LAWRENCE — Freshman linebacker Huldon Tharp didn't think he would be starting for Kansas in front of 100,000 fans at Texas during his first season.
"I definitely dreamed it," said Tharp, a Mulvane native. "But I didn't know if it was necessarily possible."
Anything is possible at KU, where coach Mark Mangino has prided himself on playing freshmen who are ready on day one. The shocking thing is that Tharp made the cut after sitting out his entire senior season in high school recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Tharp sustained the injury while playing running back during the summer before his senior year at a team camp held at Pittsburg State. At first, he thought the injury wasn't serious, but after a torturous wait, an MRI showed a partial tear. The first thing he thought about was all of those scholarship offers from Division I-A programs.
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"I hadn't committed yet," Tharp said. "That was my biggest fear, that all the colleges might back off me and I'd end up playing juco or Division II or something. That was a big concern."
Turned out, the opposite happened, and Tharp gained an offer from Colorado. And when he talked to the coaches at Kansas, they reassured him immediately that his offer stood.
"It gave me a lot more faith in the coaching staff, especially here," Tharp said. "They knew I'd have the ability to recover just fine."
Tharp had perfect timing coming to Lawrence before this season after the Jayhawks lost three stalwarts at linebacker in James Holt, Mike Rivera and Joe Mortensen to graduation. Still, there were a lot of guys in front of him that had been at KU much longer.
"Coming in as a true freshman, you don't really think this kind of situation is going to open up for you," said Tharp, who is fifth on the team with 56 tackles. "I definitely have confidence in what I can do."
That confidence was apparent immediately, despite Tharp having to work off some rust from his year off early in fall camp.
"He's a very mature young man," KU safety Darrell Stuckey said. "He's a remarkable young man who comes here humble with his head down. He's a very one-of-a-kind person. He's definitely a guy I want on my front line next to me if I were a gladiator, if I were a Spartan."
Tharp is drawing gladiator comparisons from his teammates despite being an undersized linebacker at 6-foot-1, 215 pounds. Stuckey said Tharp's mentality makes up for what he lacks in size.
"I never questioned him at all," Stuckey said. "He's worked hard. The only thing I've ever questioned was we were running in conditioning, and I looked to my right, and it's not a defensive back next to me... it's Huldon. I'm like, 'What's he doing next to me? Am I that slow? He just works hard. That's who he is."
Tharp just may feel like a gladiator in the ring at Texas.
"That's a great atmosphere to play in," Tharp said. "I'll definitely be more amped for the game."