LAWRENCE — Aslam Sterling is telling you he didn’t hit his growth spurt until his sophomore year of high school. Back then, he says, he just played football. He didn’t know it would be his future.
But then he stops. Even he realizes this whole idea of a “growth spurt” sounds a little funny. So let’s put it in this context: If a 5-10, 300-pound sophomore in high school can have a growth spurt — that’s what Sterling had.
“I was just like average height,” says Sterling, now a 6-5, 360-pound junior offensive lineman from Queens, N.Y. “But I was still the fat kid.”
Sterling, of course, can go few places these days without hearing about his size. It is at once his most appealing asset — and most glaring weakness. Sterling, a juco offensive line transfer from Nassau Community College in New York, arrived to KU’s campus on Aug. 2, the first day of fall camp. On the day he arrived, Sterling says the scale read close to 370.
He had been penciled in by KU coach Charlie Weis to battle for the starting spot at right tackle. And Weis even remarked that Sterling was what you want offensive linemen to “look like.” But even at a position where girth is gold, 370 pounds was just a few protein shakes too many.
Enter KU strength and conditioning coordinator Scott Holsopple and a new diet. And nearly two weeks later, Sterling says he’s already down to 358.
“I’ve been really working with Coach Holsopple, and doing a lot of work after practice,” Sterling says. “They’re just trying to get me right.”
Holsopple says he’s still in the process of finding the right way to push Sterling.
“We eat with them every meal, keep them after practice. Do some extra,” Holsopple said. “But at the end of the day, it’s gotta come from him.”
Sterling is confident he can earn playing time right away, but he does acknowledge that he has work to do if he wants to beat out junior Riley Spencer, who has been battling a knee injury, or junior Gavin Howard for the right tackle spot. He’ll have to continue to shed weight, continue to learn the new offense, continue to be better than his competition.
“We don’t believe in just giving anything to anyone,” Weis said. “You have to earn your playing time. He’s getting better and getting more and more reps.”
But for Sterling, the biggest adjustments haven’t necessarily been about football.
Sterling is a New Yorker, a Queens guy to be precise, and it doesn’t take long to hear the signs. You hear it in the accent, but you also hear it in his choice of the Giants over the Jets.
“Don’t even talk about ’em,” Sterling says of the Jets. “… I couldn’t care less if they win a game or not.”
Sterling’s Giants devotion is not by accident. It was carefully chosen after he studied the style of the two franchises.
“The mentality of the offensive line,” Sterling says. “They’ve just a ground-and-pound team. They’ve just got a great defense, and I just love them.”
Maybe this sounds surprising for a kid who didn’t play football until his freshman year at Bayside High. But growing up in the Springfield Gardens section of Queens, Sterling didn’t fall for the game until he realized what it could do for someone with his gifts.
“The first football game I played,” Sterling says, “I actually was playing on defense, and I had just pancaked the guy — the offensive lineman in front of me.
“I had just got out of my stance, and he was just on the ground. And I was just looking around like ‘What happened? What happened?’ ”
In the next moments, the players on the other team were left in shock. And Sterling, still a year away from the “growth spurt” that would attract college recruiters, had lit the fuse.
His path to KU would require three more years of high school and two in junior college, but Sterling was now invested. No, he couldn’t play basketball, like so many other New York City kids, but he could squeeze his 350-pound frame into a three-point stance and inflict some punishment on the man in front of him.
“I love to just line up in front of that guy,” Sterling says, “and dominate.”
The Jayhawks have a handful of freshmen that could command playing time, including linebacker Schyler Miles, cornerback Greg Allen and receiver Tre’ Parmalee. That doesn’t mean Weis isn’t looking to redshirt a few members of his freshman class. But Weis said his general philosophy on redshirting was to let the players dictate the decision by their play on the field.
“If a guy can help us,” Weis said, “they’re playing.”
Tavai at defensive end
Juco defensive lineman Jordan Tavai, who just arrived on campus last Friday, said he has been working as a strong-side defensive end so far. Tavai figures to be in the defensive line rotation in some capacity, but at 6 feet 3 and 290 pounds, he has the versatility to play inside or outside.
The wait for juco transfer defensive lineman Ty McKinney continues. Weis said on Monday that McKinney was waiting to take one last final, but had to wait for some work to be graded before he could take the test.