Reesing's Legacy

I have two people dancing in my mind as KU football sets to start the 2009 season in a month against Northern Colorado on Sept. 5 at Memorial Stadium.

One is Mike Norseth, the former Jayhawk quarterback and school's last Heisman Trophy candidate whose name wasn't Todd Reesing.

The second is Reesing, the senior KU signal caller who enters the year as a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate after receiving some hype for the award as a sophomore in 2007.

As longtime KU fans might recall, Norseth began his senior year in 1985 in spectacular fashion, passing for 200-plus yards in his first five games, including a 480-yard aerial assault against Vanderbilt. Norseth's name started popping up on Heisman Trophy lists, but not for long as his production dropped and KU struggled, losing four of its last five games.

Still, Norseth finished his career setting several school passing records, including season leader with 2,995 yards, 15 career touchdowns (tied at the time with David Jaynes), six consecutive 200-yard passing games, and his single-game yardage mark versus Vandy.

During my Where Are They Now? interview with Norseth in 2000 for Jayhawk Insider magazine, he was hoping his records would hold the test of time.

 "Keep running that option. Whoever breaks my record for passing in a single game and total yardage, I'll break their ankle," Norseth said with a chuckle. "They can just run the next 40 years, and that'll be great."

Twenty-four years since Norseth made his mark on Kansas football, virtually all of his — and every former KU quarterback's records — have been broken by Reesing.

Among Reesing's school records are season and career marks for yards (3,888 yards in 2008 and 7,578 for career), completions (329 in 2008 and 619 for career), completion percentage (66.5 percent in 2008 and 64.2 percent for career), and touchdowns (33 in 2007 and 68 for career).

Still, Norseth's 480-yard game remains atop KU's record charts for now. But with Reesing under center and star receivers Dezmon Briscoe, Kerry Meier and Jonathan Wilson, that record could be obliterated as well this season.

It's quite amazing, really, when you consider all the great quarterbacks who have donned the crimson and blue. There's legendary players like John Hadl, Bobby Douglass, and Jaynes whose names are inscribed in the Ring of Honor on the north bowl of Memorial Stadium. Other former stars like Norseth, Frank Seurer, and Kelly Donohoe made a lasting impact at Mount Oread.
But none has been better than Reesing. And he hasn't even began his senior year.

Reesing has simply revived the Jayhawk football program, leading KU to back-to-back bowl games (2007 and 2008) for the first time in school history and the most wins in a season (12 in 2007) in Jayhawk annals. He's guided KU to a remarkable 20-6 record in two season as the starting quarterback.
The 5-11 Reesing is simply the face of Kansas football, a rock idol of sorts on the KU campus. The coeds adore him, guys think he's one cool dude, and his teammates and coaches shower him with respect and praise.
Sure, all that's wonderful for Reesing, but don't expect him to get delusions of grandeur. He's entering his senior season and knows there's much unfinished business after last year's 8-5 campaign and third-place finish in the Big 12 North.
This is his last chance, and he wants to make it a swan song to remember.

"Yeah, last go-around," Reesing said. "Obviously, I have really high expectations for myself and the team. I don't set any personal goals as far as statistics or anything. I want to win that North, I want to get a chance to play for the Big 12 championship. That's something we haven't been able to do. We've got two bowl wins, and that's a good feeling. But we want to play for a championship.
"That's something we're going to focus on. We're looking forward to the challenge."
Reesing is indeed hoping to lead the most talented offensive team of the Mangino era to new heights this season.
"We're looking for big things on offense. We have a lot of chemistry together," Reesing said of his receiving corps. "We're on the same page on a lot of things we do. We're looking to build on that experience and really have a high-powered offensive attack to complement our running game with Jake (Sharp). If things go according to play, we should have quite a few weapons on offense."
"I don't think there's many teams that have that coming back," Reesing added of top guns Briscoe and Meier. "I hope they bail me out of a lot of bad situations making some good catches. It's going to be pretty exciting to see what those two guys can do."
Of course, KU's number one offensive weapon is Reesing. Mangino certainly doesn't expect Reesing to rest on his accomplishments.
"The thing we told Todd, and we know we're not going to have a problem with it, you got to be careful sometimes," Mangino said. "You get that senior year and you become complacent. You think you know it all, and that's when you get burnt. But that's not his personality. He's really worked hard. He can deal with it (pressure). He's an intelligent guy, he has good skills communicating with people."
"It will be a great last hurrah if we win a lot of games," Mangino added. "Any time you have a veteran playing the quarterback position, it makes it easier."

Mangino knows players like Reesing don't come around very often. Reesing, in many ways, has been the team's savior after KU underwent a rash of injuries to the quarterback position before his arrival.

"We played a wide receiver (Marcus Herford) that never played a down of college
football in his life at quarterback and played him in Lincoln against Nebraska," Mangino said. "It was the closest thing to coaching suicide that you can imagine.  But we didn't have anybody left. We didn't have stability at the quarterback position. What Todd has brought to us is stability at that position, and not only stability but excellence.  
"He has gotten better every year because he works at it. He studies tape. He takes his time away from the game field seriously when he's in meeting rooms and when he's on the practice field. He's been able to spark our offense. He's been able to ad lib at times, which is good once in a while. Sometimes he likes to ad lib a lot, and we have to pull him back in a little bit. But that's what makes him unique, the idea that he believes in himself and that he can make plays when there's not one.  

"(That) kind of really reflects his personality; that he always thinks he can overcome. He always wants to prove the opposition wrong. Those traits have served him well."
As Mangino said, "the quarterback is the chauffeur. If you don't have a chauffeur, the car doesn't move. He's the guy that makes it roll."  

Like Mangino, offensive coordinator Ed Warriner is amazed over Reesing's skills. So what sticks out the most?

"His ability to have an awareness of where everybody is at all times regardless of what is going on when a play breaks down and be able to extend plays, make plays," Warriner said. "Making some amazing throws from tight windows and to always be poised, always have composure, always be in charge of the game and never let the game overwhelm him.
"He's a special player."
As good as Reesing is, he knows he can get better. The Austin, Texas, native nearly doubled his interception total from 2007 to 2008 (7 to 13), as he sometimes tried doing too much and forced plays.
"You ask anyone in any sport, you can always be better," Reesing said. "There's a lot of things I can improve on, and there's things I know I need to work on and things I can maybe take a little focus away from. ... You can always improve your decision making and try to limit the turnovers, especially in the red zone. I threw a couple of interceptions last year in the red zone that hurt us real bad. Limiting those mistakes and always improving my knowledge of the offense, as well as (improving) my footwork and my throwing ability."
Unwanted by most Division I teams because of his size out of Lake Travis High School in Austin, Reesing has found a home at Kansas the last three years. He has excelled on the gridiron and also in the classroom, where he's a two-time All-Big 12 First-Team Academic selection. Reesing, who's majoring in economics/finance, will graduate next December and then give the NFL a shot.
But all that can wait for now. Reesing just wants to enjoy each moment of his senior year, just as he he's done since arriving on campus in January of 2006 after graduating a semester early from high school.
"I feel like I got here yesterday," Reesing said. "I'm going to enjoy it while it's here because this is the best time of your life and you'll always remember it."
KU fans and his teammates will always remember Reesing for making an indelible impact at Mount Oread and resurrecting the Kansas football program.
"He's been a leader for us and for other people to look up to," Wilson said. "Not many people have been knowing about Kansas. He put us on the map really and put us on his back. Now, other players are starting to show up and make plays and get recognized.
"It's his senior year and I know he wants to go out with a bang. I want to help him do that (win the North and Big 12 championship), so he can end on a good note."

And if he continues to improve, don't be surprised to see Reesing's name rise on the Heisman Trophy lists. Sure, he's likely a long shot. But don't count out this underdog, even though defensive linemen and linebackers will be gunning to knock him down all season.

Norseth knows all about the prestige and pressures of being a Heisman Trophy candidate.

"It's a great honor, for one, to be even named with that," Norseth said. "It's also the expectations. You get named, and it's a little extra incentive for them to shut you down."

After accomplishing so much these last two-plus seasons, don't look for Reesing to eye Norseth's single-game passing record of 480 yards.

Todd Reesing is just thinking about helping Kansas win. So how would he like to be remembered?

"I don't look to leave an individual legacy, more so a team legacy," Reesing said. "I think people are going to remember us as that class that really starting turning things around, getting back-to-back bowl wins and obviously looking to go to three bowls. I hope we get a chance to play for the Big 12 championship and really establish Kansas as the place on the football map of the NCAA."
He smiles.
"I hope that's something they remember everybody I played with for," Reesing said, "the group of guys that were able to accomplish that and really turned things around for this university." Top Stories