Russell Brorsen is struggling.
It's a Tuesday afternoon, just past 2, and the Kansas University defensive end is stationed in an office in the bowels of Allen Fieldhouse, trying to explain the intricacies of a course he recently completed - organic chemistry - that he found to be considerably challenging.
"How can I put this : " he says.
He is choosing his words carefully, trying to ensure that the class is adequately described - "My professor might read this," he says - while simultaneously attempting to avoid the kind of playful banter teammates have been known to heap upon their scholarly teammate.
After umm-ing and uhhh-ing his way through a brief synopsis, however, he throws in the towel - apparently resigned to the fact that it is a physical impossibility to protrude coolness while discussing the particulars of carbon-based molecule interaction.
"Whatever I say," he says with a sigh, "I'm going to sound like a giant nerd."
And so it is that Brorsen, he of the near-perfect grade-point-average and mop-top haircut, enters his senior year not only as a leader of a Jayhawks defensive unit that returns nine starters, but as the team's resident Einstein - the player designated by teammates as the second Jayhawk most likely to succeed. (First on the list, if you're wondering, is current Tampa Bay Buccaneer and soon-to-be-millionaire Aqib Talib).
In the past two years, Brorsen has been named to a total of five all-academic teams, including ESPN The Magazine's Academic All-America First Team as a junior last season. He was tapped as a Big 12 Academic First-Team selection the past two years, and upon completing his undergraduate degree in chemistry, he intends to sign on for four years of dental school.
"He'll cure some disease or invent the ever-burning light bulb at some point in his professional career," assures first-year Kansas defensive-line coach Joe Bob Clements. "He's a very talented individual."
A first-team all-state football player and state weightlifting champion at Stillwater (Okla.) High, Brorsen was largely overlooked following his prep career. He chose Kansas over Tulsa and Navy; hometown Oklahoma State passed on the 6-foot-4, 240-pound lineman.
After moonlighting as a tight end during his freshman season in Lawrence, he returned to his natural position on the defensive line before the start of the 2006 campaign.
As a junior last year, Brorsen collected 36 tackles and an interception and was the only KU defensive lineman to notch at least one tackle in each of the team's 13 games. His best effort, however, was reserved for the biggest stage, when on the fourth play of the Jayhawks' 24-21 victory over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl, Brorsen slipped through the Hokies' front line and introduced himself - rather intimately - to opposing quarterback Tyrod Taylor for an 11-yard loss.
The sack set the tone for a surprisingly impressive evening from the Kansas defensive line and leave coaches hoping for an encore of a senior season.
"I've only been around the kid for five, six months, and he's as tough a football player as I've ever been around," Clements says. "On the field, off the field, I don't have to worry about him. The thing about him is that you can tell him about something he can work on, and he's going go work on it."
Entering what surely will be one of the most intriguing seasons in school history, Brorsen's sights are set on duplicating the success of last season's 12-1 team, during which the Jayhawks finished the season ranked seventh in the country - the highest postseason finish in school history.
"I think there's been an effort to make sure everyone stays grounded," Brorsen said. "I'm just looking forward to playing that first game. See if we can win some games again, get on a roll again. I'm looking forward to it."