For the past few seasons, several of the 20 seniors on the Kansas University football roster suited up with names on the backs of their jerseys but faces unknown.
This year, the names were stripped from the uniforms, making this crop of seniors even more anonymous than before.
“I would say that probably did matter a lot to those guys who aren’t really known in the program,” said senior safety Chris Harris, who has started 40 games in his career. “It definitely affected them. They hadn’t really made a name for themselves yet, and now, even if they play, people still won’t know their name.”
Regardless, as the seniors prepare to play their final game at Memorial Stadium — kickoff’s set for 11 today vs. Oklahoma State — many of the better-known members of the class weighed in with their thoughts about this group’s legacy.
“I think having the motivation to respond to adversity,” said senior wideout Johanthan Wilson, who needs 73 yards to become the 14th player in school history to reach 1,500 yards receiving. “That’s been our biggest thing. Things haven’t gone as well as we’ve planned, and there’s always been a lot of adversity around our class, but the ability to overcome all that is something I think we’ll carry with us.”
For three straight years, this band of brothers watched as the senior classes before them racked up honors, victories and nationwide recognition. Following in those footsteps has been difficult, especially when considering the names that graduated right in front of them. Reesing. Meier. Sharp. Stuckey.
“They set the bar real high,” Harris said. “It’s definitely been hard to compete with them. They were great players and great men off the field.”
Added Wilson: “I kind of feel like we’ve been in their shadows a little bit. When we came in, we had a dynamic senior class then, too. The ’07 class obviously showed what they can do. They went to the Orange Bowl. We’ve been kind of like role players, kind of in the shadows of some of those guys. But that’s just college football. Every team has their dynamic players before you get there. We’ve done our best to replace those guys.”
In many ways they have succeeded. Defensive end Jake Laptad is one sack away from moving into second place on the school’s all-time list. He has 20 sacks to his credit and has recorded at least a half a sack in four straight games. Place kicker Jacob Branstetter needs just two PATs to pass Dan Eichloff (116) for second place on KU’s all-time list. And Harris needs just 10 tackles in the next two games to move into a tie for third place on the all-time list among defensive backs. The list goes on.
But for every Harris, Laptad or Wilson on the roster, there’s a guy named Dakota Lewis, Bradley Dedeaux, Reece Petty, Rod Harris or Tertavian Ingram. All are names you’ve heard. But you’d be hard pressed to find many KU fans who could recognize any of them. Despite that anonymity, each one of the seniors has played a part in helping the Jayhawks achieve an overall record of 28-20 during the past four years.
“We don’t need a name to be identified as a team,” Dedeaux said. “Just going out there playing football is the main concern of the seniors. We’re all there in the winter and the summer doing the same things that the Todd Reesings and the Kerry Meiers are doing. Even though your name isn’t called as much, you still feel like a big part of the team.”
Also suiting up at home for the final time today as seniors are: offensive linemen Sal Capra, Alex Smith and Brad Thorson; linebackers Drew Dudley and Justin Springer; safeties Olaitan Oguntodu and Phillip Strozier; running back Angus Quigley; punter Alonso Rojas; cornerback Calvin Rubles; and defensive end Quintin Woods.
Regardless of their place on the who’s who list of Kansas football, all 20 seniors figure to hold a special place in KU coach Turner Gill’s memory bank.
“They accepted me,” Gill said. “I would say right from the beginning, their eyes, their heart, their soul — they’ve given all of that. And that’s all you can ask for from a coach’s perspective. This is a great group of guys, and they’re going to definitely be some people in my heart and my mind for the rest of my life.”