The Kansas freshman running back, quite simply, did it all.
Toben Opurum, in a starting role replacing the injured Jake Sharp,
looked like a veteran rushing for 109 yards on 28 carries, becoming the
first KU freshman to rush for 100 yards since Clark Green in 2002.
Forty-five minutes after the college game of his life, Opurum walked
into Mrkonic Auditorium in the Anderson Family Football Complex and
took his customary seat in the back row in the left corner. A flock of
reporters and TV cameras followed him, eager to get some quotes from
KU's budding star.
"It's pretty good," Opurum said about rushing for over 100 yards. "I
feel confident in my teammates as they do in me. I'm just glad I was
able to accomplish that. It feels really good to get that win."
Opurum said there was "nothing to be nervous about" heading into the
game knowing he might have to carry the load with Sharp's availability
a game-time decision. He was further comforted by the advice Sharp gave
him before the contest.
"(He said), ‘You got to stay confident. If you can't be confident,
you're not going to be successful at this level.'" Opurum said. "'Stay
confident, hang on to the ball, and just run hard.' I think I did that
Aside from a fumble, it was a grand day for Opurum. KU coach Mark Mangino certainly took notice.
"There was a lot of pressure on Toben today," Mangino said. "We down
played that with him all week. He had to go in there and start as a
true freshman and it's a difficult duty. He did a marvelous job. ... He
ran hard and ran smart. He got some good yardage after his first
contact. He pass protected well. We're really excited about his play
today as a true freshman."
Opurum is excited that Mangino and the coaches have confidence in him.
"I appreciate it a lot," Opurum said. "It shows that they believe in
the abilities I have. I'm going to show for them like they show it for
me every day. My teammates also help me get by in the offense. It's a
Opurum admits he was a little winded after carrying the ball 28 times.
He took a lot of hits, but delivered some blows himself.
"That's the life of a running back," he said. "You're going to get hit
on every play. You've got to be physical and able to handle that."
"I didn't even realize how many carries I had until I looked at the
numbers later," Opurum added. "It was pretty ridiculous. It's tiring to
go from a supporting role to a starting role, but I think I prepared
for it pretty well."
Opurum has prepared for college football just fine four games into his
career. He's actually KU's top rusher with 320 yards and also leads the
team with six rushing touchdowns. While Mangino made it clear that
Sharp is the Jayhawks' No. 1 back, Opurum's play should still earn him
some quality minutes.
The freshman said he's pleased with his progress, but not satisfied.
"I think each week I'm getting better," Opurum said. "I'm getting more
comfortable with the offense. I feel like there's a lot areas I can
improve on. I think I will as we go further on with the season."
This is a confident, low-key and comfortable teenager who didn't
hesitate about signing with the Jayhawks out of Plano (Texas) East High
School despite the looming competition at running back with Sharp,
Angus Quigley, and Jocques Crawford. Quigley has since been moved to
linebacker, while Crawford left the program.
"I believed the whole time that playing opportunity was there," Opurum
said. "I'm not afraid of competition. I was just going to come here and
do what I can do, and if works out, then I'd be playing."
If he continues playing like he has this early season, Opurum may not
be able to hide in the back row during postgame press conferences
He'll be headed straight to the top.
Opurum Front and Center
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