You can take the quarterback out of Kansas, but you can't take Kansas out of the quarterback.
So says no less an authority than Kevin Verdugo, a one-year Kansas University quarterback who will coach against the Jayhawks on Saturday as a member of the Southern Illinois coaching staff.
"It is special to me," Verdugo, a Pittsburg native in his first year as SIU's quarterbacks coach, said. "That's where I got my start with football. I went to KU football camps when I was in high school. It's where I grew up and got my start."
He did not, however, end his collegiate career at KU. Verdugo played just one year, 1987, at Kansas. He made his second career start against who else? SIU and led Kansas to a 16-15 victory.
That win over the Salukis was Kansas' only victory, and player-friendly coach Bob Valesente was fired. KU turned to Glen Mason, a strict disciplinarian, and Verdugo who had that point driven home with a stiff slap to his helmet during a practice packed his bags for Colorado State.
But Verdugo bears Kansas no ill-will.
"It was a little strange," he said. "I grew up wanting to play at the University of Kansas. But some things changed and I decided I needed to leave. But every time I drive through Lawrence on my way home, or whenever I pick up the paper, I always look to see how Kansas did. I've always been a big supporter of the University of Kansas."
Verdugo isn't the only Salukis staffer with Kansas ties. SIU head coach Jan Quarless served as offensive line coach under Valesente from 1986-87, and running backs coach Tommie Liggins was running backs coach at KU under Mike Gottfried from 1983-85.
"I've always enjoyed that area a great deal, and I enjoyed the people," said Quarless, who is 12-24 in his fourth season at the Carbondale, Ill., school. "I know some things have changed with the facilities. But we've chatted with some former player. I'm looking forward to seeing some of the players and some of the administration that's still there. But we won't be there long. We're leaving early Sunday morning, so we'll try to jump in there and get some work done and concentrate on the game."
The Salukis (1-2) have had a tough year. They had eight turnovers six interceptions and two fumbles in a 42-21, season-opening loss to Murray State.
The following weekend, they led Southeast Missouri State, 33-7, in the third quarter but lost, 34-33. SIU allowed just minus-seven rushing yards and lost.
Then last weekend, SIU pounded perennial NCAA Div. I-AA power Northern Iowa KU coach Terry Allen's alma mater 34-14.
"I think we created some of our bad luck," Quarless aid. "We didn't play well in our opening ball game. The second week, we played a poor second half. Last week we played steady, more like the football team we'd like to think we have. Our major concern is special teams. We've broken down. We've had some punts blocked. We haven't blocked the way we've taught. We had some major blunders that affected our first two ball games."
Quarless knows a victory over Kansas would turn the Salukis' season around in a hurry. The Jayhawks are 2-0 all-time against SIU and 10-0 all-time against NCAA Div. I-AA schools.
"There is an excitement this week," Quarless said. "You tell your team you can compete with anyone, and this is a game where everybody knows you have to play good football perfect football to win. You're meeting Goliath. What would a win do for this program? It would give some respect back to this program. We've struggled to get some respect. But I just hope we can represent the university and the game of football."