he'd leave it better than he found it. He's not done yet, but I think I got this one right.

Bill Self: He came up one win shy of his first Final Four last March, which didn't sit well with a lot of fans. Nevertheless, I think he's finally comfortable at KU. He's changed the face of Kansas Basketball, instilling a gritty toughness that gives you hope that when the offense isn't working, they'll find a way to get the win – something KU fans haven't seen in a long time.

Bill Young: The KU defensive coordinator took his lumps last year, but his effort paid off in 2007. KU's defense was rated 14th nationally, including a pass defense that went from last in the country in 2006 to a more respectable 57th in 2007.

Ed Warriner: A new offensive coordinator was just what the doctor ordered for a moribund Jayhawk offense that found multiple ways to fritter away late leads in 2006. KU was sixth in the country in total offense in 2007.

Joe Mortensen: Not to go all John Madden on you, but the Jayhawk middle linebacker isn't the most gifted athlete on the team, but he's one of the best football players. He led the Jayhawks in tackles and played middle linebacker with a calculated abandon that's fun to watch.

Mike Rivera: This outside linebacker led the ‘Hawks in hits that made people say, "Oooooh." He likes to hit. A lot. There's no "off" switch on his motor.

James McClinton: He's the kind of young man you want your kids to meet, just because you hope he'll rub off on them. The Big XII Defensive Lineman of the Year is a great college football player and an even better human being.

Kerry Meier: He took lemons and making lemonade in 2007. Thought by most – including me – to be the heir apparent at the quarterback spot, he found himself as the back-up once the season started. Instead of whining, he found a way to get on the field and ended up catching 24 passes and two TDs (as well as throwing for three more as the backup QB). His picture is next to "team player" in the dictionary.

Todd Reesing: Remember when Reesing was too short and too small and not durable enough to play quarterback in the Big XII? All Reesing did was become a rock star and set a truckload of KU passing and offense records in just his first year as a starter. Before he's done, he may have the same middle name around the conference as Bucky Dent has in Boston.

Brandon McAnderson: A terrific "local boy makes good" story. BMac went from being an extra offensive lineman who happened to line up in the backfield in 2006 to a 1,000-yard rusher in 2007. The fact that he's a smart, funny young man makes his success even more enjoyable.

Ron Prince: I've had to get my unintentional comedy meter totally rebuilt since the guy stomped onto campus with a "Big Word of the Day" desk calendar and bold and daring historical references that would make Dennis Miller and Cliff Clavin ask, "Who cares?"

Frank Martin: I'm not sure if it's the crazy eyes, the shirts he bought at Joe Pesci's garage sale or the bolts in his neck, I just can't quit him.

Bill Walker: This guy garnered a lot of love from the Jayhawk faithful last season for eating popcorn while courtside. After all, that's the craziest thing he could ever possibly do on the sideline…wait. What?

Aqib Talib: Whether it's a hard-fought 19-14 conference road win or a 62-0 non-con snoozefest, the junior cornerback will have something to say. He talks monumental smack between the lines, but he never puts bulletin board material out there for the media. He's always quotable in a very entertaining way, a way that says he enjoys the attention and loves to play the game. If Talib goes into the NFL draft, someone will have to step up big-time next season not only at corner but as the best quote on the team.

Russell Robinson: He's gone from a player who refused to go into a game his freshman year to being the guy you have to drag off the court kicking and screaming his senior year. He always finds a way to help his team win.

Mario Chalmers: He is just nails.

Sasha Kaun: No one will ever get him and Dirk Nowitzki confused, but after struggling through five starts at the beginning of the season, he started coming off the bench and seem to be playing much looser, much more effectively and having fun for the first time in, well, ever.

Darnell Jackson: Jackson has been through so much, it's amazing the kid can get out of bed some days. Granted, he's brought some of it on himself, but I've wondered many times over the last three-and-a-half seasons if karma isn't piling on just a little bit. Jackson has always brought passion and energy to the floor. This year, he's got a jump shot to go with it.

Finally, the Orange Bowl Committee: The Jayhawks were selected to their first-ever Bowl Championship Series game, and Mizzou fans have hated every single minute of it. That means this was a win-win

Happy holidays to the entire Jayhawk Nation, and here's wishing everyone a safe, happy and prosperous New Year!

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