J. Brady McCollough
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Thursday, October 16, 2008

KU's Meier just lets it be in life and on the field

 

By J. BRADY McCOLLOUGH

The Kansas City Star

 

LAWRENCE | A number of conclusions can be made when you look at Kerry Meier on his way to class Wednesday morning.

 

His blonde, shaggy hair gives him the appearance of a surfer dude, which isn't really far off. Meier is laid-back, a product of his quiet upbringing in Pittsburg, Kan., and if he picked up a board, he would undoubtedly win a surfing competition within six months.

 

His necklace, adorned with the traditionally African color combination of green, red and yellow, screams free spirit. Meier has been known to play the bongo drums, and he lives off-campus with two friends from high school who don't talk about football and help him relax by playing the guitar during the evenings.

 

But to stop there in the evaluation of Meier, Kansas' best wide receiver and second-best quarterback, would really be missing the point. Lower your eyes to his black T-shirt, see the four faces of the Beatles and the message above them: "Let It Be." Hear his story, of heartache, of disappointment, of making something out of what was starting to look like nothing, and you'll know why Kerry Meier had to have this shirt.

 

"I liked it because let it be ... it's how you approach life," Meier says. "Just let things be how they are. That's just like I treat life and playing football."

 

Meier has learned to live this way through his own experiences at KU and by watching the career of his brother, Dylan, at Kansas State. The brothers were supposed to be the unquestioned starters at the rival programs, but it didn't happen for either one. Things have very rarely worked out as Kerry had planned at KU, so Meier has stopped planning.

 

"I just enjoy being relaxed and taking life easy," Meier says, "letting life come to me instead of attacking life and being an uptight person."

 

Meier could never have planned what is happening to him this fall. Despite practicing most of the time at quarterback, he is third nationally in receptions per game with 8.8. In the process, Meier has discovered that he was born with hands that would make most professional wide receivers jealous.

 

Meier, of course, acts as if it's no big deal that he is on pace for triple-digit receptions as a novice receiver. Hey, he says, just focus on the ball and watch it all the way from the catch to the tuck.

 

It's not too different from Meier's philosophy on life these days: Receive each day with an open mind.

 

"Approaching the year," Meier says, "I had goals in mind, but I was ready for whatever. Up to now, it's still not what I imagined. But this is the most fun I've ever had in my entire life playing football."

 

***

 

Dennis Meier wants to explain how different this fall is from the ones where he was watching one or two of his sons play quarterback.

 

At the South Florida game this year - a crushing 37-34 defeat for KU - Dennis was seated closely to Steve and Debi Reesing when Todd Reesing threw the interception that led to the Bulls' game-winning field goal.

 

"Todd played such a tremendous game there," Dennis says. "Just one errant throw, and everything sinks. And I knew exactly how Steve felt. I told him, 'God, you feel so bad for your children because they're trying to make something happen and nothing's ever perfect.' "

 

Dennis and Valerie, Kerry's mother, lived with that stress from the moment Dylan started playing quarterback. Until this year. They don't miss it, particularly Valerie, who takes everything to heart.

 

"It's a little more relaxing," Dennis says. "I have to admit."

 

Dennis became so tired of hearing unruly KU fans rip on Kerry during his one year as the starter in 2006, he eventually had to confront a fan who took it too far. Dennis was wearing a band that got him into the parents' seating section.

 

"These people were just unmerciful," Dennis says. "Finally, I had enough and I just raised my arm and put it in this guy's face. I said, 'Do you know what this band means? You're sitting in the parents' section. How do you know that's not my son?' He said, 'I'm so sorry.' "

 

You can hear the frustration in Dennis' voice to this day. The Meiers wouldn't take back one game they've attended - with Shad at Kansas State during 1996-2000 and Adam at Pittsburg State soon after, they have been going to college football games nonstop for more than a decade - but it's obvious they're beginning to tire. They often ignore media interview requests.

 

"Sometimes we talk," Dennis says, "sometimes we don't."

 

Dennis and Valerie's investment in their boys' football careers began in their own backyard. Dennis would play quarterback, and the boys would divide themselves into teams of two receivers and two cornerbacks. They'd go all night if Valerie didn't call them in for dinner.

 

All those passes and catches seemed to be leading to 2006. After battling back from numerous injuries, Dylan had won the job at K-State to start the season. Kerry, considered a prized recruit for Mark Mangino, had done the same as a redshirt freshman at KU. All the local papers ate up the story. Which team would the parents pull for? Would one wear purple and the other blue?

 

By the time the game came around in November, Dylan had been replaced by then-freshman Josh Freeman, and Kerry had missed several games because of a shoulder injury. Kerry's injury forced Mangino to take the redshirt off Reesing in the ninth game of the season, and Reesing orchestrated a comeback win over Colorado. Kerry played the whole game in KU's win over K-State, but he completed just 11 passes and threw two interceptions.

 

"It was tough," Kerry says. "Me and Dylan, we've talked a couple of times about that scenario and how that didn't really live up to being Meier vs. Meier. It didn't really take as much of a toll on me and Dylan as it did the rest of the family."

 

***

 

Kerry Meier limped through Saturday's win over Colorado, catching nine passes for 94 yards. After the game, he would not address the injury, acting three times as if reporters had asked him a different question.

 

"Is your health a concern at all?" Meier was asked.

 

"You know," Meier responded, "offensively and defensively we played great tonight "

 

Meier's reluctance to answer the question can be explained one of two ways: For one, he simply can't stomach the idea of another injury keeping him off the field. But there's also the fact that, after what he went through as a true freshman in 2005, he doesn't even consider it much of an injury at all.

 

As soon as Meier got to campus, his heart was tested as a part of KU's mandatory testing program. He was found to have a heart condition called Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome that affects the electrical system of the heart. Meier had to have surgery to get the problem corrected. If the doctors hadn't caught the problem, Meier could have died playing football.

 

"It does cross my mind almost every day," Meier says. "It's a scary situation, just lying in the hospital bed wondering what really is at stake for me in the future. Luckily, blessed by the hands of God, everything was cured. Just coming here to Kansas kind of saved my life. It's been a wild ride, actually. I'm so thankful for coming here."

 

So, yes, Meier isn't going to waste time talking about a football injury.

 

"Look at the heart, all the things the heart does," Meier says. "If you think about it that way, then all these little nicks and dings are just nothing."

 

Meier has a season and a half to stay healthy and improve his stock as a professional receiver. Sure, he may not make many concrete goals anymore, but that one has been with him since he was a kid making diving catches in his backyard.

 

Meier has already talked with his coaches about eventually handing the backup quarterback duties over to true freshman Kale Pick, a redshirt this season, so Meier can put everything into being a receiver. Just imagine how good he could be then.

 

"It's kind of interesting," Meier says, "to see where I could be if I was spending full time at wide receiver."

 

For now, Meier is just happy to be having fun playing the game again.

 

"Playing receiver, it's a lot less stress," Meier says. "All you gotta do is go out there and run a route, maybe catch a ball, maybe block somebody. It's a lot easier. You're out there just running around trying to make plays."

 

Doesn't sound like much planning involved - just how Meier likes it.

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