When Ben Heeney was being recruited by the Kansas coaching staff he was on the way to breaking the single-season rushing record at Hutchinson High.
As a senior he rushed for 2,083 yards and 39 touchdowns setting school records in both categories. But when college recruiters showed up at Hutch High they talked about defense.
"They told me they just recruited me based off my athleticism," Heeney recalls. "They told me coming in I would play outside linebacker but I didn't play defense as a senior. All they saw was my film as a running back."
Defense wasn't totally new to Heeney. As a sophomore and junior he played strong safety for Randy Dreiling. In the Hutchinson defensive scheme the strong safety would line-up at times like an outside linebacker. But it wasn't a true linebacker position.
"He played defense for two years for us as a strong safety," Dreiling said. "You tell the good ones to go tackle the football. That's what Ben did. The thing he has going for him is his aggressiveness and explosiveness."
When Heeney arrived in Lawrence he was moved to defense and had to learn the position.
"I never played linebacker before," he said. "With linebacker all of your fits have to be right to fit the gaps. In high school I played safety and running back. I never played linebacker even as a little kid."
Heeney has been a quick learner. As a true freshman he saw limited time as a linebacker, but played on special teams. He spends a lot of time talking with players like Huldon Tharp and other linebackers to learn the position.
In the spring Heeney played the mike linebacker position also known as the middle. When the August depth chart was released he was slated to play the will, which is an outside linebacker. In fall camp he moved back to the middle position.
"I knew how to play MIKE because I played it in the spring," Heeney said. "Mike and Will are almost mirror positions. If you know one of them you should know the other."
Kansas linebackers coach DeMontie Cross likes the attitude Heeney brings.
"He is a high speed, high energy guy," Cross said. "It's amazing that you have to get him to slow down where as other players you tell them to go faster and go harder. You got to get him to slow down because he plays at one speed all the time. I have been impressed with the kid."
Heeney has put on 13 pounds since working under strength and conditioning coach Scott Holsopple. He said he is drenched with sweat after every workout and credits Holsopple for the shape he is in. There is a good chance Heeney could see the field a lot this year.
He will only continue to improve working with Cross and the defensive coaches.
"Coach Cross is one of the best defensive coaches in the nation," Heeney said. "He knows his stuff backwards and forwards. It's crazy what he knows about football. I'm blessed to have a coach come in that actually knows what he's doing. This year all of the defensive coaches put you in position to make plays."