LAWRENCE — Todd Reesing has spent his whole life trying to stand out.
Down in Texas at Lake Travis High, he wore a white tuxedo and carried a cane to his junior prom. That may have worked for a night, but he always knew that success would be the long-term vehicle. He was great in school, he was great in sports, and he was great in social settings. He only knew how to achieve.
At Kansas, he has set himself apart even more. He has made something that would be hard for most — balancing the act of being a record-setting quarterback with a double-major in economics and finance — look abnormally easy.
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Last Saturday, Reesing was benched by KU coach Mark Mangino in the fourth quarter of a third-straight tough outing. Faced with failure for the first time, Reesing suddenly doesn't want to stand out anymore.
"I've struggled just as much as anybody else," Reesing said. "As many times as I've succeeded, I've failed as well."
Pressed to offer a specific obstacle he has overcome, Reesing racked his brain.
"Nothing jumps out right away," Reesing said. "But you know, I definitely had some slumps in baseball here or there. I don't know, man. It'd be hard to pick too many out. I haven't had too many back-to-back games when I played like that."
Whether Reesing's Little League baseball slumps were as rough as turning the ball over seven times in three games as the KU quarterback isn't really the point. He is not used to this. The Jayhawks' 2009 season — billed as a year destined not only for a Big 12 North crown but also for a taste of history — will be defined by how Reesing handles his unfathomable midseason swoon.
"I'm just realizing I've got four games guaranteed left in my college career," Reesing said, "the most important being the one this Saturday against Kansas State. I'm going to do whatever I have to do to go out there and perform as best I can and, most importantly, enjoy it."
Ever since Mangino pulled Reesing from the game with seven minutes left and the Jayhawks trailing Texas Tech 35-21, Reesing has been seeking perspective. He talked on the phone with former teammates James Holt, Derek Fine and Mike Rivera, his father and his older brother, who all offered him similar pieces of encouragement:
Keep your head up. You know you can still play football. It's not the end of the world. You had a couple of bad games — a couple of mistakes on a couple of plays.
On Tuesday, Reesing sounded as if he had soaked up their words and made them his own.
"First off, we just need to relax," Reesing said. "It's just a football game. It's not the end of the world. No one is dying or anything. I'm going to talk to the guys. I feel like the last couple of years, the times we performed best everyone was relaxed and having fun and just playing football, the game they love."
Reesing, more than any other Jayhawk, has always looked like there is nothing else in the world he'd rather be doing. Seeing him standing on the sideline with his hands on his hips while redshirt freshman Kale Pick ran quarterback draw plays was a vision nobody expected to see. But Reesing is moving forward, and he wants the team to do the same. He called for a players-only meeting on Tuesday afternoon to get his message across.
"Get back to playing football," Reesing said. "Sometimes, when you get too tense, you get that snowball effect. That has kind of happened the last couple of weeks. Play this game the way it should be played. You're not supposed to be hanging your head and feeling bad, not having fun. The point where this game isn't fun for you anymore, it's time to hang it up. I still love playing this game. It's still fun as heck for me."
Just looking at his season statistics, Reesing appears to be having plenty of fun. He is sixth nationally, throwing for 298 yards per game. But his three fumbles and four interceptions in three straight KU losses led to a combined 42 points for opponents.
"The best in the business run into rough areas," Mangino said. "He has done a lot of great things, and we all have taken it for granted, some of the plays that he's made here, some of the things that he's done here. He's human, and he's going to make mistakes, just like we all do. But the good thing about Todd, you know he's going to rebound."
A Reesing rebound, starting with a win against rival K-State, would cement his legacy as one of the all-time KU greats. There is a reason that he is already portrayed next to legendary running back Gale Sayers in the advertisements for the new Gridiron Club luxury seating campaign at Memorial Stadium that boldly ask fans to "Join the legacy." Now, Reesing just needs to put the finishing touches on his own legend.
"He's always been an underdog his whole life," KU safety Darrell Stuckey said. "Look at how tall he is. Look at how much he weighs. He was overlooked in his own state so had to go somewhere else to play football and excel in it. He's not going to give up."