Justin Springer was in no hurry to hit the showers after a three-hour practice in mid-90 degree temperatures last week on the practice fields outside Memorial Stadium.
Springer, Kansas University’s 6-foot-3, 237-pound senior linebacker from Los Fresnos, Texas, waited patiently for his defensive coordinator to complete a media interview before taking his turn, sweat dripping from his face.
“I like it,” Springer said of he and his teammates baking in the sun — temperatures have soared over 100 degrees this week — on campus ahead of the rest of the student body, which will start first-semester classes on Aug. 19.
“We are not lazy. We’re not at the lake chilling with our friends. We are working, and I love it,” Springer added.
Springer — he had 25 tackles, including 4.5 for a loss his junior season — has a shot at an expanded role for his final college campaign, particularly with Monday’s news that linebacker Huldon Tharp will miss the entire season with a foot injury.
“Right now I’m in good health. I’m injury-free right now,” Springer said. He suffered a torn ACL during the Kansas State game his sophomore season shortly after a season-best eight-tackle effort versus Oklahoma. “Hopefully that stays true throughout the whole season. I feel good. My body weight is good. I should play well.”
That’s the hope of first-year defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Carl Torbush, who would love to call Springer’s No. 45 all season.
“He’s a great worker, plays hard, is a good leader with a great deal of personal pride,” Torbush said of the player who entered college as Rivals.com’s No. 39-rated inside linebacker nationally.
“Athletically, he did some good things in the spring. I am a Justin Springer fan. What he has to do now is do in the game what I’ve seen him do in practice,” Torbush added.
Senior running back Angus Quigley, who played linebacker last season, sees Springer taking on a team-leader role.
“Justin has a ton of ability,” Quigley said. “Springer has his head on right and has gotten healthy. He is in shape. I feel he is headed down the right path.”
Quigley realizes Springer will be in his path at times at practice.
“I love Justin. That’s one of my good friends on the team, (but) we’ve been on opposite sides before,” Quigley said. “It’s always good. I take no cheap shots at him. He takes no cheap shots at me. We’ve got respect. In a scrimmage, we’ll go after each other. He won’t be the only linebacker in the Big 12 we play that size. It’s all in good fun.”
Springer thinks a linebacker group that includes Drew Dudley, Steven Johnson, Chea Peterman, Jacoby Thomas, Josh Richardson et al. can be one of the Jayhawks’ strengths.
“Our first goal is to be the best linebacking corps in the Big 12,” said Springer, whose twin brother, Jeremy, is a linebacker at UTEP.
“It’s very possible. We’ve got everybody coming back who played. I think we’ve got a good chance. If you are the best in the Big 12, you rate ahead of about every conference.”
It’s been said Springer has the size and ability to have a shot at an NFL career. Right now, he’d take a stellar, injury-free senior season, coach Turner Gill’s first at KU.
“I’m nervous about it, but at the same time, I’m excited,” Springer said of his last go-round. “I have to be one of the leaders, be accountable for everybody, be there for my teammates.
“My senior year in high school was a lot of fun,” noted Springer, who earned varsity letters in football, basketball and track. He’s an 2009 academic All-Big 12 selection majoring in sports management.
“My freshman year here was fun. My sophomore year was fun until I tore my ACL. Last year was frustrating. I didn’t really do anything. It was really frustrating when we were losing a lot of games. My goal is to be a team leader and help my team win. We’ll see how it goes.”