As Johnny Beck strolled onto the Memorial Stadium turf last Saturday afternoon, he looked around and knew he wasn't at Kansas City Piper High anymore.
"When I first walked out there for pregame, I was really nervous," Kansas University's freshman kicker said. "My holder, my coaches everybody knew that me and Banks (Floodman) were the two freshman who were going to get playing time. Everybody was just walking around telling us to calm down and it's just another game.
"That's kinda easy for them to say. They've been around this type of crowd. I've never seen a crowd over 1,000 at high school games."
The announced attendance of 37,500 for the opener against Southwest Missouri State was the largest opening day crowd since 48,100 showed for Michigan State in 1994.
Beck, who set a state record with 28 career field goals during his prep career, was one of 11 Jayhawks starting for the first time, and one of 15 players debuting.
The freshman kicker was perfect, hitting all three extra-point attempts including one that was pushed back five yards because of a delay of game penalty and drilled a 43-yard field goal. The distance of the field goal wasn't a problem for Beck, who was 10-of-12 from 50-plus yards while at Piper.
Actually, he's been more consistent from long range in practice than he's been on chip shots.
"That would just be the worst thing to in there and just shank it totally," Beck said. "Definitely, I was ready to go the whole game, to get out there and get that first field goal out of the way. For it to be a 43-yarder everybody on the team probably knew I was going to make a 40-yarder before I was going to make a 25-yarder."
In addition to Beck, other first-time starters were punter Curtis Ansel, free safety Jamarei Bryant, running back Dan Coke, defensive end Charlie Dennis, quarterback Zach Dyer, cornerback Carl Ivey, strong safety Jake Letourneau, wide receiver Derick Mills, linebacker Glenn Robinson and defensive end Travis Watkins.
Dyer set a school record for yards passing in a QB's first start with 231, Mills led the Jayhawks with five catches for 72 yards and a touchdown and Dennis was tops among defensive linemen with six total tackles, including a sack.
"I thought they did a relatively good job," KU coach Terry Allen said of the rookie starters. "Probably the most impressive guy, a guy who came off the bench, was Leo Etienne, who actually will start this week at the 'Will' (weakside) linebacker position. I thought Zach did a solid job, thought that Adrian Jones made an excellent catch and did a pretty good job.
"I think that some of the other first-time starters and new people in general really needed to get a game under their belt."
Etienne, a 6-0, 205-pound junior transfer from Hutchinson Community College, led the Jayhawks with 14 total tackles, including a whopping 13 unassisted stops. He said it was good to get the first game out of the way.
"Opening-day jitters, you've got those all over the country, whether you're in the NFL, college, Pop Warner. It doesn't matter," Etienne said. "But just to get out there and hit somebody for the first time at a high level of play, it just feels great. Once you get that first hit, you're on a smooth road then. You've just got to go out there and execute."
The players weren't the only ones making debuts, though, as KU's retooled coaching staff which didn't have a single member doing the same duties from a year ago paced the sideline together for the first time.
The coaches felt it was important to have a game in order to work out the kinks.
"I think so," assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Tom Hayes said. "Any time you put a new staff together seven new staff members and certainly on defense we've got only one returning coach from this program a year ago, Tim Burke I think without a doubt going through the process, going through the administration of the game as a staff on both sides of the ball and the kicking game that's a process and it was good for us as well as the players to go through it for the first time."
Injury update: Neither senior wide receiver Roger Ross (sprained ankle) nor senior offensive guard Jason Stevenson (pulled hip flexor) practiced Wednesday.