Listening to Kansas University football coach Mark Mangino talk about the sort of training camp explosive true freshman wide receiver Bradley McDougald flashed makes it even easier to picture the Jayhawks featuring one of the nation’s most prolific offenses.
Scoring points won’t be the problem. Preventing them is more of an iffy proposition. The outlook of the linebacker unit has many a hard-core Kansas football fan nervous. The experience just isn’t there.
Huldon Tharp, a 6-foot, 215-pound true freshman from Mulvane, has made such an impression with his speed, aptitude and attitude, that he might start. He hasn’t played since his junior year in high school, having missed last season because of ACL surgery. It’s less-than-ideal that he’ll be learning on the job.
“I know a lot of the media doesn’t think the linebacker corps here is that great but there are some pretty good athletes that we have here,” said Tharp, first-team all-state at linebacker and honorable mention at running back. “It’s definitely a competition every day who’s going to be playing, who’s going to earn more reps. There’s a lot of competition.”
In some ways, Tharp calls to mind another linebacker from near his part of the state.
“Growing up, I watched some of the high school games when Nick Reid was playing quarterback for Derby because Derby is right next to Mulvane,” Tharp said. “Then watching him at Kansas, he was definitely an inspiration to me. We’re both not the biggest guys, so we both have to try to bring toughness to the table and try to bring speed to the table. Coach told us that (Reid) was one of the toughest guys he’s ever been around. And he was always prepared very well. He knew exactly what his job was on every single play so he definitely was assignment-sound.”
Tharp said he enjoyed Reid’s talk when the former Big 12 Player of the Year showed up one day during summer conditioning and urged players to work hard and make wise decisions in life. Mangino, who also praised the recent practice play at linebacker of junior college transfer Vernon Brooks, sounds as if he expects Tharp to make smart choices.
“He’s very mature for his years,” Mangino said. “You would not believe with the kind of football aptitude that he has that he really is a freshman. He has come on strong. He’s in there fighting for a starting job. He’s a tough, hard-nosed guy. He’s smart. He’s a really talented young guy. He’s still a freshman. We’re still mindful of that, but he’s going to play, and if he wins the starting job, which is a possibility, I think he’ll do a great job for us.”
Tharp said he chose Kansas over Stanford, Colorado and Illinois. He didn’t do so in anticipation of gaining immediate playing time.
“Quite honestly, not really,” he said. “Most freshmen come in and they’re usually going to redshirt or play special teams or something. That’s something I dreamed of, so it’s a great feeling to have a shot.”