Opurum Front and Center

Toben Opurum bulldozed his way through defenders, leaped over a tackler, dove for a touchdown reception, and rushed for a score in KU's 35-28 victory over Southern Mississippi on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

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 well today."

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 good feeling."

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 anymore.

He'll be headed straight to the top.

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