Archive for Saturday, August 19, 2006

Keegan: Sharp reason to smile

August 19, 2006


A crowd nervous over the mounting injuries to a young defense already learning on the fly needed something to lift the spirits at Friday afternoon's open-to-the-public football practice.

Consider those spirits lifted.

Every time Kansas University true freshman Jake Sharp tucked the football under his arm and shot through the line like a cannon ball, smiles broke out up and down the sidelines.

It's one thing to see Sharp run on a track. That's impressive enough. To see him run on a field packed with 21 other football players is more remarkable.

A stopwatch doesn't tell the story of how quickly he reaches full speed, how sharply he makes his cuts, how naturally elusive he is, what a relentless competitor he is.

Listed at 5-foot-10, 190 pounds, Sharp wasn't going to red-shirt even if Angus Quigley were not out for the season with an injury. Sharp's too good to have to wait. He has the look of an athlete ready to make an immediate impact. How couldn't he?

As a senior at Salina Central, Sharp scored 63 touchdowns, a record for the state of Kansas. Repeat, 63 touchdowns. Again, that's 63 touchdowns in one season. For his career, Sharp rushed for 6,524 yards.

Without question, Sharp was the highlight of the practice, the center of the most sideline conversations. You're going to remember the first time you see him. He's that kind of athlete.

"He came in and earned my respect this summer," said Brian Murph, KU's best receiver. "He came in and ran great this summer. He came in here with his mind made up. He knew what he wanted to do. He wants to play. He's trying to prove to the coaches he's ready to play, and I think he's going to get there."

He's already there.

"He's a hard charger, a 100-percent guy every play," KU coach Mark Mangino said. "He's extremely quick, he does a lot of good things. He's a model of a young man. If you wanted the model young man that was a true freshman prepared to take on the challenges of the Big 12, he's probably that guy."

Mangino looked past Sharp's size and made him a priority, the way you get the feeling Mangino would have looked past Darren Sproles' size if he were coaching KU when Sproles rocketed through the line in blink-and-you-missed-it fashion for Olathe North.

Mangino targeted Sharp. So did Ron Prince, who made a visit to Sharp's high school an immediate priority upon taking the Kansas State job. Prince couldn't talk Sharp out of his oral commitment, and KU has itself another small-town Kansas star. John Riggins, Nolan Cromwell, Bobby Douglass, Galen Fiss. Even Lawrence was a small town when John Hadl stayed home to play college football. David Jaynes. John and Dean Zook. Syracuse's Robbie Gale, KU's version of Rudy.

Blow off small-town Kansas players and you're on your way to getting fired. Mangino's on his way to a contract extension that should bring him in the neighborhood of $1.5 million a year.

An estimated 2,000 KU fans showed up for a Johnson County pep rally Friday night, based on the momentum established last season and the excitement over newcomers like Kerry Meier and Sharp.

What sort of career will Sharp have at KU? The sort of career Sproles had at Kansas State. Is that good enough?


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