Jayhawks growing as a team

Jayhawks growing as a team

That Tanner Hawkinson and Toben Opurum should be named captains by their teammates is no surprise. They represent everything Head Coach Charlie Weis wants in his leaders - responsible and hard working on and off the field. But Dayne Crist's elevation to the same status after just a few months in Lawrence, Kan. shows everyone is rowing in the same direction.

That Tanner Hawkinson and Toben Opurum were selected by their teammates as captains of the Kansas football team Tuesday is hardly surprising.

The two seniors embody everything Head Coach Charlie Weis is looking for in his team leaders. They're talented on the field, hard working and responsible both on and off it. They're excellent representatives of the University of Kansas.

More importantly to the team, however, they're popular with their peers. And not just popular, but they have their respect. So when Weis and the coaches aren't - or can't be - around to keep an eye on things, Hawkinson and Opurum will hold them accountable.

Thus, they are perfect.

But as fitting as it was, it's not their selection that kindles hope Kansas football is moving in the right direction. That comes from the team's decision to elevate newcomer Dayne Crist to the same status.

Anyone who has ever been the new kid on the block knows it can be rough. It takes a while before new relationships can be forged, and that's especially true within the closed society of the locker room.

It would have been easy for the current Jayhawks to be resentful of Crist, whose arrival caused a splash in the national media. A former five-star prospect, he also had a long-standing relationship with their new head coach. The fan base, eager to leave the sour taste of back-to-back horrific seasons behind them, eagerly embraced the possibilities for the future which Crist's experience and howitzer of an arm represented.

Only Crist didn't give his new teammates a chance to feel that resentment. By all accounts a kind, hard-working and honest individual, he simply acted as himself from Day One. He led by example during winter workouts, and it wasn't long before the team realized this was not an individual who expected to have anything handed to him. From the moment he arrived, he happily grabbed an oar alongside everyone else in the effort to turn the ship around on Mount Oread.

It's no big secret the quarterback position has been one of the biggest problems with Kansas football since the graduation of Todd Reesing. That's not to disparage current wide receiver Kale Pick - who got first crack at the job in 2010 - or former quarterback Jordan Webb. Both worked hard and did their best, but the truth is the Jayhawks have lacked a strong, dependable presence under center.

With great quarterbacks, it's not just about ability. Reesing was nothing special physically, with an above-average arm on a severely undersized frame, but his self-confidence was so overwhelming it bled over to the rest of the team. When Reesing spoke, the team listened, and believed they could find a way to get things done.

The point of this column is not to say Dayne Crist is the next Todd Reesing. That's ridiculous, for a number of reasons. Reesing last took a snap in Crimson and Blue two coaching changes ago, so it's probably time to let those comparisons go.

What it's meant to do is show that Crist is on the fast track to earning that same kind of respect from his team. And that is a legitimately great sign for the season ahead. Not fluff, not sunshine and rainbows. Just truth. For college football teams, winning comes more easily to those with a commanding presence under center. And it sure helps if that commanding presence comes equipped with Crist's size, experience, knowledge of the system and overall physical ability.

Saturday's spring game probably won't reveal much. For starters, Weis has made it abundantly clear that the Class of 2012 - the members of which will arrive this summer - is going to play a big part in the success or failure of the Jayhawks next season. So many key personnel have yet to even move to Lawrence, Kan. yet.

But it will provide a glimpse - the first real glimpse - of Crist and what he can do. And if he's as impressive on the field as he's been off it to date…well...

It could be fun.

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