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KU practiced for winning moment

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, Sep. 22, 2013, at 10:31 p.m.

— Let’s go back to April 2012, Charlie Weis’ first few months on the job.

It was an early morning at Memorial Stadium, the sky still dark when practice began, and Weis had invited a handful of reporters to watch what was the only fully open practice of spring ball.

The Jayhawks were coming off a 2-10 season that culminated in Turner Gill getting fired after just two seasons, and Weis was taking his first crack at a program turnaround. In the final minutes of practice, after an hour or so of special teams work, Weis sent kicker Ron Doherty to attempt a “game-winning field goal.”

You see drill this at plenty of places, of course. If the kicker misses, the rest of the team runs. It’s the best way to simulate the pressure of a last-second field goal attempt, and when Doherty took his first shot from 40 yards, the kick missed. Not a good omen.

Moments later, Doherty made his second attempt, and the KU players came streaming onto the field. It appeared to be a fine celebration, if not a little muted. And for Weis, it didn’t measure up.

"I can tell you guys aren't used to winning,” Weis yelled, sending his players back to the sideline. “Hey fellas, winning a football game is not supposed to be an uncommon occurrence. I know that's a novel concept around here.”

Moments later, Doherty attempted a third kick, again hitting it through the uprights. The KU players sprinted onto the field, igniting a wild scene that included flying water bottles and a massive dog pile. This was Weis making a point about winning, and when video of the speech and scene appeared on Kansas.com, the story appeared on a handful of blogs and sites with a common thought:

Can you believe Charlie Weis is spending time teaching his team how to celebrate?

Fast forward to Saturday afternoon, the aftermath of KU’s 13-10 victory over Rice. Sophomore kicker Matthew Wyman had drilled a 52-yard field goal to lift KU to its first victory over an FBS opponent in 23 games, and Weis took a moment to reference that early morning in April 2012.

“Everyone laughed at us, saying ‘Look what they’re practicing,’” Weis said.

“Well, there it was today, and that’s what the locker room felt like.”

Kansas, Weis says, has continued to do the same special-teams drill at the end of every practice. And when Wyman set up for his game-winning field-goal try on Saturday, the KU bench was confident he would make the kick.

“We practice those situations all the time,” KU senior running back James Sims said. “And Wyman stepped up big for us. "

Just enough offense — When Wyman’s kick spun through the uprights, it sealed KU’s first victory over an FBS opponent in 23 games, dating back to a victory over Northern Illinois on Sept. 1, 2011.

But when was the last time KU won while scoring less than 14 points? You have to go back even further, to a 13-7 victory over South Florida on Sept. 23, 2006. Future star quarterback Todd Reesing was still an unknown freshman quarterback then, yet to burn his redshirt. All told, the Jayhawks had lost their last 16 when scoring fewer than two touchdowns.

More on the field goal — Wyman’s field goal was the first 50-yard or longer field goal for KU since Jacob Branstetter hit a 57-yard try against Oklahoma in 2009. It’s also tied for the 12th-longest kick in KU history. Dan Eichloff holds the school record, converting a 62-yarder in 1992, while former KU kicker Johnny Beck hit a 59-yarder in 2001, the longest since 2000.

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

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