Toben Opurum: KU's Mr. Versatility

Nov. 10, 2010

Kansas sophomore Toben Opurum defines the word ‘versatile’.

The 6-foot-1, 240-pound Texas native was recruited out of Plano East High School as a tailback, and led the Jayhawks with 554 yards rushing and nine touchdowns last season. However, he switched to linebacker prior to the 2010 season due to KU’s depth at running back, Opurum’s football instincts and a need for defensive players.

“It was real difficult (to change positions),” said Opurum, who has 11 tackles in the past three games. “I can’t even say that I’m completely out of it because I find myself watching the offense at times and calling out plays, but the last couple weeks my teammates have helped me get more comfortable on defense.”

“A lot of people aren’t strong minded enough to accept change,” he said. “But I feel like if I didn’t accept it, I would just be a negative part of this team and I really wouldn’t be helping (my teammates) out with that type of attitude.”

That positive attitude has rubbed off on his new-found teammates on the defensive side of the ball.

“The day I moved over it was a shock to everybody, but everyone on the defense was really excited. I was kind of down about it, but my teammates comforted me and have really helped me fit in on the defensive side.”

As if going from offense to defense wasn’t enough of a challenge, Opurum was again asked to display his versatility by leaving the title of linebacker behind and moving to defensive end mid-season. He has responded by playing some of his best football of the year, making six tackles against Texas A&M on Oct. 23, and forcing a key fumble against Colorado last week which helped springboard KU’s record-breaking comeback.

“I think the best thing about defensive end is it’s the simplified version of linebacker,” said Opurum. “There’s not as much thinking, more just reacting, knowing your assignment and then getting after it.”

The fumble would indeed turn the tide in the Jayhawks’ favor against Colorado last week as freshman defensive back Tyler Patmon (who also just happens to be Opurum’s roommate), picked up what his roomie started and put the ‘Hawks just one score away from taking the lead.

“It was really exciting to see him score,” Opurum said. “I didn’t even know the quarterback fumbled until I heard the crowd cheering, so I looked up and saw him running down to the end zone.”

So what’s next for the versatile defensive end/linebacker/running back? Could it be another position switch to quarterback, center or even kicker? Opurum says there are no drastic changes in his near future, just plain hard work to get better at his new position.

“I have a lot to improve on,” he said. “Once I get more sound with my assignments and make sure I don’t get too far up field, I think we’ll really improve as a defense. I just need to make sure I’m giving a hundred percent on every play with no lows.”

If his versatile past is any indication of his future, Opurum may have very well carved out a niche for himself on the Kansas football team, not only as a defensive end, but as the consummate team player.