If you can look past his size and focus solely on the type of player he is, you’ll realize that Kansas University sophomore Prinz Kande really has been a linebacker all along.
Recruited to KU to play safety and once called the best defensive prospect on the team by a former assistant coach, Kande moved to linebacker during the offseason and spent the spring getting used to his new position. To his teammates, Kande seemed like a natural in his new spot.
“He was basically a linebacker at strong safety,” wide receiver Christian Matthews said. “He came down (to the line of scrimmage) a lot, so we got to (block) him anyway.”
To Kande, natural’s not quite the word.
“It’s a little bit different physically, but I’m getting the hang of it,” he said late during spring drills. “I’m a little more athletic, so I’m kind of using my speed and athleticism to my advantage.”
So far, no one knows that better than offensive lineman Jeff Spikes, who remembers salivating about the prospects for a pancake block during an encounter with the 5-foot-11, 190-pound linebacker during one scrimmage this spring.
“I came across him a couple of times but, you know, Prinz is an athlete, and he’s pretty quick,” Spikes said. “Whenever I’m blocking him, it’s, ‘Oh, I’m about to block you, I’m about to block you, I’m about to cut you,’ and then I see he ran around me. That’s pretty much what it is.”
The idea to shift Kande to linebacker came from head coach Turner Gill and defensive coordinator Carl Torbush. Set at safety with young, talented players Bradley McDougald, Keeston Terry and Lubbock Smith, the KU coaching staff deemed Kande physical enough to handle it and fast enough to add much-needed speed to the linebacking corps. Kande admitted to having one serious worry when he heard the news.
“That was the first concern, ‘Am I big enough to be able to take on those linemen inside?’” he said. “I’m usually a team player, so anything to help the team, but inside my head, I was like, ‘Man.’ But it’s not as bad as it seems.”
Kande’s quickness will allow the Jayhawks to drum up different defensive schemes to take advantage of his skill-set. Because he’s used to pass defense, Kande most often has been used against spread formations, where he has been asked to cover tight ends or slot receivers.
“I like hitting, it’s just that I need to get stronger to be able to take on what a linebacker takes on,” he said. “I’m not used to coming downhill and taking on a big fullback, but I like hitting. I enjoy doing that.”
That Kande has been able to hold his own while switching positions is impressive because of his background. After moving to Texas from France at age 11, he didn’t start playing football until seventh grade.
He went on to become a star at Euless Trinity High, and that led to scholarship offers from Kansas, New Mexico and Wisconsin, as well as serious interest from about two dozen other programs.
At the time, the idea of paying for college through athletics was a dream come true for Kande’s family. So, to them, it didn’t matter what position Kande played or if he was the star of the team or not. The funny thing is, all these years later, it still doesn’t. In fact, midway through spring drills, Kande still hadn’t even told his family that he had changed positions.
“I told a couple of my friends that go to other schools,” he said. “But my mom doesn’t really know that much about football. If I told her, she’d just be like, ‘OK. What position is that?’ We’re not from here, so we’re not really used to football. She loves the sport, but she doesn’t really know what’s going on. All she knows is touchdown and this and that.”
His mom may not know much about the switch, but Kande’s teammates do, and many of them believe Kande found the right spot to become a playmaker.
“Once he gets over that mental factor, he can accomplish it,” Spikes said. “Football is football. Once he lets himself open up, I’m pretty sure he’ll be really good. He has it.”