Although the competition will not end officially for a few more weeks, Kansas University linebackers coach Vantz Singletary on Wednesday opened up about which players were leading the race to play with the first-team linebackers this fall.
With the Jayhawks shifting to the 3-4 defense, four starting linebacker spots are up for grabs. As of Wednesday, senior Steven Johnson, juniors Toben Opurum and Tunde Bakare and sophomore Darius Willis seemed to be the leaders.
Of course, you might not have known that without some kind of a decoder. See, Singletary’s the kind of coach who has nicknames for everybody, and the KU linebackers are not off-limits.
For the most part, Singletary’s monikers are simple. For instance, he calls Bakare “T” and freshman Ben Heeney “B,” nods to their first names, and refers to Willis as “D-Willy,” a takeoff on the name he used for San Francisco 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis, “P-Willy,” whom he coached in the NFL.
Although many of the names are simple, Singletary’s not afraid to mix it up and get a little creative. For instance, sophomore Huldon Tharp, who right now is battling with Johnson at the Will linebacker spot, received a nickname for something dear to Singletary’s heart.
“I call him WWF because he reminds me of Lex Luger and all those guys, and I love wrestling,” Singletary said. “When I have a hard time remembering his name, I just say, ‘Hey, WWF.’ He kind of reminds me of a mini (Brian) Bosworth, just his whole make-up.”
Freshman Collin Garrett, who has been playing with a cast on his right hand to protect a broken bone, has been dubbed “Old School.”
“He’s kind of like (former Pittsburgh Steelers great) Jack Lambert,” Singletary said. “He’s rugged and rough. He’s got the cast going, the broken hand, and he just looks old-school. He doesn’t look like a typical freshman.”
Junior-college transfer, Isaac Wright, currently behind Willis at Mike linebacker, is known as “Iceman.” And then there’s Johnson, the leader of the bunch. Singletary has been so impressed with his performance — on the field and in the film room — that he has earned two nicknames.
“Stevie Will,” asked Singletary, referencing Johnson’s first nickname. “Sometimes I call him Hammer because he’s always lowering the boom on somebody. Kids always love little nicknames that they can use to make fun of each other, and they’ve all been really receptive to it.”
So far, Opurum and Malcolm Walker have been able to avoid Singletary’s name game. Those two are slotted to play the Buck linebacker spot, which technically is part of the defensive line, so they spend their time working with D-Line coach Buddy Wyatt.
Singletary, the nephew of NFL Hall of Famer Mike Singletary, doesn’t think his new players have given him any nicknames just yet.
“No, they haven’t,” said the first-year KU coach. “They’ve been mimicking me. I gotta make sure they don’t get hold of (NFL linebackers) Patrick (Willis) and Takeo (Spikes). They’ve got all kinds of nicknames for me.”
Holt cut by Chargers
Former KU linebacker James Holt, a member of the 2008 Orange Bowl championship team, was released by San Diego on Wednesday, the team announced.
Holt, 6-foot-2, 223 pounds, joined the Chargers as an undrafted free agent in 2009. He played in 12 games during his two seasons and finished with 12 tackles, most coming on special teams.
At Kansas, Holt earned second-team All-Big 12 honors and was the team’s defensive player of the year in 2008. He led the Jayhawks in tackles with 105, including 10 sacks, 19 tackles for loss and six forced fumbles.