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A fan first (in New Mexico), KU walk-on Shane Smith expected to play in first collegiate game Saturday


Kansas defensive tackle Shane Smith, second from right, takes instruction with the defensive line during practice on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2011.

Kansas defensive tackle Shane Smith, second from right, takes instruction with the defensive line during practice on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2011. by Nick Krug

Shane Smith couldn’t keep his eyes open.

It was April 1, 1991. Shane — currently a sophomore Kansas University defensive lineman — was watching the men’s basketball national championship game between Kansas and Duke with his father, Terry, at their home in New Mexico.

There are times when Terry still blames his son for the loss. If only Shane wouldn’t have fallen asleep at halftime, the Jayhawks would have beaten Duke and won the title. Understandably, Shane never takes him too seriously.

“I was 5 months old,” Shane said with a smile. “He still likes to joke about it.”

Because of his dad — who grew up in Topeka — Shane was raised as a Jayhawk fan in Albuquerque, N.M.

On Saturday, Shane is expected to play in his first game for the school he’s always followed.

Smith, who has competed on KU’s scout team the last two seasons, has moved his way up the depth chart following some injuries on the Jayhawks’ defensive line.

The 6-foot-5, 280-pound defensive tackle played with KU’s first-team defense during its scrimmage on Aug. 20.

“I just want to be able to contribute,” Shane said. “That’s my goal: to get on the field and get some playing time in a Jayhawk uniform. Get my jersey dirty.”

So far in his career, he hasn’t gotten that chance.

After red-shirting his first season, Smith dressed out for home games last year but didn’t make it in for a single snap.

“You’ve got to keep the right mind-set is what it is,” Smith said. “If you’ve got the right mind-set, you’ll show up, you’ll put in the work and you’ll get something out of it.”

Smith's best attribute is his speed. Part of that stamina comes from playing for so long in the New Mexico altitude.

“I come down here, and I can run for days,” Smith said. “I just think that quickness factor is more my strength. I’m not the biggest, strongest, but I can move around a little bit.”

KU defensive coordinator Vic Shealy has praised Smith's improvement in the offseason, saying there have been times at practice he's impressed coaches by shedding a block then popping a ball-carrier in the hole.

For now, Smith will mostly be in during assumed rushing downs, as he projects more as a run-stopper.

He wouldn’t be the first KU football player on the roster to make the jump from preferred walk-on to contributor. KU senior linebacker and team captain Steven Johnson arrived at KU in 2008 without a scholarship before earning one prior to the 2009 season.

Smith admits that he recruited himself to KU after being named an all-state offensive lineman his senior year. He sent highlight tapes in to then-KU coach Mark Mangino, who offered him a spot as a preferred walk-on.

Though Smith had scholarship offers to Div. II schools and also interest from New Mexico, he picked the Jayhawks.

“I came up here and have been living the dream ever since,” Smith said.

As a child, Shane still remembers making a 5 1/2-hour trip to Lubbock, Texas, with his mother, Susan, to watch the Jayhawks’ basketball team take on Texas Tech.

Afterwards, Susan took Shane and his sister, Kaley, down to the locker room to where the Jayhawks were signing autographs.

A picture of Shane and former KU coach Roy Williams still hangs prominently in the Smiths’ house.

It’s not the only KU photo there.

Walk in the front door, and on the right side of a photo montage are pictures of Shane in his KU football uniform.

The left side has a photo from the day Terry and Susan's child committed to KU.

That side is Kaley’s. The high school senior is committed to KU’s soccer team; she’ll be joining her brother at KU next year.

“Everything about it up here just feels right,” Shane said. “That’s why I love it.”


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