LAWRENCE — One of the biggest victories of Turner Gill's first year at Kansas came on January 31, 2010, when Potosi (Mo.) running back Brandon Bourbon switched his commitment from Stanford to KU just days before Signing Day.
Bourbon, rated a four-star prospect and the No. 6 player in Missouri by Rivals.com, chose the Jayhawks over Missouri, Kansas State and Notre Dame, among others — a positive sign that Gill and his staff knew what they were doing on the recruiting trail.
Given the type of programs that were pursuing Bourbon, a bigger back at 6-foot-1 and 208 pounds, it wasn't a very big jump to expect him to contribute right away at Kansas. But, ever since Bourbon arrived in Lawrence, his coaches and teammates have had to wait patiently to see what he can do.
Bourbon, who had to adjust to the transition from a Class 3A high school to a Big 12 program, redshirted last season. Then he suffered a lower leg injury in the spring that stripped him of a valuable learning opportunity. Bourbon returned for fall camp but still was being hampered by minor injuries.
So to see him putting on a show during Saturday's scrimmage at Memorial Stadium, rushing for two touchdowns, was an exciting moment for the Jayhawks.
"That was his best day that I've ever seen," Gill said. "He ran hard. He ran with a purpose. He ran to hit somebody. He also made people miss, showed some good acceleration in the hole and some power. It was good to see that. We really didn't know. It was a question mark. We thought he had some skills, but he's always been banged up."
For Bourbon, a quiet kid from a town of 2,700 people, his breakout performance in the scrimmage was more than a year in the making.
"I just knew all along I could do it," Bourbon said. "It was just something that I finally got to show my teammates that I can come out and play at this level. It made me feel really good."
Bourbon is competing for playing time with sophomore James Sims and true freshmen Darrian Miller and Anthony Pierson. Bourbon says the coaches told the group on Tuesday that the starting job was still up for grabs, and KU offensive coordinator Chuck Long says Bourbon is in the thick of what will probably be running back by committee to start the season.
"We've been challenging Brandon the whole camp, and he's been off and on injured," Long said. "We really came away with a great feeling about him at the scrimmage. We'd like to get him some carries in a football game."
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Bourbon is the way he's overcome injuries during the last four months.
"I'm surprised just how quick he came back from his injury and how he's pushing through it," KU linebacker Steven Johnson said. "He works hard. Doesn't talk a lot, but he produces on the field."
Bourbon is excited for the practices leading up to KU's opener against McNeese State on Sept. 3.
"It's extremely important," Bourbon said. "I feel like I've kind of got some guys' attention. I need to come out and be consistent and make sure everyone knows I'm going to do the same things when the games start."