Not a lot went right for the Kansas Jayhawks in 2012. They finished just 1-11 and deep in the cellar of the Big 12 as the only team in the conference not to win at least six games. One bright spot was the breakout sophomore year of linebacker Ben Heeney, but he’ll have to take his game to the next level and assume a leadership role in 2013 if Kansas hopes to do any better this season.
After playing sparingly in his freshman season of 2011, Heeney burst into the starting lineup last year and never relinquished the middle linebacker spot. He held down the middle of the Kansas defense, recording 112 tackles, good for No. 3 in the Big 12. Despite the defense’s struggles last season (giving up an average of 36.1 points per game), Heeney was named second-team all-conference.
Charlie Weis will be asking even more of Heeney in his junior season, though. Senior linebacker Huldon Tharp, who had 54 tackles and four tackles for loss last season in 11 games, has left the team due to injuries. Bradley McDougald and Toben Opurum, senior leaders in 2012, are now both gone as well which leaves a vacuum of leadership on the Jayhawks’ defense.
Kansas will have an influx of fresh faces this spring and fall as freshman and junior college transfers hit campus trying to make a name for themselves. There will undoubtedly be moments of chaos and confusion as they learn new systems, so Heeney will be called upon to act as a leader and coach on the field, setting the bar of expectations that the coaching staff expects of every player.
The Jayhawks have a lot of work to do before they can be considered a legitimate threat in the Big 12, but Heeney can do his part for the defense by stepping up as a leader next season.