From The Wichita, Kan., Eagle
From The Wichita, Kan., Eagle
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Posted on Wed, Aug. 31, 2005
Gordon set to fill all roles
All-Big 12 cornerback will get his chances to help Kansas on offense and special teams.
BY RICK PLUMLEE
The Wichita Eagle
LAWRENCE - This was not an interception waiting to happen.
At least it seemingly shouldn't have been picked off by Kansas cornerback Charles Gordon, who was some 40 yards away on the other side of the field.
"But Charles doesn't just play his position," senior linebacker Kevin Kane said. "He plays the game.
"He doesn't just sit in his area. He goes where the ball is because he plays with instincts."
Which is why in November, with KU trailing Colorado by a field goal early in the fourth quarter, Gordon saw the flea-flicker coming. Safety Rodney Harris bit on the handoff to the running back, but not Gordon.
"I read pass from the beginning," he said. "When the running back tossed the ball back to the quarterback, I read the quarterback's eyes. He was staring down the middle receiver.
"He thought he had it. I just took off and got there."
"Amazing," Kane says now, even nine months later.
Gordon had two picks in that Colorado game, which KU lost 30-21. He finished the year with seven interceptions to tie for the national lead, made first-team All-Big 12 and third-team All-American.
All in his first full season on defense.
"The more experienced I am, the more I know where I'm supposed to be," Gordon said.
Just imagine what this season could bring.
But Gordon also has a pretty good idea of what to do with himself as a wide receiver. And he's only five yards short of becoming KU's career punt-return leader.
That means the triple-duty saga for the 5-foot-11, 180-pound junior will continue as the Jayhawks go into Saturday night's season opener against Florida Atlantic.
You can hear Mark Mangino contemplating the dilemma in his thoughts.
"Charles will get his work on offense," the KU coach said, "but we'll pick and choose his battles. He'll play mostly defense, but he'll play a reasonable number of offensive plays… maybe 10, 20 plays.
"I have more confidence about putting him on offense this year, because I think we have some good young corners."
On the other hand, Mangino added, "I think we'll be better offensively. It could be without Charles, but if we need Charles on offense to get that spark, we'll do that. But we have to stop people first."
Back and forth, back and forth.
Once you get past senior Mark Simmons, KU's wide-receiver corps is young and inexperienced. The offense is crying for Gordon's help, and he wants to answer that call.
"When we are struggling to put points on the board, I'm thinking I can help," Gordon said.
KU regularly struggled to score points last season. Even with the defense forcing 27 turnovers to tie for the Big 12 high, the offense did little.
Gordon put in some time on offense last season. He even played the whole second half at wide receiver in a loss at Iowa State.
But in the end, he saw only enough offense to catch 15 passes for 150 yards. Way down from the previous year, when he set school freshman records by catching 57 passes for 769 yards.
"There's nothing like throwing to Charles," junior quarterback Adam Barmann said. "He always gives you a chance."
To put it another way, Mangino said, "When Charles is running the pass routes, our quarterbacks look better. He's just a phenomenal athlete."
Gordon spends most of his practice time with the defense. But earlier this month, in his first go at wide receiver and without attending any offensive meetings, Gordon "put on a clinic," Mangino said.
"There's no question he's our best corner," Mangino said. "He's also probably our most polished receiver."
There's also no question that Gordon's pro future is at cornerback.
"Just based on my size, probably so," he said.
There's even been speculation from NFL scouts that Gordon could come out after his junior year and go high in next year's draft. If so, it would be in his best interest to spend his time on defense this season.
Gordon has thought enough about the NFL that he skipped playing baseball this summer, "so I could concentrate on taking my game to the next level."
But as for only putting his effort into the position that best serves his self-interest, he said, "I don't even think in those terms. I just want to play whatever I can to help us win."
Coming from Gordon, that's not just a company line.
Few programs recruited Gordon out of high school in Carson, Calif., in 2002. In part because of his lack of size. But also because he missed most of his junior season after stepping in a rut and breaking an ankle in the second game.
"I'm thankful that someone gave me a chance," he said, "and I intend to give everything back."
And while he admitted that last season "wore me down some," he was also quick to bend the ears of the offensive coaches on the sideline.
"There were times last year when I'd tell them, 'Hey, I'm ready whenever and you can put me in,"' he said. "But sometimes they'll come to me and say, 'Can you do this?"'
Gordon hasn't been inclined to turn down requests.
"It's up to us to count his reps and be careful with him," Mangino said. "We won't wear him out and put him in harm's way."
This season, opposing offenses may try to wear out the field on the opposite side of where Gordon is lining up.
"Maybe," he said. "Then again, maybe some will try to test me. I have the mentality that they're going to come to me. I like that."
Then again, if opponents want to play that game, he said, "I'll just go on offense and play my game there.
"No matter how it goes, it's going to work out. It's all about having fun anyway."
Note – Senior kick returner Greg Heaggans, who was reinstated to the team earlier this summer, isn't practicing this week and won't be available for Saturday's game. "He needed some personal time off," said Mangino, adding it wasn't a disciplinary issue. "He'll be back with us next week."
From The Wichita, Kan., Eagle
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On the straight and narrow
KU's Heaggans thankful for final shot after off-field trouble jeopardizes career
BY RICK PLUMLEE
The Wichita Eagle
LAWRENCE - John Randle tripped over the line. So did Reggie Duncan and a handful of other former Kansas football players.
Over the past three years, they found themselves in trouble with the law, then couldn't return to Mark Mangino's good graces by walking a straight line he laid down for them.
So they were booted.
Greg Heaggans is trying to avoid the same fate.
He thought he was a goner last spring, then was reinstated to the team in early summer. But that's it, he's been told. No more chances. Toe the line or he gets the boot.
"There's no room for error," Heaggans said. "Zero tolerance. I have to walk a straight line."
The 6-foot, 185-pound senior from Kansas City Schlagle has his name splashed all over KU's record book as a kick returner.
In the second game of his college career, he returned a kickoff 100 yards to tie for the second longest in school history. In two seasons, he became KU's career leader for kick returns with 1,715 yards.
But Heaggans was also getting his name splashed all over the jail log.
On Nov. 19, 2003, he and Randle were arrested for stealing beer from a Lawrence convenience store. Heaggans later received a diversion agreement, but he was back in trouble on Sept. 16, 2004.
Two days before KU was to play at Northwestern, Heaggans was pulled over in Lawrence at 2:30 a.m. and was charged with DUI. That action revealed he already had received a diversion agreement from a DUI in Wyandotte County on Sept. 11, 2003.
Mangino handed Heaggans a four-game suspension.
Then came the night before KU was to open spring practices last March.
"Wrong place, wrong time," Heaggans said.
He and Randle were at a Lawrence bar. A fight started in the parking lot, and Randle found himself in jail for punching a man in the face. Randle, KU's top returning running back and a former Wichita Southeast star, was kicked off the team two days later.
Heaggans wasn't involved in the fight. No legal trouble. But then he also wasn't home in bed where he was supposed to be the night before spring practices opened.
Mangino also kicked Heaggans off the team.
"I thought that was it, I was done for good," Heaggans said. "I'm a good kid. I'm just like every person… I made some bad mistakes. I prayed that I'd get a second chance. I tried to do everything right."
In a meeting shortly before summer workouts began, Mangino gave him another chance. It came with a long list of conditions. No bars, no partying or out late doing anything.
Only schoolwork and football allowed.
"Greg did the things he needed to do to get back on the team," Mangino said.
As KU goes into its season opener Saturday night at home against Florida Atlantic, Heaggans isn't concerned about shaking any rust off his kick-returning skills.
"I have to work my way back up the depth chart," he said. "I guess I have to prove myself. But it's like riding a bike – you don't lose it."
Heaggans is also climbing up the ladder at wide receiver, but he knows it's not only on the field where he has to prove himself. He understands he has to avoid the tackles of nightlife.
"One misstep and I'm done," he said. "If I take one little step to the right, I know I'm done.
"I won't be touching bars until I'm done with football, period. I just need to focus on football and school. I just need 14 more hours and I'll get my sociology degree, so that's all I'm worried about."
At least Heaggans sounds motivated to stay on the line. There's one more reason.
"The mistake I made was against the law where you can kill people from drinking and driving," he said. "That's serious."
So there he stands. On the line. Others have been there, then tripped.
"Won't happen to me," Heaggans said. "I pray the Lord will help me. I can't do anything wrong, and I'm not going to do anything wrong. I'm not going to take that chance."
Barmann named starter – As expected, junior Adam Barmann will start as Kansas' quarterback in Saturday night's season opener against Florida Atlantic.
"He has earned the job and has performed at a high level," KU coach Mark Mangino said Monday. "That doesn't mean you won't see some others out there, but Adam has had a good summer and a very good August."
Mangino also said Kerry Meier, the freshman from Pittsburg, was "very much" competing for the No. 2 spot at quarterback with senior Brian Luke.
"He's not out of the mix," Mangino added, giving no indication he has plans at this time to redshirt Meier.
Barmann started the first eight games last season before going out with a shoulder injury. He threw for 1,427 yards, including a school sophomore-record 12 touchdowns to go with nine interceptions.
From The Wichita, Kan., Eagle
Posted on Thu, Sep. 01, 2005
First of all, a win is a win for KU
LAWRENCE - To anyone who would listen and even to those who wouldn't, Mark Mangino has been busy proclaiming that this will be the best of his four Kansas football teams.
With Florida Atlantic coming to town Saturday night for the opener, the KU coach hasn't backed off any.
But maybe Mangino went a step too far in his enthusiasm this week when he said, "I think the opening game for us is significant because we have not won our opener here the last three years."
What? Beating Tulsa 21-3 in last year's opener didn't count?
Probably just an oversight. Goofs happen.
No doubt getting squashed 45-3 at Iowa State in Mangino's first game at KU brings back bad memories. And losing a winnable game in the rain at home to Northwestern in 2003 probably sticks with him.
And outside a strong finish in playing Texas down to the wire and winning at Missouri, the most memorable thing for the Jayhawks about 2003 was losing five games by a total of 20 points.
So, yeah, you could see where a nondescript win over Tulsa in the opener could get lost in the shuffle. Then again, given how hard victories have been to come by for KU, you wouldn't think the boss would forget.
"Let's just say it's very important to get off on the right foot," Mangino added.
Who is No. 2? –While Mangino was perfectly clear that junior Adam Barmann is the starting quarterback, he was a little cryptic about plans to possibly use a backup Saturday.
Or more specifically, who that will be, senior Brian Luke or freshman Kerry Meier?
"There are some factors that are beyond my control that play into that," he said. "We'll just have to play it by ear. It's possible that you could see at least one additional quarterback get some playing time.
"I don't want to divulge that at this time, because we're still tinkering with the situation a little bit."
All sounds so mysterious.
Probably it's all about whether to redshirt Meier, the mega talent out of Pittsburg. The only question is whether it's Meier who wants to redshirt or the other way around.
"Kerry said he'll do whatever is best for the team," Mangino said. We told him we wouldn't put him in there when he wasn't fully prepared."
Mangino added he wouldn't consider taking a redshirt off Meier after game six, "unless we're in a position to win a championship and we think he can help us."
KU won't keep players out of bars – The recent string of off-field incidents involving KU athletes has you wondering if school officials will call for all bar doors to be locked.
Not exactly. Basically the stance is these things just happen and there's not much that can be done about it. Boys will boys. That sort of thing.
"We're concerned about it, and I'm not passing it off as other people are also having problems," athletic director Lew Perkins said.
But he is doing just that.
"When I go to national conferences we talk about these things all the time," Perkins said. "This is an issue."
John Randle put up a long list before the running back was kicked off the team in the spring. Then basketball was stung by J.R. Giddens' Moon Bar fiasco in May.
It wasn't a bar scene, but reserve fullback Bruce Ringwood made a bad name for himself – and got himself suspended from the team – after punching out a 46-year-old man and his wife on Aug. 21 at a concert in Kansas City. Ringwood acknowledged he had been drinking.
Most recently, in Sunday's early morning hours at another Lawrence bar, sophomore guard Rodrick Stewart was clunked over the head by a beer bottle and required four stitches. Witnesses have said Stewart and other KU basketball players at the bar weren't involved in the scuffle, and no charges have been filed against anyone.
Still, another KU athlete was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It has been suggested by some police sources that out-of-towners have been targeting KU athletes, trying to stir up trouble.
In any case, the simple answer would be to tell athletes to stay out of bars. Or invoke a very tight curfew of, say, 10 p.m. Won't happen. Recruiting would fall off the table if that word ever got out.
Basketball coach Bill Self said he has talked to his players about being cautious.
"And what we've talked about will remain in house," he said. "There is a certain standard our players need to live up to. We feel the guys have done a pretty good job in that regard."
In the end, of course, the players have to be responsible for their actions – just as any other college student away from home must.
"We can't be with these kids every hour, every day," Perkins said. "We talk to them all the time, but at some pint the kid has to be accountable.
"If we had the magic solution, every school would be calling us."
From The Wichita, Kan., Eagle
Posted on Fri, Sep. 02, 2005
Florida Atlantic builds for future
Coach Howard Schnellenberger lines up tough schedule for Owls.
BY RICK PLUMLEE
The Wichita Eagle
LAWRENCE - For its first season of NCAA Division I-A football, Florida Atlantic has bitten off a heavy chunk for a schedule.
The Owls start with a visit to Kansas on Saturday night, then follow up with Oklahoma State, Minnesota and Louisville.
But then Howard Schnellenberger is FAU's coach. FAU's first and only coach in the school's four seasons of football. Challenges don't phase him.
Even at 71.
"The schedule was my idea," Schnellenberger said. "When I realized we wouldn't have a chance to win the national championship this year, we went out and brought in the finest talent to play against that we could.
"It's very important for a developing team to play a schedule like this. If that's where you're going to get your program to, that's the kind of talent you have to play."
Schnellenberger wasn't kidding about the national championship bit.
Upon taking the job at Louisville in 1986, he proclaimed that the team that had just endured six straight losing seasons was "on a collision course with the national championship."
That never happened. But he did take Louisville to five winning seasons – including a 10-1 in 1990 – over the next 10 years.
The fact is, Schnellenberger has been a part of four national titles.
He learned his trade at Alabama, where he was an assistant to Bear Bryant on three national title teams in the 1960s. In the 1970s, he needed only five years to turn Miami from chumps to national champs in 1983.
From the college ranks to the NFL, Schnellenberger has won pretty much wherever he's been. Except 1995 at Oklahoma, a 5-5-1 black eye that pushed him into a forced resignation after one year.
In these parts, Schnellenberger is most often linked to the OU debacle.
"It was ugly," he recalled.
And the silver-haired man who still enjoys long puffs on his pipe let it go at that.
In 1998, Schnellenberger was given the chance to start up his own football program at the Boca Raton school. He was named director of operations, later made himself head coach and quickly took advantage of a recruiting hotbed by stocking his roster with Florida players.
Today, he talks with the spirit and enthusiasm of a coach 30 years younger.
"I didn't need to be rejuvenated," he said. "Not many coaches that have been in this for 40-some years get a chance to create a football team from scratch. As we bring this program to its proper position four-five years from now, it will be worthwhile.
"Eventually, we'll be on the national scene. And I play to be here as long as the good Lord allows me to have continued success."
Meanwhile, there is a whole lot of work to be done.
After losing to Slippery Rock in its very first game in 2001, FAU went on to a 4-6 record that season. But the Owls have gone 20-6 the past two seasons, including a stretch of beating three straight I-A teams – Hawaii, North Texas and Middle Tennessee – on the road last year.
"That's the good news," Schnellenberger said.
The bad news is the Owls lost 32 seniors from last year.
That leaves Schnellenberger with a team consisting of 13 seniors, 12 juniors, eight sophomores and 43 freshman.
The quarterback is senior Danny Embick, who was a backup last year after transferring from West Virginia. And the Owls have some talented cornerbacks and a good middle linebacker, senior Shomari Earls.
"We're so nebulous right now I couldn't tell you how good or bad we are," Schnellenberger said. "We have as much talent as we've had, but it's not developed talent right now."