Time marches on and Tony Sands has drained out of the Kansas football hourglass.
"I'll miss the guy," Kansas football coach Glen Mason said. "He was a lot of fun to coach. He always looked forward to spring practice and not many do."
Sands, a tailback built like a pony but with the heart and stamina of a thoroughbred, concluded his college career by rushing 58 times for 396 yards both NCAA records in last fall's finale against Missouri.
Now Mason has to face the opening of spring practice on Monday without the 5-6, 160-pound record-setter.
"We have some quality running backs in camp," Mason said, "but I don't want to minimize that we have to stretch to find a replacement as far as toughness and competitive spirit. Players fight to gain respect and I don't know if anybody did more to gain that respect than Tony Sands."
IT'S A four-horse race among George White, Chaka Johnson, Maurice Douglas and Terence Mays.
White, a 5-10, 170-pound junior, and Johnson, a 6-0, 200-pound senior, have spent the last two seasons as Sands' caddies. Douglas is 5-10, 195-pound senior who red-shirted last season. Mays is a 5-9, 180-pounder who was one of 19 freshmen Mason held out of competition last fall.
Another potential replacement is Darwin Anderson, a Florida signee who didn't qualify for a scholarship and enrolled at Kansas on his own last fall. Anderson had knee surgery a couple of months ago and won't participate in spring drills.
"All indications are he'll be ready in the fall," Mason said. "But he's gotta make his grades No. 1, just like everybody else."
Kansas had the Big Eight's leading rusher in Sands, but the Jayhawks did not have the Big Eight's leading offense in 1991, primarily because of a spotty passing attack.
"Our offense was disappointing," Mason said. "I think that was because of inconsistency."
QUARTERBACK CHIP Hilleary, a two-year starter, rushed for 14 touchdowns five more than Sands but blew hot and cold as a passer. He tossed fewer TD passes (six) than any other regular QB in the Big Eight.
"I firmly believe Chip Hilleary is capable of performing better consistently than he did last year," Mason said.
KU's passing game should improve with the return of tight end Chad Fette and wide receiver Rob Licursi. Both were hurt early in the season and received medical hardship rulings. Licursi and Fette were the Jayhawks' second- and third-leading receivers in 1990.
They should help salve the loss of Kenny Drayton, the club's leading receiver each of the last two seasons.
Kansas has two big losses on the offensive line tackle Chris Perez and guard Scott Imwalle. Perez started all 44 games during his KU career, and Imwalle was a potential All-Big Eight candidate until he hurt his knee in the eighth game last season.
Doctors advised the 6-2, 265-pound junior to forgo his senior season, and he will.
"It has something to do with the size of his spinal cord," Mason explained. "It's not bad. It's in a gray area, but why take a chance?"
THREE STARTERS return in 305-pound senior tackle Keith Loneker ("We think he's the best in the Big Eight"), soph guard Hessley Hempstead and junior center Dan Schmidt.
KU also has a bevy of tight ends, but three of them returning starter Dwayne Chandler, Pete Vang and Brent Willeford won't practice this spring because of injuries.
Meanwhile, Kansas has the league's best place-kicker and punter in Dan Eichloff. The 6-0, 215-pound junior led the Big Eight in field goals (18 of 24) and punting (42.3 average) last season.