When you’re as big as Kansas University senior Jamal Greene, it’s not so easy to hide.
At 6-foot-4, 328 pounds, just about everything Greene has done since joining the KU football program has been noticed by somebody.
Coaches, in awe of his size but disappointed by his production, have talked about Greene’s unfulfilled potential. Teammates who have seen Greene for who he is — just one of the fellas — have enjoyed his presence but rarely worried about him putting pressure on their positions.
During his three seasons as a Jayhawk, the defensive tackle from Kansas City (Kan.) Washington High has played in 29 games, but somehow managed just 34 tackles. Last year, as a reserve, he played in nine games and made six tackles.
For the most part, Greene has rolled with the way his career has taken him. Sure, he would like to have better numbers next to his name, and, naturally, he would like people to believe he still can be the beast he was in high school. But even with those thoughts in his head, he never really found a reason to crank it up a notch. Until now.
During a crazy offseason, everything changed for Greene. Gone was the man who recruited him and coached him for three seasons. In was a new leader, a coach capable of inspiring the forgotten and leading the lost. That, in turn, made Greene a new man, one with visions of a monster senior season and a playing career beyond college.
“The atmosphere out here is amazing now,” Greene said. “You know, we’re out here just competing hard and having fun.”
Through the first few two weeks of the spring, Greene has been the poster child for such a statement. For the first time in his career, his teammates are starting to notice.
“I can definitely see it in (his) eyes, that (he’s) excited about things,” said junior tight end A.J. Steward.
That’s the way Greene wants it. No longer is he trying to hide. No longer is he happy with mediocre stats.
“Yeah, it’s a fresh start,” Greene says. “But, at the same time, your senior season you just try to kick it into gear. It’s your last season, so you try to put all your marbles in it, give it your all, do your best.”
It’s early, but, so far, it seems as if that’s exactly what Greene has done. Halfway through spring drills, Greene’s name has been mentioned by KU coach Turner Gill as much as any player’s. He’s sought out to be first in line during drills — all of them — and has tried to keep his motor going even when he wanted to shut it down.
“I think Greene has done some good things,” Gill said. “He’s probably the one who’s stood out (the most) on the whole defensive line.”
The reason? Obviously, Greene has ideal size. But, like few coaches before him, Gill found a reason to look beyond the big man’s measurables.
“He’s a guy that moves pretty well for a big guy,” Gill said. “He still needs to get his body weight down a little bit, but I think he’s shown that he’s a guy that can be physical and make some plays. He’s shown good leverage, and I like the way he plays with some pretty good effort.”
Asked for his take on why his name has rolled off of Gill’s tongue so often, Greene flashed an “Aw, shucks” grin and explained, simply, that’s how it should be.
“It’s not tough,” he said. “You just have to lead by example, do the right things, because you’ve got all eyes looking at you. The players, the coaches, even the young guys, they expect us seniors to step up. That’s just how it’s gotta be. I’m trying to lead by example for the young players because they’re the future of the team.”
Of course, Greene would be lying if he didn’t address what becoming a leader means to him now.
“I’m just trying to have a breakout season,” he said. “This is it. So I’m trying to be at the top of the board in (tackles-for-loss) and sacks. That’s the goal for me.
“It started back in January,” he continued, “when we got back from winter break. The offseason conditioning, the running, the winter workouts, that’s when it started. You have to take care of the little things before you even get into pads.”