In hindsight, it's easy to see how Keeston Terry got lost in the shuffle a little bit.
After Head Coach Turner Gill announced sophomore running back Toben Opurum's switch to linebacker two weeks ago – the same day he announced Terry's switch from wide receiver to safety – much of the media attention focused on his transition.
It is, perhaps, only natural. After all, it's not often a coach takes his leading returning rusher and plants him on the opposite side of the ball. To Kansas fans, many of whom envisioned Opurum as the cornerstone of the Jayhawks rushing attack for the next three seasons, it was a big deal.
And though the big Texan appears to be having a great deal of success as he learns the ropes of his new position, when the 2010 season comes to a close it just may be that Terry will have an even bigger impact on the success of the Kansas defense.
Skeptical? Just ask defensive coordinator Carl Torbush.
Speaking with the media Tuesday afternoon, the veteran coach said that if Terry had been with the defense from Day One of training camp not only would he be in the lineup – he'd be challenging for a starting spot.
When one considers how deep and talented the Jayhawks secondary is considered to be, Torbush's words are high praise indeed.
"He's got outstanding skills," he explained, of his new freshman acquisition. "I did not realize he's as tough a young man as he is. Without question he's got good hip flexibility, good speed, he runs well. But I think the thing that has really caught my attention is his ability to try to hit."
That Terry is seeing such positive early returns comes as no surprise to his former head coach at Blue Springs (MO) High School, Kelly Donohoe.
Fans knew Terry primarily as a prolific offensive talent from his days as a Wildcat, capable of lining up – and succeeding – at virtually every skill position on the field. To many among Jayhawk Nation, when he signed his national letter of intent, he became one of the future stars of the Kansas receiving corps.
But Donohoe knew he had equal potential on defense, where as a junior he had excelled as a big, physical, ball-hawking safety. Though a shoulder injury kept Terry from playing both ways as a senior, the tools remained intact.
A superb athlete, Terry stands 6-foot-2, weighs 185 pounds and possesses a frame capable of carrying additional muscle weight with ease. Beyond his physical attributes, however, Donohoe explained he has the intelligence and instincts for success at the position – able to play the run or the pass with equal efficiency.
"He has that ability to come down hill and hit you, plus he can get back in whatever coverage they need him in, whether it's zone or man," Donohoe said. "He'll lock on and cover guys up. He's smart, he'll be back there, he'll understand formations, he'll be able to make calls. He's going to be in class every day, he's not going to be in trouble. He's just that type of guy you love to have back there leading your defense."
With the Sept. 4 season-opener versus North Dakota State just days away, Terry's moment may come sooner than one would think. Though not currently listed on the two-deep at either safety position, Gill named Terry as one of three or four freshmen likely to see the field in 2010, and Torbush took that prediction a step further.
"He's going to get bigger and stronger, but he can be a very, very good safety for us," the first-year Jayhawks defensive guru said. "And right now I feel strongly that he will play this year."
"We knew he'd be a great free safety," Donohoe added. "We felt he had every bit the potential or more to be a great player there that he had at receiver. It doesn't surprise us one bit. He's a heck of a player."