With Kansas University’s homecoming set for this weekend, more than three dozen members of the 1961 Bluebonnet Bowl team have taken that as a challenge.
In all, 38 players from the KU team that became the first in school history to win a bowl game are expected to be in town this weekend for a series of events that will honor their accomplishment. One member of the team, quarterback John Hadl, currently is employed by KU and remains heavily involved with the university for which he starred. Hadl said the return of so many former teammates confirmed one thing.
Legends return home
The following members of KU’s 1961 Bluebonnet Bowl championship team are expected to return this weekend to be honored at KU’s homecoming game against Texas Tech on Saturday.
Paul Anderson (trainer)
Don Gardner (trainer)
Clyde Kensinger (manager)
Jud Mitchell (head coach Jack Mitchell’s son)
Pack St. Clair
“We exemplified the word team,” Hadl said. “That was a good era, and we had some good times. I think the biggest thing is we had real strong camaraderie within the team, and I think that shows by the number of people coming back for this thing.”
The festivities will begin Friday afternoon and continue throughout the weekend. Kansas Athletics will host a private banquet Friday night that honors the 50-year anniversary of the team that capped a 7-3-1 season with 33-7 victory against Rice in the Bluebonnet Bowl in Houston. On Saturday, after the first quarter of KU’s homecoming showdown with Texas Tech — kickoff is set for 11 a.m. — those members of the 1961 team in attendance will be honored on the field.
“Everybody’s still alive, that’s a good thing,” Hadl said with a laugh. “It’s going to be a great weekend.”
One of the most popular players on that 1961 squad — then and now — is running back Bert Coan.
“I’ve had 20 guys call me and ask if Bert’s coming, and he is,” Hadl confirmed. “He will be there. He’s gonna drive up from Texas. So that’ll be a lot of fun.”
The ’61 squad opened the season by losing two of its first three games and entered Week 4, against Iowa State, with a record of 0-2-1. KU topped the Cyclones 21-7 and then went on to win six straight games and seven of its last eight. Included in that stretch were shutout victories over Oklahoma (10-0) and Kansas State (34-0) and convincing victories over Oklahoma State (42-8) and California (53-7).
The Jayhawks finished 13th in the nation in rushing that season, with a 229 yards-per-game average. They were led by Ken Coleman’s 656 yards and also featured strong contributions from Coan, and KU Hall-of-Famers Hadl and tailback Curtis McClinton. In addition, the KU defense ranked 14th in the nation against the run that season. Still, Hadl spoke mostly of the team’s chemistry when thinking back to his fondest memories from that season.
“Everybody was pretty close-knit,” he said. “We had a lot of unselfish people and obviously some good football players who excelled on the field, too.”
Asked if he could believe that the 50-year anniversary of his final season as KU’s quarterback had arrived, Hadl left nothing to the imagination.
“Absolutely not,” he said. “I can remember details of specific games and plays.”
Hadl also said he’s hoping this year’s game will prove memorable for the current crop of Jayhawks. If Turner Gill’s group gathers a little extra motivation from the return of one of the best teams in school history, then so be it, says Hadl.
“Homecoming was always a big game for us,” he said. “And I think that’s how it still is. But the bottom line is they just have to go out there and do what they’re taught to do and execute. That’s what we did.”
Defense searching for identity
Both Gill and defensive coordinator Vic Shealy said this week that the Jayhawks were still trying to pinpoint who they are and what they’re about on the defensive side of the ball. With so many young players asked to play key roles for a defense that changed its base completely in the offseason, things have been slow-going during the first few weeks of 2011.
That said, both Gill and Shealy believe that the extra week of attention during KU’s bye week helped the defense take a couple of steps forward.
“We’re figuring out our personnel and what our guys can do,” Gill said. “I’m big in saying we can run any kind of defense or offense we want, but we’re really trying to fit our schemes to what our personnel can execute best.”
Shealy said Wednesday that a big portion of the past 10 days was spent on coverages as KU has tried to blend its man-to-man and zone looks into one to confuse opposing offenses. Heading into the season, Shealy said he thought the Jayhawks were a better man-to-man team. Through three games they haven’t shown that to be the case very often.
“We need to show on Saturday that we can play both styles of coverages,” Shealy said. “Against Tech, the big thing is you gotta be able to stop the run. At the same time, you have to get pressure on the QB without selling the farm.”
Doege like Weeden?
Asked to compare Texas Tech quarterback Seth Doege to another QB people may know, Shealy paused and then spit out the name of another Big 12 passer.
“I think in his decision-making, he’s a lot like the Oklahoma State guy (Brandon) Weeden,” Shealy said.
Speaking of Texas Tech’s offense, Shealy said he had a ton of respect for the unit his defense will be asked to slow down on Saturday. Tech (3-0) is averaging 523 yards of total offense and 48 points per game.
With an upcoming stretch that includes Saturday vs. Texas Tech, Oct. 8 at Oklahoma State and Oct. 15 vs. Oklahoma, Shealy said the Jayhawks were in line to face what he considered three of the top 10 offenses in the country in the next three weeks.
The numbers back that at up. Through three games, the Red Raiders rank seventh in the nation in scoring offense, ninth in passing offense and ninth in total offense.
While the Jayhawks list just one regular on this week’s injury report — senior cornerback Isiah Barfield is questionable — the Red Raiders are dealing with a much bigger group of banged-up players.
Leading receiver Darrin Moore is listed as doubtful and is expected to miss Saturday’s game because of left-ankle and right-knee injuries he suffered on the same play during last week’s 35-34 victory against Nevada.
Second-string safety Pete Robertson (shoulder) and back-up linebacker Tanner Foster (knee) both are listed as questionable.
The other big injury news for the Red Raiders comes on the offensive line, where starting center Justin Keown, who missed the first two games of the year but returned in limited action last week, is expected to play against Kansas. Keown tore ligaments in his right knee during a fall practice. He played more than 50 snaps against Nevada and is expected to be available for a little more work this weekend.
Scouts in the house
Tuesday’s practice featured a few more sets of eyes than usual as three NFL scouts were in town to watch the Jayhawks workout.
Representatives from the Washington Redskins, Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts attended the early portion of KU’s mid-week practice and stuck around for a little more than an hour. KU officials said a few scouts had come to practice earlier this year, but the presence of three teams at the same time marked a season high.
Garrett on pace to red-shirt
Shealy said Wednesday the Jayhawks plan to red-shirt freshman linebacker Collin Garrett this season as long as he’s not needed. All fall, Shealy and the coaching staff praised Garrett for how fast he fit into the defense and how tough he was. However, because of a bunch of talented and experienced linebackers in front of him, Garrett has not yet been able to crack the lineup. Shealy said the red-shirt year would allow Garrett to develop both mentally and physically, setting him up to make a major impact in 2012.