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Archive for Sunday, December 18, 2005

Ashley excited to end solid KU career at home

December 18, 2005

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The question was so simple, it was darn near impossible to answer.

With cameras in his face and tape recorders hovering around his mouth, defensive end Jermial Ashley was asked by a reporter what Kansas University football fans needed to know about Fort Worth, Texas, site of Friday's Fort Worth Bowl.

"Man," he said, drawing a blank. "I don't know what to say."

Ashley's the only Jayhawk who would know, and he's coming up empty. Guess those Jayhawk fans making the trek for the Dec. 23 game with Houston are on their own.

Of the 23 Texans to grace the KU football roster, Ashley is the lone ranger from Fort Worth.

Though many of the Texans are sure to have family members in attendance - not to mention loved ones for players from nearby Oklahoma and Kansas making the drive - Ashley's cheering section may be tough to beat.

"I talked to a lot of people from back home, and a lot said they were going to come," Ashley said. "I'm pretty sure there'll be a lot of people there."

Some, perhaps, haven't seen him play since he was a three-sport standout at Fossil Ridge High in nearby Keller. Now bulked up to 260 pounds on his 6-foot-5 frame, they'll see a dramatically different Ashley - maybe one on his way to the NFL.

First thing's first, though, and that's putting the proper punctuation on a four-year college career that started with humble roots at Tyler Community College, continued with a sharp debut at the Division I level last season, and will culminate with one final college game in his hometown.

"He's probably got the most tickets on the team," senior Charlton Keith said. "He got a lot of people tickets this week."

Coming along

You've probably asked it at some point during the course of this season - where did all that talk of Jermial Ashley go?

Ashley WAS the talk of the defensive line last year, emerging as a pest that made opposing quarterbacks unsnap their chin strap in disgust.

And remember: The other side of the line featured David McMillan, now with the NFL's Cleveland Browns.

Ashley deserved the credit. He finished the season with nine tackles for a loss, four sacks, seven pass breakups and a blocked field-goal attempt. He was a defensive end KU hadn't seen in a while - big and strong with long arms ready to disrupt.

Well, KU had another who broke through this season in Charlton Keith. He's just as tall, maybe even more disruptive and put up statistics that made first-team All-Big 12 Conference honors a cinch.

Ashley, meanwhile, struggled to grade out well throughout the first half of the season. That's until teams started avoiding Keith at all costs.

"I think that's part of the equation," KU coach Mark Mangino said. "Some people were having problems dealing with Charlton. I thought (Ashley) stepped up and met the challenge."

His numbers aren't so glamorous - just 14 tackles, four for a loss, one sack and one pass broken up - but Mangino's had no complaints during KU's stretch run, which included three victories in the Jayhawks' final four games that made the upcoming bowl trip possible.

"Jermial has really graded extremely well from about midseason on," Mangino said. "Not that he played poorly. But he played to his potential the last five games of the season, and really finished strong.

"I know he wants to play well in his hometown."

Hometown pride

Perhaps the most well-known tourist attraction in Fort Worth is Billy Bob's Texas, dubbed the "World's Largest Honky Tonk."

That's not exactly Ashley's style, and he scoffed when asked if he'd make an appearance this week at the giant cowboy hangout.

"For some people it's on the list," Ashley said after laughing for a good five seconds.

Extracurricular activities - especially a place geared toward cowboys - aren't why Ashley is home this week. Instead, he feels an obligation to finish his legacy at KU. That would get a positive boost if Kansas can beat Houston and finish the season with a winning record for the first time in a decade.

"It's really important," Ashley said, "to set the standard for players to come."

Ashley admits, though, that part of tonight's game has selfish meaning for him. But can anyone really blame him? After playing close to 50 college games, he finally gets to buckle up and attack the quarterback where it all started - at home.

"I'm just excited that a lot of my friends and family will be able to see my last college game," Ashley said. "It's pretty big for me."

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