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Heeney tries to lead KU to rare FBS victory

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, Sep. 20, 2013, at 4:01 p.m.
  • Updated Sunday, Sep. 22, 2013, at 6:39 a.m.

— On the football field, Ben Heeney is a bearded lunatic. He plays with the kind of raw passion that borders on frightening. He can decimate an opposing offense; he can draw praise from his coach.

But Heeney, a junior linebacker at Kansas, is also a kind college kid, inquisitive and thoughtful. So in the days after KU’s 23-14 loss to Rice last weekend, Heeney turned on his computer and skimmed through some of the various fan message boards that discuss Kansas football.

“I’m curious, man,” Heeney said. “I’ve always read it. I’m curious to see what the fans are talking about, and it’s motivating. Some of it’s encouraging, but some of it’s just, ‘What?’”

Internet message boards can be a pretty dark place after losses, and KU fans have had plenty of reasons to spread the pessimistic vibes throughout the online ether over the past few years. But after ingesting some of those feelings, Heeney was ready to bury the Rice loss and move forward.

The process continues on Saturday morning, when KU plays host to Louisiana Tech at 11 a.m. at Memorial Stadium. And it’s not as if Heeney is relying on message boards to fuel the fire. It’s been a while since the Jayhawks notched a victory over a fellow Bowl Subdivision opponent — 22 games, to be exact — so there’s one reason to be motivated.

On the defensive side, though, there are also reasons to be encouraged. Last Saturday, as KU limited Rice to 16 points, Heeney pieced together the most complete game of his career. He finished with a career-high 18 tackles, while adding a sack and two pass break-ups. When KU coach Charlie Weis went back to watch the video, it only confirmed what he saw live.

“I don’t know if he runs faster than everybody else, but he (plays) faster,” Weis said. “That’s what I’m used to seeing. Those guys on Sunday, that’s how they play. When they come, they are coming with a vengeance.”

Heeney, of course, would much rather prefer a victory than a day of gaudy numbers. And that’s the next step. With an open week looming next week — and the marathon Big 12 schedule starting one week later — the Jayhawks would like to keep the Rice loss from turning into two.

“I’ve been reading a bunch of stuff … you know how it is,” Heeney said. “But I mean, once again, I’m not worried about it. Our team is fine; we’re gonna be fine.”

Reach Rustin Dodd at rdodd@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @rustindodd.

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