LAWRENCE — Somewhere deep down, you might assume that Jake Love was a little frustrated. Maybe even bitter.
Last season, he worked his way from anonymous special-teams player to starting linebacker. It was a transformation born from sweat and a lunchpail mentality. By season’s end, as a redshirt freshman, he collected 36 tackles while starting four games.
That didn’t stop Kansas coach Charlie Weis from recruiting alternatives at linebacker. And when the season began, Love had been supplanted at weakside linebacker by junior-college transfer Samson Faifili. If Love was disappointed, he kept it close to the vest, molding it into motivation.
“I always try to be resilient in anything that life throws at me,” Love said, “and just keep working hard.”
Two weeks into the season, Faifili was lost to injury. He is now a candidate for a medical redshirt, and Love has held down a first-string spot at linebacker for the last three weeks.
“He’s the exact same person every single day,” Weis said. “(He) doesn’t say anything, just works his butt off every day. He doesn’t get moody.”
This week, Love could have to handle another curveball. Starting middle linebacker Ben Heeney, the Jayhawks’ leading tackler, suffered a knee injury last week against TCU and was listed as day-to-day earlier this week. If Heeney can’t go, Love, fairly undersized at 6-foot and 221 pounds, will have to fill the void at middle linebacker.
“I got to make all the calls to everyone,” Love said. “So I just got make sure I’m extra in my playbook this week.”
In a season in which Kansas is still struggling against the current, the progress by the Kansas defense has been something to build on. After ranking among the nation’s worst defenses the past two seasons, Kansas is ranked 58th in scoring defense (25.6 points), and from a yards-per-play perspective, they’ve been even better.
Now the Jayhawks will try to keep the trend ticking upward against No. 18 Oklahoma. If Heeney is out, it could mean even more responsibility for the oft-overlooked Love, a native of Tonkawa, Okla.
“I’m not the tallest, I’m not the fastest, I’m not the strongest,” Love said. “But I’ve been around football a long time. So I just feel like I’m a solid football player.”