Archive for Thursday, August 22, 2002

Linebackers eager to lead

August 22, 2002


You can't really call them chameleons.

After all, Kansas University's top three returning linebackers this fall are all 6-foot or taller and each weighs 215 pounds or more.

And Greg Cole's stunning gold suit  emblazoned on the back cover of KU's media guide  would stand out in any setting.

But the three  senior co-captains Cole and Leo Etienne and sophomore Banks Floodman  have had an uncanny ability to adapt to change during their brief Jayhawk careers. None more so than last season, when all three spent time starting on defense  a unit that spent more than its fair share of time on the field in surrendering a Big 12-worst 398 points.

Now, the three are adjusting to a new role  leadership.

"We've got 11 leaders on this team," said Etienne, who was second on the team last season in total tackles with 94. "If one guy goes down, 10 guys are there picking him up."

Mark Mangino's team-oriented approach alone won't be enough for Etienne and company to fill the void created by the departure of two of Kansas' top defensive players from a year ago.

Kansas lost four-year lettermen Algie Atkinson  Kansas' all-time sack leader  and Marcus Rogers, who led the Jayhawks with 96 tackles in 2001.

"It's really tough to replace those type of players, because both of them were great players," Etienne said. "But I feel like we have two strong, competitive linebackers to fill in those spots."

One of those linebackers is Cole, Etienne's roommate who, like Etienne, transferred from Hutchinson Community College, switched from defensive end to linebacker and played in all 11 games, including three starts, late in the season.

The other No. 1 candidate to start is Floodman, one of just four true freshmen to play last season.

Shortly after his arrival, Floodman switched from safety, where he was a standout in high school at Wichita Collegiate, to linebacker.

Floodman also played in all 11 games. He had 11 tackles at Texas after Rogers was injured in the first quarter. He then started the final two games in Rogers' place, making 13 tackles versus Iowa State and 12 against Wyoming.

"We expected them to come in and play their part and they did a tremendous job," Etienne said. "They are just like starters. They know the system and they're ready to step in and get rolling."

But not without a little change first.

During spring drills, Cole and Floodman traded positions, with Cole moving to inside linebacker and Floodman heading outside.

"It's really not going to be too much of a change," Floodman said. "I like it a little better, actually, because I can run around a little more, play option a little more."

Cole, who has endured five position changes in as many years, doesn't care where he plays.

"It was a little bit of change, but I'll do whatever I have to do to help my team win," said Cole, who goes by the nickname of "Hollywood," which has stuck with him since he was a youngster.

While all three are excited about a new season of possibilities, this past offseason offered tough personal challenges for two of the linebackers.

Etienne injured his left shoulder in the sixth game last season and was sidelined during spring drills after having arthroscopic surgery.

"It was real tough," he said of not being able to participate. "But I felt like I got something out of it because I took mental reps."

Floodman's test didn't directly involve him, but family members were involved in a a private plane crash. No one died in the wreck.

He said that summer workouts provided a distraction, but he went back to Wichita often to be with his family.

"It kind of takes your mind off it for a little bit," Floodman said of the physical conditioning drills. "Rather than sitting around all the time and thinking about it, it definitely helps."

No matter what happens this season, the three linebackers are ready for it.

"It's just something that kind of happened," Cole said of the group's offseason changes and struggles. "When things happen, you just got to go with the flow."

Commenting has been disabled for this item.