There was Charles Gordon again, cutting into the perfect spot at precisely the right instant to intercept a pass for the fourth time during Wednesday's morning practice.
Watching Gordon repeatedly outsmart the football and his opponent made it easy to imagine his name surfacing years from now with the giants: Gale Sayers, John Hadl, John Riggins, Bobby Douglass, etc.
"Absolutely he belongs," Hadl said after the morning practice from a table on the second floor of the athletic offices at Allen Fieldhouse. "He's outstanding. He's for real."
Sayers couldn't be reached for his take. He was taking care of more important business, visiting U.S. troops in Iraq, revealed close friend John Novotny, a former KU assistant athletic director who was among a small turnout watching Gordon and Co.
Hadl won't find a sane brain to debate him on Gordon's value as a cornerback, receiver and return man. And there were a few other encouraging signs: Brian Murph, Jr., a receiver from Butler County CC showing off explosive verticality to catch a pass near the sideline; the blockers keeping the blitzers at bay; a quarterback looking sharp.
Kerry Meier packed his morning with freshman mistakes while Adam Barmann zipped on-target passes. Barmann's morning was a truer indication of how the passers have performed than Meier's, according to Hadl.
"I'm happy about that young quarterback, Meier," Hadl said. "He's going to be a good one. I also like Barmann."
Hadl's an associate AD in charge of large gifts. You don't entice big donations by poor-mouthing your school's talent. And Hadl is biased. He loves his university and hometown. Otherwise, he wouldn't have reversed a commitment to play for legendary Oklahoma coach Bud Wilkinson when KU hired Jack Mitchell.
"Jack promised me playing time and said he'd have a good program," Hadl said. "And he did. It was probably the best era we've had."
One, Hadl said, that can be duplicated. And soon.
Given his role, Hadl should say that, but he was talking football yesterday, not selling. His chair didn't have wheels. It wasn't spinning. Neither was he. Biased, sure. Intentionally misleading, not a chance.
"We really feel like we've got the coach to get it going in (Mark) Mangino," Hadl said. "These kids stay here all summer and just work the heck out of it. Physically, you can see the difference. We've got guys who are 6-5, 290, and we haven't had that around here for a while. We look like a Big 12 team out there now."
Hadl marveled at the linebacker depth, the overall strength of the defense, and the improvement of the O-line.
Yet, even if the blocking is solid, you have to wonder if the Jayhawks have a back quick enough to hit the holes before they vanish. If not, a lack of first downs could again lead to the defense wearing out late in games.
"It's just better," Hadl said in trust-me fashion. "Better players. Better coaching. Better situation."
Good enough to go Bowling?
"Yeah," said Hadl, a big Mangino man. "Heck yeah."
Then he paused for a second, decided not to check his swing, leaned forward, lowered his voice.
"We're going to be better than people think," he said.