J. Brady McCollough
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Friday, September 12, 2008

KU quarterback Todd Reesing wants more from life than football

 

By J. BRADY McCOLLOUGH

The Kansas City Star

 

LAWRENCE | The most successful quarterback in Kansas history saunters into the Anderson Family Football Complex on Tuesday afternoon, running a bit late.

 

Todd Reesing explains that he had to meet with one of his finance professors because the first big assignment in his independent study is due Thursday. Reesing is leaving for Tampa, Fla., that afternoon, so he has to e-mail a real-world financial model on a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet to his professor by the time he leaves.

 

"It's quite a load," Reesing says.

 

If life is a load for Reesing, he doesn't show it very often. He settles into a rolling desk chair, wearing an orange "Life Is Good" brand T-shirt that declares, somewhat cryptically, "I want to ride my bicycle." In Reesing's backpack are three issues of The Economist, his favorite magazine.

 

"It's kind of what I read between classes or if class gets too boring," says Reesing, who is pursuing a double major in economics and finance. "I really want to increase my understanding of the world economy and politics and what's going on so I don't just seem like another ignorant student who just knows about America."

 

Showing through the window behind Reesing is Memorial Stadium, where many of those students who don't read magazines like The Economist gather to watch Reesing on Saturday afternoons. They know him as the quarterback who has gone 14-1 - another victory would tie him for the best winning percentage by a Big 12 quarterback with at least 10 starts - and the guy who does that cool hip thrust sometimes after a big play.

 

But Todd Reesing wants to be more than that. In fact, Reesing isn't interested in playing professional football. Yes, he knows he's only 5 feet 10, but that's not the only reason.

 

"I really enjoy college football," Reesing says. "I just don't think that the NFL is something that I would be suited for, whether it be sizewise or the fact that I just have other aspirations."

 

Reesing goes on to break down his plan. He has always has a plan. He will graduate in December 2009, and, while many underappreciated college players like himself are trying to prove themselves to NFL scouts, he hopes to be studying abroad - possibly in Copenhagen. Then he'll go to graduate school and get his MBA.

 

You get the feeling that, to Reesing, football is like an extracurricular activity that happens to have a huge time commitment. Certainly, when he is applying for study-abroad programs and grad schools, his three years as KU's starting quarterback would jump off the resume:

 

* Won the starting quarterback job as a sophomore and quarterbacked Kansas to a 12-1 record and Orange Bowl victory.

 

* Organized 11 team members into a unit that broke numerous school records.

 

* Galvanized a program that was in need of a player who didn't pay attention to his limitations and helped the program see that it didn't have to either.

 

Yes, that should be enough to impress the folks up in Denmark.

 

***

 

Lisa Bergeron's Summerfield Hall office is pink with bright yellow and green flowers painted on the walls. It is not the office you'd expect a finance professor to occupy, and it is also not a place that you'd expect to see many college quarterbacks spending as much time as Todd Reesing will this semester.

 

Bergeron picked Reesing for her independent study after she had him in her corporate finance class last spring. Bergeron is not a big football fan; she didn't even know Reesing played quarterback for the Jayhawks when she first met him. She knew him as the guy who sat near the back of her class and kept acing her exams.

 

"When you're grading 300 exams," Bergeron says, "when someone gets, you know, almost a perfect score on every test, it just makes you stand out."

 

Reesing didn't come to many of her office hours to do it, either.

 

"Todd just seemed to get it," Bergeron says. "I'm sure he works hard. I just think he's naturally smart."

 

That may be true, but Todd is also well-trained. Growing up in Debi Reesing's household, he didn't waste much time watching TV or playing video games. Debi, Todd's mother, was and still is a middle school teacher. Debi's father was a college professor, and her mother was a teacher and librarian. Debi's family didn't own a TV. She brought those same values to her family.

 

Debi read to all of her kids when they were young. And, when the Reesings turned on the tube, it was usually to watch a movie together as a family. Some channels were allowed, though. Todd's favorite was the Discovery Channel.

 

"It still is," Debi says proudly.

 

By the time Todd got to Lake Travis (Texas) High School, he knew what was expected of him academically.

 

"She pretty much said that we have to go to grad school," Reesing says.

 

There was never any doubt Reesing would have the high school grades to go to the college of his choice. He graduated fourth in his class, leaving an imprint on the Lake Travis classrooms in the process.

 

Take Laura Brito-Hazelton, Todd's Spanish teacher. Todd was so good at Brito-Hazelton's vocabulary competition that he took it upon himself to organize a lunchtime game with the best students from her other classes.

 

"Mrs. Brito, I'm just too good at this," Todd would say.

 

"Of course," Brito-Hazelton says, "he was the one that won all the time against the other classes."

 

The lunchtime game went away when Todd left.

 

"It just needs that kind of student that he was," Brito-Hazelton says, "that everything had to be done the best that he could. We had a lot of fun."

 

Now, it's the economics and finance professors at KU that get to enjoy Reesing's zest for learning. Bergeron says that Reesing had already begun thinking about that Thursday assignment last Friday.

 

"Todd sent me a text: 'Are you going to be in today?' " Bergeron says. "When he came in Monday, he had done a lot of work already on it."

 

That's because Reesing asked his father, Steve, who has made his career in finance, about where to find the data he needed for the project last Saturday before the Louisiana Tech game. Steve gave him a nudge in the right direction, but Todd did the work.

 

Bergeron says that Reesing pops into her office two or three times a week, sometimes just to hang out. Bergeron's 3-year-old son, Michael, worships Todd. The other day when Reesing came in, Michael was wearing Reesing's No. 5 jersey.

 

"When I tell him how much Michael likes him, he's very bashful about it," Bergeron says. "He's very unassuming. You can tell he's embarrassed."

 

It's moments like that which remind Reesing of his reality. He is not a normal student. For two more years, he is the Kansas quarterback, and there's a big game against South Florida tonight.

 

***

 

There's no pink in Ed Warinner's office. It's no secret that Warinner, the KU offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, is the teacher that Reesing most wants to impress.

 

On Tuesday, after meeting with Bergeron, Reesing entered a meeting with Warinner and continued his study of South Florida's top-ranked defense. What looks would the Bulls throw at them? How would they combat each of those looks? What protections would they use against certain blitzes?

 

"We really go deep into the game plan on Tuesday," Warinner says. "If you were going over a textbook, we're covering quite a few chapters. The thing about him, he's so smart, he can handle it. He doesn't limit us at all in terms of his knowledge and understanding of concepts. Usually, when your QB has had enough, you quit doing things. That's really never an issue with us."

 

When Reesing beat out Kerry Meier for the starting job last season, Warinner began to tailor his spread offense to Reesing's strengths. According to Warinner, Reesing excels physically because he can make a variety of different throws. Short or long. Hard or soft. Sidearm or overhand. Feet set or on the run. Mentally, Reesing doesn't even have to think anymore.

 

"At this point," Reesing says, "I know it like the back of my hand."

 

For Reesing, Warinner's office doesn't feel all that different than Bergeron's.

 

"We sit in a room at a desk with a notebook and then take notes and watch film and discuss things," Reesing says. "Football becomes like another class, but a lot more important than some other ones because it takes up so much time."

 

Reesing has shown his command of the offense through two games. He has thown for 668 yards and six touchdowns, completing 77 percent of his passes. Barring injury, Reesing will hold every significant passing record at KU after next season, his senior year.

 

Not that college performance matters to NFL teams. Reesing has already accepted that his height probably will keep him buried on draft boards. Three years ago, he willed his way into a scholarship to play at KU when it seemed as if no schools thought he could play at this level. Reesing simply doesn't have the will to do it again.

 

"I don't feel like I need to go out and try to make it to the next level to prove anything else," Reesing says.

 

As Steve Reesing puts it: "The other things that he wants to do are in his control, and whether or not he can play at the next level in pro football is not in his control. He's making the right choice."

 

Reesing knows his football career will probably end after next season. That's why he's living it up while he still can. After all, the Reesing hip thrust might not go over so well in some corporate office overseas.

 

"Todd will always look at football as just that game that he loves," Debi says. "He's going to enjoy every moment. You see Todd out there, dancing on the sidelines, pumping his fist, he is totally immersed in the game because he loves it."

 

They say college is supposed to be the best four years of your life, and Reesing is doing his part to make sure he gets the most out of his time at Kansas. Last season, as Reesing orchestrated the Jayhawks' rise to national prominence, Steve Reesing had a simple question for his son.

 

"Is everything OK?" Steve asked. "Is life good?"

 

"Dad," Reesing said, "how could life be any better than this?"

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