University of Kansas

Jordan Webb's success at KU leaves conflicting emotions back home in Missouri

The town of Union, Mo., sits 40 miles west of St. Louis, unquestionably in the heart of Missouri Tiger country. Needless to say, a Kansas football game that doesn't include Mizzou has never been an event for the 9,000 residents of Union, but then again, the Tigers did not offer Jordan Webb a scholarship, the Jayhawks did, and now things are just plain backward.

Take the scene Saturday morning at Hagie's Nineteen, the place to stop in town for sports talk and a greasy cheeseburger. Steve Hagedorn, the owner, had one employee switch shifts so that he could watch the KU-Georgia Tech game with his friends. Another employee who kept his shift asked to put the game on in the back while he grilled burgers and steaks. Patrons walked in and asked for the Kansas game to be put on.

"Guys who came in knew what was going on," Hagedorn says. "As hard as it is for Missouri people to root for Kansas...."

As hard as it is, everybody understood why it was necessary. Because they know Jordan Webb, know what kind of kid he is and what he has done for the town since he started his first game at Union High as a sophomore in 2006.

"The whole community is proud to be able to say that he's from Union," says Steven Pursley, one of Webb's best friends and the Hagie's employee who was able to escape work.

As Pursley and his friends sat down to watch Webb's first college start at quarterback, they couldn't help but be nervous. Webb, a 19-year-old redshirt freshman, was facing the 15th-ranked team in the country. This wasn't exactly Sullivan High, Pacific or St. Clair.

"When he got his first touchdown, we all went crazy," Pursley says.

At Hagie's, where Webb worked in the kitchen for a few years before moving to Lawrence, cheers erupted, too, creating an awkward situation for some.

"Most of them understand it's because I'm rooting for one of my best friends," says Donnie Abbott, the friend of Webb's who got stuck with that kitchen shift.

By the time the game had ended and Webb had thrown for 179 yards and three touchdowns in KU's 28-25 victory, it felt like the whole town was abuzz.

"I looked at my phone, and I had 104 text messages at one time," says Tyler Webb, Jordan's 26-year-old brother who attended the game. "I looked at about three of them and just deleted the rest. I wanted to celebrate."

While Union was busy puffing out its chest over a Kansas victory, Webb and his family were eating at Chili's in Lawrence. Tyler Webb says his younger brother couldn't stop smiling.

"A lot of people are pretty proud back in my hometown," Jordan says. "They're happy to see me have some success. Coming from a small town, a lot of people doubt you. But it doesn't matter where you come from. You can be a hard worker and you can make it."

Webb's story is one you've probably heard before, the one about the youngest of four brothers willing his way into backyard football and pickup basketball games. Webb was seven years younger than his closest brothers, Tyler and step-brother Steve Grus, so it was even harder for him to keep up.

"We wouldn't tackle him, don't get me wrong, but we didn't take it easy on him," Tyler says. "He never liked to lose."

As Jordan grew up, the Union football team was losing plenty. A new coach, Brent Eckley, was hired Webb's freshman year, and he brought a spread offense with him. That first year, Union went 4-6. As soon as the season ended, Jordan knew what he had to do.

"He came to me and said 'I want to be the guy,' " Eckley says. "I didn't have to go to him. He was ready to throw the day after the season was over. It's amazing when you think of a teenager that really knows what he wants and is willing to do what it takes to get there."

Webb won the job and finished his career holding every school passing record. Union went 30-4 in his three seasons, winning the district championship each year.

"It really turned the whole program around and the whole community around," Pursley says. "Now football is really big in Union."

Union made it clear where Webb should play college football: Right up the road in Columbia. But, while Webb did visit MU, he did not receive a scholarship offer, Eckley says. Former KU coach Mark Mangino offered Webb early in the process, and Webb rewarded Mangino's faith with an oral commitment during April of his junior year.

Eckley says he knew that Webb could be a college quarterback. Webb, like Todd Reesing before him at KU, was hindered in recruiting because of his size.

"It definitely drives me," says Webb, who is listed at 6 feet tall. "I want to prove people wrong. I like to think I play the game with a chip on my shoulder."

Webb's friends and family talk about his competitiveness. Abbott had two years of experience playing golf on Webb, but now Abbott admits Webb is better.

"He never gives up," Abbott says. "If he knows that he's not better than somebody at something, he'll just keep going."

Stacy Grus, Webb's mother, teaches science to sixth graders. She says most of her students understood on Monday why she didn't have much of a voice after the weekend. Grus likes the idea that her son could be an example to her students.

"A lot of kids will be looking up to him," Pursley says. "Especially when he comes back for summer and this and that. He'll be a good role model."

Eckley expects that will be the case for high school kids, too.

"There'll be more kids that are willing to dream," Eckley says. "Everybody now tells kids that it's almost an impossibility to go on and play big-time football from a town like this, that it's a one-in-a-million shot. It's neat to see. Now kids say 'Maybe I can be that one.' "

Quigley questionable — Kansas coach Turner Gill said that running back Angus Quigley is questionable for Friday night's game against Southern Mississippi with a leg injury.

A week ago, that would have seemed like a big deal. But not after last Saturday when freshman James Sims burst onto the scene with 17 carries for 101 yards and a touchdown against Georgia Tech. Sims has already vaulted Quigley on the KU depth chart as the first-team running back.

Gill said that, if Quigley doesn't play, redshirt freshman Deshaun Sands would move to the No. 2 spot. Sands did not play last week.

Gill said that freshman Brandon Bourbon, who has not played and therefore is a candidate for a redshirt year, would travel to Southern Miss. Gill said he wasn't sure if Bourbon would play.

Gill also said that tight end A.J. Steward will be out three to four weeks with a shoulder injury.

Related stories from Wichita Eagle