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July 23, 2008

Kansas no longer the doormat of the Big 12

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Even after a 12-1 season and a BCS Bowl game victory over Virginia Tech, the Kansas football team will continue to have their fair share of doubters in 2008.

As the Jayhawks prepare for the upcoming season, the slogan on their team poster is "we are just getting started."

When you look at KU's schedule in 2008, there's no question it will be considerably tougher with added games against South Florida, Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State-all teams Kansas did not play on their 2007 schedule.

Jayhawk head coach Mark Mangino agrees the schedule for his football team is much tougher this season, but he also feels like his program is in a much different place than it was when he first arrived in Lawrence.

"The fact that we are picking up Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech is something that we look forward to," Mangino said. "We want to be able to play against all the best teams in our league and be able to beat them. That's the test for our program. We will never truly get over the hump, in my eyes -- I don't know how anybody else sees it -- but in my eyes until we're able to defeat those teams as well.

"We talk about the schedule. Yes, it is tougher. But let's back up a minute here and think everybody talked about last year's schedule. And just stop and think for a minute that Kansas's football coach has been asked about his 2007 schedule not being tough in a year where they defeated Nebraska, Texas A&M, Colorado and Virginia Tech. All that tells me is that we're making progress, if you're asking me those questions."

Senior linebacker Mike Rivera said the team has been as hungry as ever during workouts in Lawrence over the summer.

The Jayhawks are also in the process of completing a brand new multi-million dollar football complex, which should put them on a level where they can recruit with any other school in the Big 12 Conference.

"The message the coaches have given us is to never be satisfied," Rivera said. "We had a good season, but it's behind us now. This is a whole new year and a whole a new team. There's going to be a lot of new faces and we need to keep on working hard. You can never get too complacent."

When Mangino talks to his team about the expectations for the upcoming season, he said things are no different than they were when he first arrived at KU in 2002.

Mangino has continuously taken a blue-collar approach with his football program where nothing is done in a flashy manner.

"From the first day we arrived in Lawrence to now, we're pretty practical thinkers, and we keep it pretty simple," Mangino said. And how we deal with our players is we keep the same routine. We do the same things every day, whether things are going great, whether things are not going so well. Because we believe as players and coaches in what we're doing. And we keep things even. You know, pretty simple.

"I know you get tired of clichés, and I would, too, if I were you. But it's true. We take each day one at a time. We focus on the task at hand and we keep zeroed in on what we're trying to accomplish."

This approach has Kansas on the verge of making back-to-back bowl games for the first time in school history and has players like defensive back Darrell Stuckey excited to show people what the Jayhawks can do in 2008.

"Muhammad Ali said: 'Champions aren't made on the playing field, they're made on the practice field'," Stuckey said. "Last season was amazing with the way our attitude was and just how competitive we were and how willing we were to sacrifice ourselves to make sure the person next to us got the glory."

One of those people who got the glory last year for KU was sophomore quarterback Todd Reesing.

As a first-year starter, Reesing passed for nearly 3,500 yards to go along with 33 touchdowns and an impressive overall quarterback rating of 148.8. Heading into this season, Reesing knows the bar has been raised in Lawrence, but it's a challenge he and the rest of his teammates welcome.

"Everybody is going to remember the year Kansas won the Orange Bowl and the National Championship in basketball," Reesing said.

"As a whole I think there are more people that are aware of Kansas and what we did last year. We're a team that's going to compete, which is awesome to see. People aren't looking at us as the doormat of the Big 12 anymore."


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