When teams prepare to play Kansas, the preparation in all three aspects of the game begins and ends with No. 3.
Sophomore Charles Gordon, after setting school records for a freshman at wide receiver last season, is now making the majority of his plays on defense, leading the Big 12 Conference in interceptions with six. However, he still finds time to return kicks and to catch passes, something Gordon said is an honor.
“Just playing is exciting,” he said. “But to play both ways, that is special. Not many guys get to do it. It’s just an honor.”
It is an honor that would fatigue most players. Gordon said during an average Saturday, he is on the field for 80 to 90 plays, but the Kansas coaches are careful to make sure the three-dimensional player isn’t worn out.
“I keep the coaches informed on how I’m doing and they keep track of the number of plays I’m at,” Gordon said.
It helped that at the end of last season, Gordon, while leading the team with 57 catches for 769 yards, began his transition to playing both ways. He finished the season with 13 tackles.
Gordon said last season gave him a glimpse into the difficulty of playing in all phases of a game, and he worked this summer to prepare for that challenge.
Jayhawks coach Mark Mangino said he didn’t plan to play Gordon on both sides of the ball when he recruited him because the coaches didn’t see much defensive tape of Gordon. It didn’t take long to notice Gordon’s talent, though.
“We recruited him primarily as an offensive receiver,” Mangino said. “But after he was with us for awhile, we realized he had very good feet and hips, was extremely athletic and very intelligent.
“He could absorb things very quickly. He wasn’t your ordinary player in terms of learning, and as things progressed last year, we realized we might need his help on defense, and he’s proven to be a heck of a defensive player.”
This season, the Kansas defense has improved, limiting opponents to 354.4 yards of offensive per game after allowing more than 400 last season. Gordon has been a big part of that improvement with six pass-breakups and 53 tackles to go with his league-leading interceptions.
Gordon said while he has made it look easy, it has been a difficult process to move to cornerback — a process that is far from complete.
He said the most difficult part of the move was to get used to the backpedaling, making sure his feet were in proper position and reading the receiver’s hips to make the break with him.
“There’s technique things (I need to work on),” he said. “There’s a lot of little things. In my backpedaling, I raise up when breaking, I round my breaks.”
Although there have been obstacles, Gordon said playing receiver has given him an advantage.
“I can kind of tell how they’re lined up,” Gordon said. “If they’re lined wide, they are probably going to come back to the inside. There’s just little things that I know (about playing receiver.)”
Gordon also shows that knowledge when he lines up with the Kansas offense. Despite being mainly a defensive player, Gordon has caught 15 passes for 150 yards and two touchdowns this season.
“We know he’s a heck of an offensive player and we realize he’s a threat returning punts as well, when people give him the opportunity to do that,” Mangino said.
Last season, Gordon was third-team All-Big 12 as a return man, after producing 13 yards per punt return, with a long of 82. This season, those numbers have dipped to 8 yards, but he also has had fewer opportunities.
Mangino said this is a result of the respect that Gordon has earned from the conference’s coaches, if not the public nationwide.
“Well, I would think that the people that cover the Big 12 on a daily basis and the coaches who coach against him would notice him and at least, he would get the recognition he deserves in this part of the country,” he said. “The rest of the country doesn’t get an opportunity to see him play, but that’s too bad for them because they don’t know what they’re missing.”
Soon, they might be missing even more, since Kansas has suffered a rash of quarterback injuries.
“He probably could (play quarterback),” Mangino said. “He told me a while back he could kick and I believe him. He can do just about anything, he’s an awfully talented guy and he’s a good guy, too. He takes care of all his business, well respected by his teammates. But, who knows he may end up at quarterback.”