Things you would not realize by looking at Jeff Spikes, the monstrosity of an offensive lineman for the Kansas University football team: He is quite fluent in matters involving the saxophone.
It's true. No lie. He started playing in sixth grade, realized that he liked it, and hasn't really stopped since. And he's good. In fact, if push came to shove, he says, he could grab the sax right here and now and provide teammates with a little post-practice entertainment.
"Not to blow my own horn," he said recently, while lounging in the Anderson Family Football Complex, "but I took lessons and (the teacher) felt I had natural ability to hear music and play it."
While everyone loves a good saxophonist, Kansas fans are hoping Spikes also possesses another natural ability: acting as a human shield to Jayhawks quarterback Todd Reesing.
On Friday, Kansas head coach Mark Mangino named Spikes the starter at left tackle, one of the team's most glaring holes following the departure of 2007 all-American Anthony Collins, a fourth-round choice of the Cincinnati Bengals in last April's NFL Draft.
As a junior last year, Collins was one of the most important pieces in the Jayhawks' 12-1 season, providing Reesing with enough time and space to pass for 33 touchdowns compared to just seven interceptions. He also helped pave the way for a ground attack that gained 2,454 yards, the highest total for a KU ground attack since 1994.
Most importantly, the quarterback stayed healthy under his watch.
"It's not a problem," said Spikes of questions surrounding this year's offensive line, which also lost four-year starter Cesar Rodriguez. "Our (line) coach says we have unlimited potential, (and) I believe whatever my coach says."
Since arriving in Lawrence in the fall of 2007, Spikes has been held in high regard among members of the Jayhawks' coaching staff. At 6-foot-6 and 314 pounds, he is tied for the heaviest member of the Jayhawks' offensive line, though he is agile enough to have averaged 12 points and grab 12 rebounds per game as a member of the Harvey (Ohio) High basketball team.
While Mangino is quick to temper expectations that come when replacing a player of Collins' caliber, he doesn't hesitate to provide a lofty projection for a player who has never played an official down of college football.
"He is one of the most athletic linemen we've had here," said Mangino. "Of course, he's young; he has a lot to learn ... (But) he's got the chance at the end of the day, when he's done here, to be one of the better offensive linemen we've had at Kansas."
Having beaten out a slew of other lineman for the starting left tackle job, Spikes can now concentrate on learning the nuances of the position. He credits his redshirt season in '07 as helping him develop into a college football player. He credits fellow offensive linemen Adrian Mayes, Ryan Cantrell and Chet Hartley with helping him through two-a-days, which began earlier this month.
As for his plans on the eve of the 2008 season, his first as a Jayhawk, Spikes says simply, "I want to be a major part of helping our team be successful."
The Spikes file
Name: Jeff Spikes
Position: Offensive tackle
Jersey number: 74
Year: Red-shirt freshman
Weight: 314 pounds
Hometown: Painesville, Ohio (Harvey High)
Favorite place to eat in Lawrence: Chili's
Favorite non-football activity: Fishing
Favorite football memory: Returning a fumble 25 yards for a diving touchdown in high school
Source: Kansas football media guide