`Big Cat' Living Up to His Nickname
Sept. 30, 2011
“Big Cat”. That is the nickname that senior left-tackle Jeff Spikes has been given by his offensive line coach, J.B. Grimes.
At 6-foot-6 and 325 pounds the nickname is appropriate but Coach Grimes seems to have a nickname or saying for every person and every situation. In his second year with Kansas, Coach Grimes’ attention to detail has made an impression on Spikes and his fellow linemen; along with his clever phrases and positive outlook.
And through previous injuries, Spikes has relied on his competitive nature and leaned on his mentors to overcome obstacles.
“Coach Grimes is always smiling,” said Spikes. “He genuinely shows that he cares about you as a person and he is willing to take care of you on the field.”
Coach Grimes has noticed Spikes’ athleticism along with the amount of work he has put in both on and off the field during his last two years. As a former high school basketball player, Spikes’ agility can be surprising considering his size.
For a player who averaged 12 boards on the basketball court in high school, rebounding seems easy. But for Spikes, his best rebounds have been from injury. Spikes is coming off a significant Achilles tendon tear that sidelined him for the 2010 season. With his return to the field, Spikes hopes to bring consistency at a high level as he shakes off the rust and gets back in action.
“He is really starting to come around,” said coach Grimes. “He’s still got a long way to go, just like all of us do but he is getting better.”
Spikes has had some practice dealing with injury in his time as an offensive lineman. In high school Spikes suffered a broken bone in his foot that he bounced back from in time to impress the coaches at Kansas.
His past setbacks intensified his determination and prepared him for his most recent rehab according to Spikes’ high school coach Delvin Culliver. The injury to Spikes’ Achilles was diagnosed with a six month recovery. Spikes was able to work his body back in shape and be ready in just under five months.
“When I heard about him getting hurt at Kansas I knew he was going to be okay in order to come back,” said Culliver.
Painesville, Ohio, just east of Cleveland, is where Spikes attended Harvey High School. The basketball court is where Spikes drew most of the attention as he did not play a full season of football until his senior year due to his foot injury.
Coach Culliver noted that college football coaches would come watch him play hoops, impressed with his nimble footwork and willingness to run up and down the floor.
Spikes is one of only three Division I football players to come out of Harvey High School. Although two other players have made Division I football rosters, it is Spikes’ older brother Ray McClain that the Kansas senior looks up to the most.
“He is the reason I play; following his footsteps is what got me here,” said Spikes. “Even though we played different positions, I always wanted more medals and awards than him.”
Though many people have influenced his life, Spikes praises one far above the others, his mother Julie McClain. While his brother inspires him, and his coaches mentor him, it is Julie that Spikes leans on in tough situations.
Julie pushes spikes through live life with no regrets. During his lost season last year, Julie reminded him that it was possible to come back sooner than people expect.
“She raised three boys and three girls and she has always kept us together,” said Spikes. “And any piece of credit that I could give anyone I would give it to her.”
Julie has been able to see most of the Jayhawks’ home games since Spikes started in his red-shirt freshmen season of 2008. And after missing the 2010 season, he feels he has to live up to the role of “Big Cat” every day.
One day, Spikes asked his offensive line coach why he chose the nickname of “Big Cat” for him. Coach Grimes described the nickname as a lion that possess agility, power, ferociousness and a sense that he is king. He is expecting this kind of performance from Spikes this season. And it appears the title is inspiring an imposing mindset.
“I prefer being physical and run blocking,” said Spikes. “With running plays you get to hit them in the mouth and lay the fat on them.”
The Jayhawk offense has been impressive thus far. Kansas has successfully run the ball with a multitude of running backs, and a lot of credit must go to the offensive line.
It is evident that if the Jayhawks are able to run their way to a bowl game this year, they will have to follow the blocking of “Big Cat” and the offensive line.
Kyle Larson is a senior from Olathe, Kan. He is majoring in journalism.