The future is now for Kansas University's men's track team.
The Jayhawks are hoping to benefit from second-year coach Stanley Redwine's radical decision to red-shirt some of KU's top performers during the 2001 outdoor season.
Back presumably better than ever after sitting out last spring are javelin thrower Scott Russell, distance runners Charlie Gruber and Mark Menefee, decathlete Andy Morris and sprinter Jabari Wamble.
KU's top returnee is Russell, a 6-foot-9, 270-pound senior from Windsor, Ontario, who decided to sit out outdoor season after winning the 35-pound weight throw in a Big 12 record 75-10. He placed third at the NCAA Indoor.
"I wanted to red-shirt so I would have a full year next year," said Russell, a four-time Big 12 champion and three-time All-American.
He has already red-shirted during an indoor season because of nagging injuries, meaning he will have a full year this year.
"I think my points can help the team win," Russell said. "With the freshmen coming in, plus my points and others' points, we could do very well at the conference meet and NCAAs."
There is a chance Russell could represent Kansas in his specialty the javelin at the Olympic Games. Two summers ago, Russell placed first in the Canadian Olympic trials with a throw of 249-1 20 feet short of the minimum standard. In June, he won the javelin at the Canadian championships in a Canadian record and KU record 263 feet.
"It's been a big goal of mine since 11th or 12th grade when I saw myself improve rapidly and compete with the best Canadian juniors," Russell said. "Most javelin throwers peak in their early 30s. If my body holds up, I'm hoping to throw it, definitely into the 2004 Olympics."
KU coach Redwine is a big Russell supporter.
"For his country he can definitely be an Olympian. In our mind he is already an Olympian," Redwine said. "He is a very competitive person and has a lot of talent."
Tons of talent, says KU weight coach Doug Reynolds.
"As far as pure raw talent and ability, there's no one I've ever seen who comes close," Reynolds said. "I've worked with a lot of athletes. He is by far the best athlete I've seen. He is multi dimensional throwing the javelin, hammer and will throw the discus his final year. He throws the weight indoors. He can do it all. He could easily score in three events at NCAAs and win at least one of them."
Gruber, a senior from Denver, placed second in the mile at last year's NCAA Indoor in a personal-best time of 3:58.51. He placed third in the mile at the Big 12 Indoor. He has four conference titles to his credit 2000 indoor mile, 2000 outdoor 1,500, 1999 indoor 1,000; and 1999 outdoor 1,500.
Also, Gruber led all KU runners, placing 14th at last year's Big 12 cross country championships. Gruber finished 61st at the NCAA championships.
"Charlie is definitely a leader. The athletes see that look in his eyes when he's competing," Redwine said. "With him back, some of our other kids can only benefit."
Morris, a senior from Carmel, Ind., placed second in the pentathlon at last year's Big 12 indoor. Earlier in the season, he set the KU record in the event with 3,891 points. Morris won the league outdoor decathlon title his junior year after placing fourth in the heptathlon at indoor. He also won the Kansas Relays crown his junior season.
"He is one of several individuals capable of winning their events," Redwine said.
T.J. Hackler, a sophomore in track eligibility, placed fourth in the high jump at the Big 12 outdoor after trying out for the team just two weeks before the meet. Hackler is a KU football receiver out of Fort Scott CC and Olathe East.
"A very pleasant surprise," Redwine said. "He came in the track office and said he had a 28-inch vertical in high school and could jump 6-8. He said his vertical now was 38 and he believed he could go over 7-feet. He wanted to try out. We said of course he could try out. Some people are competitive. He is very competitive, coachable. He listens and is a great guy."
Also back for KU is Buhler senior Menefee, who placed 15th at last year's Big 12 CC meet. As a team, the Jayhawks placed sixth.
"Mark had some injury problems last year. If he is healthy he is capable of a great season," Redwine said of the former Big 12 champ.
Distance runner Brian Blachly, a Paola senior, placed seventh in the 1,000 at the league indoor and did not qualify for the finals in the 1,500 at Outdoor. Brent Behrens, a senior from Atalissa, Iowa, placed eighth in the 10,000 and 17th in the 5,000 at league outdoor after finishing 28th in the 3,000 at indoor.
"We are bringing back everybody from last year's cross country team, so that's real exciting," Gruber said.
Wamble, a senior from Oklahoma City, placed fifth in the 400 at Big 12 indoor last year. In the 2000, he placed fourth in the 400 at indoor and seventh at outdoor. He also ran with Andy Tate, Blachly and Gruber on KU's distance medley relay team, which placed sixth at the NCAA Indoor.
Benaud Shirley, a junior from Jamaica, placed fifth in the triple jump at the 2001 league outdoor.
Several other Jayhawks could produce points this season. Pete Prince, a senior from Lake Elmo, Minn., placed 10th in the league steeplechase.
Jeremy Hull, a senior pole vaulter from Coffeyville, placed eighth in the outdoor pole vault at 16-11*4.
Mike Walker, a junior from Englewood, Colo.; Leo Bookman, a sophomore from Dickinson, Texas; Anson Jackson, a junior; and Jerreme Jackson, a senior from Lawrence all competed on KU's sixth-place 400 relay team.
Other returnees with league experience are sophomore middle distance runner Steve Vockrodt, senior weight thrower Alex Thomas, senior hurdler Dorian Jordan and senior middle distance runner Derec Lacio, senior jumper Armond Enclarde, and soph distance runner Brian Raggett.
Redwine also has signed several prep standouts.