This is Mike Plank from Rock Chalk Talk and I’m sitting down with Jake Sharp, a running back from the Kansas Jayhawks and member of the 2007 Orange Bowl champions. Jake, we’re here to reminisce a little bit about 2007, but first, tell us how you’ve been and what you’ve been up to recently.
Well Mike, man, I’m doing great! Just helping people and helping kids. I’m back in central Kansas; I’ve got a couple gyms going with Sharp Performance. Things are going well. I’ve got a non-profit that I’m the director of these days as well, Kansas Youth Sports. I’m really excited about that, being able to help kids in the state of Kansas through sports. Coach Beaty and Coach Self have endorsed us on that. Just really exciting things, man, helping people and helping kids, so, things are going great.
That’s awesome, man! Let’s go ahead and get in the time machine and let’s start with fall camp. It’s July or August of 2007, and you’re a sophomore in college. KU is coming off a 6-6 season without a bowl game. The Jayhawks are picked by the media to finish 4th behind Missouri, Nebraska, and K-State. What was the attitude like that summer around the team? What kind of expectations did players and coaches have?
I think the expectations were always quite high. Coach Mangino, coming from Oklahoma and Kansas State, winning programs, he had established a bar that it wasn’t acceptable to not win or to not give absolutely everything you had every single play, every single weight room session, or in the classroom, you name it. We really had a culture of expectation and discipline, and a very tough team. I look back on it, we had some really tough guys. I was actually at camp the other day with Coach Beaty, it was the Friday Night Lights the just had, and a couple of the players were asking me, “What was the difference? You’ve seen us.” Well, I think we were really tough, guys played for each other instead of themselves, and that combination, it really was kind of a perfect storm for us, Mike.
The first game of the year you guys come out and smoke Central Michigan, who won 10 games the year before. Then you pound SE Louisiana, Toledo, and Florida Intl. Up next is K-State in Manhattan, where KU hadn’t won since 1989. Talk about that K-State game, what it was like there, the atmosphere, maybe a play or two that you remember specifically, and just the mindset of the team before and after the game.
Well, we were very excited to go to Manhattan. My close buddies on the offensive side, Todd Reesing, Kerry Meier, we were very young. Todd and I had never been in a Big 12 away atmosphere like that. It was a pretty big game for us. I guess we had been in several in our freshman year, but it wasn’t like we were steamrolling like we were in that ’07 season. And playing K-State, for me personally, was always really big, because where I come from, everybody is a K-State fan. So I knew, and I had hoped to have personally a good showing and not have to come back home and hear about how that game went for the rest of my life.
I remember things just clicking. I remember Todd dialing that offense up. I think Briscoe made some big catches. Marcus Henry made some big catches. I had a run into the end zone there, the south end zone, that was pretty fun for me. I don’t think we had scored a rushing touchdown there since the ’89 game. It was a crazy stat, I know me and Coach Warriner talked about it and he was like, “Well, Jake and Brandon, you guys better solve this,” and we were able to. We got some momentum, and it was really cool. It was one of the first big wins we had, especially away, with that group and it really gave us a lot of energy for the rest of the Big 12 campaign.
After the K-State win, you guys take care of business at home against Baylor. Then you’ve got two tough road trips coming up, going to Boulder and College Station. The offense is averaging 50+ points per game, but both the Colorado and Texas A&M game were low scoring affairs. Considering the offense that you had and all the records that you set in 2007, what was it about Colorado and A&M that kept you guys under 20 points in those two games?
Oh man… I don’t know! I think they were good teams!
I tell ya, Colorado, I think we had a pretty decent running attack. We were ground and pound, maybe five, six yards a crack there? I don’t remember any big breakaway runs for Brandon or I in Colorado. I know Brandon had a really big run in the A&M game. He had a real big game down there at Texas A&M.
Boulder was cool, we got the win, we just got out of there. Those guys, they had some pretty stout guys. They had, I think it was, Dizon, the linebacker? And they had a couple other studs.
A&M always was pretty stacked. Who was the wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys? Dez Bryant? No, not Dez Bryant. Who was the tight end who they had down at A&M? That’s all I remember. (Editor’s note: Martellus Bennett.) Who was that big stud tailback, that was overweight?
Oh… Yeah. I can’t think of it.
Yeah, that cat. He basically called the first down, he had to steamroll Joe Mortenson, Mike Rivera, James Holt, and they stuffed that guy, and that was the turning point of that game. And honestly, I think, when we stopped A&M and the 12th man, we really felt that we could play with about anybody. Because we were not supposed to beat those guys, especially down at Texas A&M. And KU has had a horrible track record of not winning on the road in the Big 12. So we were like, man, this is no big deal, we can do this.
Winning is habit, and losing is habit. And I really believe that winning became habit for us at that point, when we just knew that we were supposed to win and that’s how it was going to be. I really wish we’d get back to that real soon there at KU, and I do believe that will happen, it just has to become habit in the subconscious mind, that you’re gonna win.
Was it Jorvorskie Lane? Does that sound right?
It was! Jorvorskie! Yes sir, it was.
Ok, so, you’re what, 8-0 at this point, I think? Up next is November 3, 2007. A date which will live in infamy – at least, it will in Lincoln, NE. You guys unloaded 40 years of frustration on a hapless Nebraska defense – the 76 points scored is still the most ever scored against any Nebraska team. So I want you to be honest here with me, Jake – did Coach Mangino take his foot off the gas pedal? Could you guys have put 100 points on them?
Haha! Man, I don’t know that we took the foot off the gas pedal. We were steamrolling and, for Coach Mangino having to be on the other end of that at K-State for several years, and even with that rivalry with Nebraska-Oklahoma, there’s nobody that I don’t think Coach Mangino would love to put a beating on than the Huskers.
A lot of people don’t know this, but I grew up a Husker fan. My dad is from Columbus, NE. We did everything but beg Nebraska to recruit me and take me, but Bill Callahan never would. So, on a personal note, unloading on those guys and waving at Bill across the way was a great feeling. The entire team in and of itself, we were like, man we just beat Nebraska by, you know, 70 points, and of course they were down that year, but we were steamrolling, man. We were clicking on all cylinders, everybody had confidence. Man, when you have confidence, and you’ve got discipline, and you’ve got guys to play for each other, you’ve got a really, really lethal combination.
No doubt, no doubt. So after that you move on past Oklahoma State, which was a tough game. It was a close game for a while, but you guys pulled ahead and beat them by about two touchdowns I think. And then you just cream Iowa State. And so now we’re coming up on the Border War at Arrowhead Stadium. Kind of talk about all the pregame stuff, the week of practice, the preparation, what were the coaches like, did Don Fambrough come and visit you guys, College Gameday, just kind of talk about everything prior to the game.
It was the most built-up, at that point in my life, game that I had ever played in. I think they were, at some point in that game I think we were both 1-2 in the country or close to that after a couple of teams that went down and the standings changed mid-game. Coach Fambrough, man, when that guy came in to talk about playing Missouri, I mean I tell you, he hated Missouri. So it was pretty nuts.
I remember I had a torn hip flexor at the time, and I think I played one series in that Missouri game, which drives me nuts to this day. So, I was there and on the sidelines for it. I remember, the vividest memory I have it Todd and I sitting there on the charter bus. And Arrowhead Stadium kind of sits down a little bit, and it was a fall, kind of an orange day anyway. And the lights were already on because it was a late game. I think we were pulling in about 6 or 7 o’clock. And it was packed. I had never seen that many people in my life. And Todd and I looked at each other and I said “Oh man, this is a stage here, now! This ain’t gonna come around very many times.” And Todd said, “Let’s do it!”
Of course I took as many pain meds as I could and tried to play, but Brandon was in such a better place and fit for that game than I was. I remember Dezmon making a huge catch late in the game. I remember Anthony Collins going down and that hurt us. I remember, we weren’t very healthy, and I’d love to stack it up to that. But I’m sure they weren’t very healthy, late in the year like that.
And yeah, we tipped a little bit. There’s no question that we’d have been in that Big 12 Championship game versus Oklahoma. Now that would have been a tough game for us, cuz those boys were playing ball at that time. But yeah, the most hyped up game I’ve ever played in, I would say, would have been that ’07 Missouri game. It was nuts. I mean, they were shaking the bus when we were pulling into the parking lot. From the moment we got to Arrowhead Stadium until the moment we left, it was a different stage.
Can you talk about Coach Mangino, was he pretty even throughout the year or did he change a little bit? Was he different for the Missouri game? Or was he a pretty level guy the whole year long? What was Coach Mangino like during the season as a whole?
I think when we understood that winning was habit and that we need to play for each other and play disciplined, once that happened, the coaches, they don’t let up, but they let the players do what they do, and they dial the plays up. So I wouldn’t say he was more relaxed, at all, obviously, everybody knows that Coach Mangino is not a relaxed guy. But he knew, and he had enough faith in his assistants and the players, that everybody was going to do their job. And when that happens, he doesn’t have to come in and yell about somebody missing a 6 AM lift, or a lack of effort block here and there. It’s just, hey, we’re probably going to play in a BCS bowl game. Everybody is going to do everything they can possibly do to make this happen. Nobody is slacking.
It was a magical thing. I had experience that in high school, playing on the high school teams I did, where you win all the time. Winning is habit and the magic is happening. And later on in my KU career I saw the other end of that, where the magic wasn’t happening, and it’s a terrible thing. So, big, big game, and I just remember rolling into the parking lot going, “My God, I get to participate in this.”
Yeah, I was out there in that parking lot, Jake, and it was, that was one of the coldest games that I have ever been to, let me tell you what.
It was cold, yes sir.
It was cold, it was late, and it was quite the atmosphere.
Let’s talk about the game just a little bit. Let’s skip ahead to halftime here. You guys are down 14-0 going into the break. Just talk about what happened during that halftime break. What was the locker room like?
No different. I tell ya, college coaches, and I think pro coaches, when you’re down, they don’t get on you near as much. It’s more, “Ok, here’s what we have to do to change the situation.” And we didn’t feel… 14 points, I mean, we were a team that could put 14 points on the board in two minutes. So with the offense we had, that no huddle at the time, it wasn’t a concern. It was more like, Ok, we’ve got to get some breaks here and execute. I don’t think we weren’t too alarmed at all. It was more, I sure wish we were up 14 points, but all we gotta go do is go out here and score two touchdowns and a field goal and here we go.
Going into the fourth quarter now, it’s 28-7 bad guys. Has anything changed on the sideline yet?
Ha, yeah, at that point in time, we were like man, we better get things in gear, this ain’t looking too good. But honestly, by the fourth quarter, you’re starting to hit the panic button, and there was a sense that things were not going that well. We had some key guys – I think everybody was hurt. I think Briscoe was pretty messed up, A.C. was down, Anthony Collins. Todd was pretty banged up. Kerry. It was a late season, “Oh, shoot” moment. But like I said, that offense, with as quickly as we could score, at any point in time we knew if the ball could roll our way, we’d be alright.
And you did start to score on them.
Yes, we did.
You guys made just a ferocious comeback there. And you got it back to within one score and forced a punt there at the end. If you guys could have gotten the ball back with 2 minutes left instead of 12 seconds left, is there any doubt in your mind that you go down there and score and win the game?
No! I mean, there’s no doubt. Look what we did in ’08. Credit to Coach Warriner and the entire offense, that team, we could score, and we could score really quickly. Unfortunately, we were too slow to get going, or we ran out of time, however you want to look at it. It wasn’t meant to be, I suppose. Honestly, lucky enough, we end up going to the Orange Bowl the next game after that because of how the standings placed up, so, it might have been a blessing in disguise for us. Because we would have had to go play Oklahoma. And if things wouldn’t have gone well there, I think we would have been in the Alamo, or, it wouldn’t have been the Orange Bowl, I don’t think, if we would have lost to Oklahoma. And I’m telling you, Oklahoma would have been a lot harder than Missouri, in my opinion.
Do you guys win the Missouri game if it’s played in Lawrence as originally scheduled? Do you think the venue had anything to do with it?
No, I don’t. Truth be told, growing up in Salina, KS, playing in Chiefs Stadium, I mean, I’d do that all day. That was a cool experience. Put me in Arrowhead Stadium where the rock stars go. It was great. And playing there in ’08, I wouldn’t trade that for anything.
Ok, Ok. So despite the result of the Border War, how cool was it to be the first KU team in 40 years to play in an Orange Bowl?
It was nuts. I remember having a conversation with my dad when I decided to commit to KU. He said, “Hey son, you’re probably gonna get a chance to play in the Big 12 and that’s really cool, but you know you’re never gonna be in a big BCS bowl game, you’re never gonna play for titles, but you’re gonna get to play.” And that was important to me, playing was very important to me. And here we were two years later, “Dad, we’re playing in the Orange Bowl!”
It was unexpected, I tell you what, when I was a recruit. It was just something we just didn’t think was in the making. We thought we’d have some good seasons, some 7, 8 win seasons. But the Orange Bowl? That was something that Nebraska and Oklahoma did, you know?
What’s one specific play or maybe specific memory that you think of when people ask you about the 2007 season? What’s the first thing that comes to mind?
Just how lucky I was to luck out to be at the University of Kansas at that point in time. And I do feel luck, because there’s a big amount of luck involved that everybody came together, and all those hardworking guys and those great coaches. I think of that K-State game. I think about being 19 years old and hanging out at South Beach, Miami, and winning an Orange Bowl.
That awesome! Jake, I think that’s about all the questions I had for ya today, I really appreciate your time today, man, I really appreciate it!
Mike, I appreciate you to, man, I hope that reception was OK out here in western Kansas, I hope you got a good interview, and I sure appreciate you taking the time as well.