LAWRENCE — These days, Joe Dineen prefers taking a glass-half-full approach to a situation that once only caused the Kansas linebacker heartache.
Dineen suffered a hamstring injury three games into the 2016 season. Despite his pleas and protests to return made to coach David Beaty, the Lawrence native was shut down in early November, bringing a premature end to his junior campaign.
His first junior campaign, that is.
The glass half full in this scenario is the medical redshirt the Jayhawks obtained by taking the safe approach with Dineen, meaning the KU captain will be available for this season and the next.
“I feel great now,” Dineen said Saturday. “You know, it sucks at the time, but now that it happened it’s kind of a blessing, I guess. Two more years and I get to hang out in college a bit longer? It’s all good.”
After Dineen’s performance in the Jayhawks’ season-opening 38-16 victory over Southeast Missouri State, the KU coaches probably feel the same way.
Dineen was all over the field Saturday, notching a game-high 15 tackles, four more than any other Big 12 player in Week 1. A top-10 tackler in the conference as a sophomore, Dineen’s effort in his return to the field helped the KU (1-0) defense surrender only 3.4 yards per play, a feat last achieved in 2008.
“Just relentless,” Beaty said of Dineen after the Jayhawks’ victory. “That’s the guy I think when we put the tape on (Sunday) and be able to say, ‘That’s what playing hard looks like the entire time.’ ”
Beaty elaborated Monday.
“Just his leadership on the field I think speaks volumes for what it is we need out there,” Beaty said during the Big 12 coaches teleconference. “It was so good to have him back and I think the team is excited to have him back out there. He’s just kind of a stabilizing force.”
Calling Dineen one of the biggest competitors he knows, Beaty described last season as “unbearable, pretty much” for the Free State product. Once he accepted his season was over, though, Dineen said he focused every day on his rehabilitation, working alongside KU director of sports medicine Murphy Grant.
“It definitely sucked,” Dineen said. “I mean, you want to be out there. You don’t want to be hurt and stuff. But Murph did a great job with me, easing me back into it.”
Spring ball was the first real test for Dineen, who admitted he had his share of early jitters.
Those nerves quickly passed when the 6-foot-2, 230-pounder realized he was the same linebacker as before — if not better.
“I was doing the same stuff that I did when I wasn’t hurt,” Dineen said. “I was nervous going into spring, but after the first few practices I got comfortable again.”
While he had 11 solo tackles in Saturday’s victory, Dineen credited the defensive line for opening gaps and making the 15-tackle effort possible — “They’re taking the beating and I’m getting all the glory for it, and it shouldn’t be like that,” he said. One should probably expect that kind of team-first modesty by now from Dineen, elected a team captain for the second straight season and given the Beaty-conceived nickname of “The Mayor.”
Still, Dineen acknowledged Game 1 was a significant personal milestone, too.
“It was a long time — a long time — since I got to hit someone in a different color jersey,” Dineen said, “so it’s good to be back.”