For all the new guys on Kansas University's football team, today's spring game is the Super Bowl - for now.
"I've been here for a while," junior cornerback Aqib Talib said. "For the young guys, they really come out and prove themselves in the spring game. For the veterans, we go out and have fun and have a nice scrimmage in front of the crowd."
A few thousand fans are expected to flock to Memorial Stadium today, when the Jayhawks conclude their spring season with the annual intrasquad scrimmage. The game starts at 3:30 p.m. - whether it's sunny or snowing.
Though coach Mark Mangino calls today just another day at the office - albeit an important one - it's more than that to the players, particularly the ones coming off red-shirt seasons or transferring in from junior colleges.
For them, this is the first crack at showcasing their talents to the fan base. And that's a big deal.
"The spring game last year was a lot of fun," quarterback Todd Reesing said. "It was my first time playing in front of that many people."
Fresh off early graduation from Lake Travis (Texas) High a year ago, Reesing was 7-of-14 passing for 102 yards in his inaugural spring game.
Not bad, but he was overshadowed by a more seasoned freshman, Kerry Meier. A year ago, Meier made his debut after red-shirting, passing for 184 yards, rushing for 36 more and playing a part in all four of the white team's touchdowns.
It seems most of KU's playmakers in recent years had memorable debuts in the scrimmage. Consider:
¢ Talib was playing strong safety in his coming-out game in '05, and had two dandy interceptions. It was the first glimpse of Talib that was pretty accurate except for the position. Now playing cornerback, Talib has had seven interceptions in two seasons and is an All-Big 12 performer.
¢ Charles Gordon played receiver his freshman year before switching full-time to cornerback before the '04 spring game. He intercepted three passes that day.
¢ Running back Jon Cornish had a 12-yard touchdown run in the 2003 game after red-shirting in '02.
¢ Brian Murph had 110 receiving yards in his 2005 debut after a stint in junior college, and became KU's top receiver by his senior year. After that game, he admitted "I've been waiting for this opportunity for a long time."
Which turns the attention back to today, and directly toward three junior-college transfers and a slew of red-shirt freshmen. Butler Community College product Kendrick Harper has been working first-team at cornerback opposite Talib. Fellow Butler teammate Chet Hartley currently is penciled in as the starting right guard on offense. Patrick Resby, another juco guy, is competing for the starting job at strong safety.
Meanwhile, red-shirt freshmen like running back Donte Bean, wide receiver Tertavian Ingram, offensive lineman Ian Wolfe and defensive back Phillip Strozier also are working their way up the depth chart. None have played in front of a significant crowd since high school.
Bet the house they'll be ready. As Murph proclaimed two years ago, it's been a long time coming for a lot of them.
And as history shows, the spring game can be a good indicator of who can be counted on in the future.
"The spring game is good for a lot of reasons," said Reesing, now a sophomore competing for the starting quarterback job. "It gets fans excited about football season. It shows them what the team has to offer. And it shows them what the new guys are going to provide."