It seemed like such a gross miscalculation and nothing that happened in the North Dakota State game changed that perception. One year later, it’s not too soon to hand down a verdict: Turner Gill’s decision to move Toben Opurum, the team’s leading rusher as a true freshman, to defense made Kansas University a better football team and Opurum a better NFL prospect.
KU would have defeated North Dakota State, instead of losing 6-3, had Opurum been the starting running back. But would the Jayhawks have upset Georgia Tech the next week without James Sims rushing for 101 yards, Georgia Tech coming into the game flat in light of KU’s first-week flop and Kansas on fire emotionally looking to erase the season-opening embarrassment? Probably not.
Either way, this is the season the position switch will begin to pay off in a big way for Kansas and Opurum.
It was difficult for Opurum to see that when he practiced with the defense for the first time Aug. 19, 2010.
Naturally, he gave thought to transferring.
“I talked to my family about it,” he said. “Really, we just tried to come up with the best decision for me academically and football-wise. When I started to get a chance to play more on defense and get more comfortable with what I was doing, I decided to stay, and I’m glad I did.”
He said all the right things at the time, but his body language revealed his spirit had been challenged.
“It was a tough thing really for me and my family and a lot of people wanted to question coach Gill and bash him about it, but the coaches watch our every move on the football field, they evaluate talent and they know what they want to accomplish,” said Opurum, the only non-senior among the four co-captains. “They want to win just as much as anyone else. For me it was a humbling experience. I had to humble myself and realize I could help the team on the other side of the ball and so far it’s a move that’s helped.”
Opurum looks a lot bigger but he said he weighs just 245 pounds, roughly five more than as a freshman running back. He definitely looks more sculpted. He said his body fat has been trimmed “4 or 5 percent” since the beginning of summer conditioning and he’s “in better shape and faster” than at any point in his life.
As a hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end, Opurum will be moved around in defensive coordinator Vic Shealy’s 3-4 defense in a way to give him the edge in hunting the quarterback. Opurum said he has a sacks goal.
“In my head I do,” Opurum said. “It’s like they say, if you don’t talk up your dreams, they can’t shoot them down, so that’s something I’ll hold onto myself.”
If he reaches that number, he’ll thank defensive line coach Buddy Wyatt and D-line graduate assistant Kevin Carberry the way he singled them out Tuesday, when talking about how much he learns when they show him film of NFL pass-rushers.
A Cowboys fan from Plano, Texas, Opurum, 6-foot-2, 245 pounds, enjoys watching outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware, 6-4, 257, rush the passer. Opurum has a better chance of one day wearing the super-cool Dallas blue star on his helmet playing Ware’s position than the position played by Felix Jones.