LAWRENCE — New trappings in Memorial Stadium are not amenities the Kansas Jayhawks will pay much attention to Saturday in their football opener.
They probably won’t notice new gates that are part of upgraded security measures, a new structure in the north end zone called the Field Goal Club or the availability of local brews in certain areas.
Yet the Jayhawks are advised to examine, if just for a brief instant, members of the 2007 team that captured the Orange Bowl and finished 11-1 as they observe a 10-year reunion.
That group will be honored at halftime of the 6 p.m. game KU plays against Southeast Missouri State. Two All-Americans, cornerback Aqib Talib and offensive tackle Anthony Collins, will have their names added to the Ring of Honor. Both will also join former coach Mark Mangino as inductees into the KU Athletics Hall of Fame.
“If current players get a chance tomorrow to take a peek at those (Orange Bowl) players walking around the field here,’’ said Mangino, “look at those guys. They have a swagger to ‘em even 10 years later.
“They’re cocky. You call ‘em out and you’re going to be in a battle. That’s just the mentality of those guys. … Just take a glance and see how they carry themselves, how they’re sure of themselves. They fear nothing. That’s the lesson that these kids can learn here.’’
That Orange Bowl squad was loaded with unsung, underrated talent, beginning with Talib and Collins, who were both lightly rated by recruiting services.
Mangino readily tossed around some other key players who also received few offers.
Like tight end Derek Fine, who went home early into his time at KU with an internal illness that left the football staff thinking he may not return.
Or Adrian Mayes, a walk-on who actually left the purple trappings of Manhattan and became a talented lineman. Or center Ryan Cantrell, a player built to lead because of his intelligence. Or defensive end Russell Brorsen, who was better at wrestling in high school. Or John Larson, another walk-on, who starred at D-end in that Orange Bowl win.
The list of overlooked prospects was roughly as long as the KU roster.
Beginning with Todd Reesing, the gutsy gunslinger who eventually set virtually every Kansas passing record.
“We had 25 nicknames for him,’’ Talib said. “Nothing would have went without him.’’
The process began with a belief among Mangino and his staff that tough players they fit into the right situations and the right schemes could eventually prosper.
“It seemed like the pieces to the puzzle came together,’’ Mangino said. “There was an unselfishness that made that team special. They were together. They wanted to play. They wanted to win.’’
Mangino, who was 50-48 in eight seasons at KU, then paused before drawing an interesting comparison — one that possibly traces the Jayhawks’ demise, which now includes seven consecutive losing seasons.
“I don’t think some of the kids we recruited after the Orange Bowl had an appreciation for what those guys did in the early years here,’’ Mangino conceded.
“I truly believe that. The guys who got kicked around and humiliated on the game field, out in the public, and were scorned — those guys by the time they were juniors and seniors, they were sick of it. They were going to do something about it. We played that card.’’
Particularly on that chilly, yet charged, January night in Miami as Kansas, ranked No. 8, outlasted No. 5 Virginia Tech 24-21.
A pick-six by the future NFL star, Talib, gave KU both an early lead and steely confidence. The 60-yard interception return, as well as a converted fake punt, a blocked field goal and proper adjustments in the run game were pivotal keys Mangino cited.
That, and a devilish plan to train the Jayhawks relentlessly during the bowl prep.
Outside. In the cold. Running cross-overs on the Memorial Stadium turf.
“We thought if we were in better condition, in a tight game in the fourth quarter, we might have a chance,’’ Mangino said. “So we conditioned three or four days a week. The players hated me. They were dog-cussing me under their breath. … But sure enough, fourth quarter, they were ready to go.’’
Mangino was unceremoniously dismissed as KU coach in 2009 because of alleged abuse of players.
Yet Talib, the All-American who is still considered one of the NFL’s top cornerbacks as part of a Denver Broncos secondary that also features KU teammate Chris Harris, was adamant Mangino should be back this weekend representing his Orange Bowl squad.
“Coach Mangino brought out that competitive edge in everybody,’’ said Talib, who went to state that “he’s the reason why we were in the Orange Bowl.’’