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Archive for Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Woodling: Kansas ignored in draft

April 24, 2007

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It seemed like the right thing to do at the time.

Back in 1994, Big Eight Conference top dogs decided to enhance television revenue by annexing the countless boob tubes in Texas homes, thus giving birth to the Big 12 Conference.

"We have concentrated on the big picture," Kansas University Chancellor Gene Budig said at the time. "No alignment is perfect, but this one holds enormous prospects."

Time has shown, however, that those enormous prospects have - at KU, anyway - consisted mostly of trickle-down economics. On the playing field, other than the constant of men's basketball, the Jayhawks have been treading water. Particularly in football.

I'm sure when Budig signed off on the Big 12 - something he absolutely had to do for pragmatic reasons - he never envisioned the Jayhawks' football program muddling into mediocrity.

In theory, as a member of a major power-broker conference, KU would elevate its prestige to the point where it would have optimum opportunity to recruit high-level prep football prospects. But it didn't happen.

As proof, all you have to do is look at the Jayhawks' performance in the annual NFL Draft since the Big 12 played its first football games in 1996. In the 10 NFL Drafts since then, Kansas has had a grand total of nine players selected - one in the third round, three in the fourth, two in the fifth, two in the sixth and one in the seventh.

In four of the NFL meat markets since the inception of the Big 12, Kansas hasn't had a single player drafted. Not one. That includes last April, when a couple of players most KU fans thought might be picked - linebacker Nick Reid and defensive back Charles Gordon - were ignored.

Now, with the '07 NFL Draft coming up this weekend, it would appear the Jayhawks will be putting up another goose egg unless running back Jon Cornish hears his name mentioned Sunday in the lower rounds.

Cornish is basically the same player as June Henley, the Jayhawks' career leading rusher. Both Cornish and Henley possessed an instinctive knack for the position, both were durable, and both had just average speed. And you know how the NFL loves velocity.

Henley went in the fifth round in 1997, so I wouldn't expect Cornish to go any higher. To tell the truth, Cornish might have a more promising future in the CFL. A native of British Columbia, Cornish could become the most successful former Jayhawk to play in the CFL since Willie Pless, a linebacker who was bypassed in the 1986 NFL Draft and is now in the Canadian Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In the meantime, if you watch the NFL Draft in its early stages Saturday on ESPN, one thing is certain. For the 14th straight year, no KU player will be chosen in the first round. That hasn't happened since the San Francisco 49ers called defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield's name in 1993.

You have to go back 10 years earlier than that to find the last former KU player taken in the second round - Wayne Capers, a wide receiver nabbed by the Steelers.

That makes Ronnie Ward the answer to a trivia question. A linebacker, Ward went in the third round to the Miami Dolphins in 1997, the first NFL Draft following the inaugural Big 12 football season.

No former KU player has been drafted that high since.

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