LAWRENCE — Certain things annoy Kansas running back Jake Sharp. Of course, he hates it when people count him out because of his size. And these days, there's another thing that consistently riles him up: People who never played football asking him questions about the injury that kept him from playing a month of this season.
Sharp doesn't realize that the questions aren't critical. He can't help but try to explain what to him is the most basic fact about the game he loves to play: Football is hard, and it's not for everyone.
"This isn't track," Sharp said. "You're just not 100 percent. That's not even a word you use. You're never 100 percent during college football season. There's just no question. But you're definitely good enough to play the game of football. That's just how it is. Anybody who plays or has played understands that."
Sharp, a senior from Salina, has played through a lot of pain in four years at KU. He takes pride in his ability to plow through it as he did near the end of last season. So for him to get all the way to his senior year and then be told that he had sustained an injury that would keep him out of the lineup, well, that was something totally different. Sharp was far from 100 percent, and this time, it actually mattered.
"Frustrating," Sharp said. "Very frustrating. It's just something where you work really, really hard. You don't want to suffer an injury. You don't want to miss a game. Every game is important. I'm one step closer to every game (feeling like) my last is what I am trying to say.
"I missed it. A lot."
Sharp started the season on a tear. In two games, he carried 37 times for 227 yards and three touchdowns and caught eight passes for 38 yards and two scores. Sharp tried to play the Duke game, but he just didn't have the same speed or acceleration. Of course, he found it in him to catch a 7-yard touchdown pass late in the second quarter before sitting the rest of the game. He would not return to the lineup until last Saturday's loss at Colorado.
Each week, KU coach Mark Mangino would hold out hope that Sharp could return for the next game. And each week, freshman Toben Opurum would trot out there for the first series with Sharp watching longingly from the sideline. All the work he was doing with KU trainer Murphy Grant was helping but not quickly enough.
"Coach pulled me aside a couple of times and said 'Your speed is your thing. We just have to make sure you have it,' " Sharp said. "I understood that. If I'm out there running a (five-second 40-yard dash), it's probably not going to help the team. That's what it was all about. I'm just really happy to get back out there."
In his first game back, the running game couldn't get going. Sharp carried 13 times for 29 yards, and Opurum carried two times for three yards. Oklahoma, this weekend's opponent, is holding opponents to 68 rushing yards per game.
"It needs to be there, no question," Sharp said. "It's an essential part of the offense. If the running game is going good, it opens up the passing game and things start rolling."
KU quarterback Todd Reesing knows the difference very well. He's glad to have Sharp back for the stretch run of their last season together in the KU backfield.
"I know it was hard on him more than anyone else having to sit out, because if there's any way he could have played at all, he would have done it," Reesing said. "He's a tough kid. I don't think he has to prove that to anybody."