Ask Jordan Webb for a quick rundown on what he brings to his position on the football field and chances are extraordinarily good that he'll top his list with toughness.
Leadership ability, athleticism and awareness are on his resume, too, but here's a kid who prides himself in, as a long-ago wristwatch commercial boasted, being able to take a licking and keep on ticking. (He far too frequently was given the opportunity to demonstrate that at his last stop, which we'll get to shortly.)
A couple of years ago Webb and some of his buds on the Kansas football team were playing an NCAA Football video game - and that always offers the potential for smack talk and a semi-controlled melee. When the smack and friendly wrestling erupted, Webb found himself squared off against Duane Zlatnik.
The pertinent stats here: Webb pushes hard to reach 6-1 and 210 pounds. Zlatnik easily stands 6-4 and weighs 311.
"We were always kind of roughhousing," Webb said the other day after completing the preliminary round of signing on to enroll and play this fall at Colorado. "I think it he really wanted to make it hard on me, he could have. But he didn't want to hurt his quarterback."
For an outsider that could be a debatable point, considering the number of KU games over the past two seasons when Webb found himself being chased, caught and buried by guys of Zlatnik's stature. Two weeks before CU visited KU in 2010 (do I really need to revisit that outcome and what happened two days later?) Webb was sacked six times by Texas A&M in a 45-10 loss.
One of the sacks was particularly hard on Webb's shoulder; he missed the next two games, the second of which was against CU. And that allowed junior college transfer Quinn Mecham (it's OK to say who?) his four quarters of football fame against the defenseless Buffs.
Webb watched the Jayhawks rally and score the game's final 35 points, unaware that he was seeing his future team at perhaps the program's all-time low. But change occurs with alarming regularity in college football; by the end of the next season CU and KU had new coaches and the Jayhawks' new guy (Charlie Weis) made it very clear that Webb wasn't in the master plan. Weis will go with transfers Dane Crist (now) and Jake Heaps (later).
Being left out after the coaching shuffle only mildly surprised Webb. He had committed to KU in his junior year at Union (Mo.) High School, and this was at a time when Jayhawks football was amazingly successful under former coach Mark Mangino. KU's starting QB was Todd Reesing, its offensive coordinator was Ed Warner. Webb was so impressed by all three and what was going on in Lawrence that, "I kind of took myself off the market, I guess you could say. I talked to other schools, but KU fitted me as a quarterback and I really respected the coaching staff.
"At the time of my commitment, it was three months after they won the Orange Bowl (capping a 12-1 2007 season), Reesing was having a great career and they were throwing the ball 40 times a game. It just seemed like the perfect fit."
Fits sometimes fall apart. After Webb spent a redshirt season (2009) at KU soaking up as much as possible from Reesing, Warner and Mangino before all three were gone. Turner Gill replaced Mangino the next season and at the conclusion of the season after that Gill was gone, too, replaced by Weis.
The Jayhawks recruited Webb as the heir apparent to the magical Reesing, who burned a redshirt season (and the 2006 Buffs) in his KU debut. Early on, Webb said he was compared with Reesing: "Yeah, kind of in the way we played the game and both of us being kind of short. That's always the first thing that people compared us by. But he was a great player. It was fun to work under a guy like that."
What did he learn from Reesing?
"Not so much X's and O's or playbook stuff, but how to carry yourself, be a leader," Webb said. "He's the type of guy when it comes to crunch time you can really count on him making a play. That's a quarterback, really the definition of a quarterback."
Webb's first college start was in 2010 against No. 15 Georgia Tech. That game followed a 6-3 home loss to North Dakota State in Gill's dismal KU debut. Webb came off the bench in the fourth quarter, then was named the starter for the Yellow Jackets. He responded by throwing three touchdown passes (18-of-29 for 179 yards, with one interception) in KU's 28-25 upset win.
"I definitely managed the game as well as I could have," he recalled. "It was my first start and we were the big underdogs playing against No. 15 in the nation. It was a real exciting day; we were glad to get that victory."
He finished his KU career with so-so stats: 3,079 passing yards, 20 TD passes vs. 20 interceptions. His completion percentage rose from 56.5 in 2010 to 63.7 in 2011. But the Jayhawks finished 2-10 last season and were winless in the Big 12 Conference, costing Gill his job.
Graduating early from high school allowed Webb to be an early enrollee at KU, and that led to an early graduation (31/2 years) in Lawrence. NCAA rules allow a graduate to transfer and not sit out the usual transfer season. Thus, after enrolling in graduate school (education) at CU, he can play immediately and has two seasons of eligibility remaining.
The initial courtship by CU was sparked by Webb sending emails "to some schools that I knew had graduated quarterbacks, places I knew I'd like to go," he said. "Coach (Rip) Scherer (QB coach) was able to get back in touch with me and we kind of kicked it off. I had a really good time talking to him and we kind of hit it off from the beginning. I'm lucky it all worked out."
Before Webb met Scherer's boss - Jon Embree - he was somewhat familiar with CU's second-year head coach through Embree's youngest son, Connor, a KU receiver who transferred from UNLV. Webb said he had "always heard really good things about (Jon Embree) and when I finally got to meet him I definitely got the feel he was a people person."
Wisconsin also took an interest in Webb, but he committed to CU the week before he was scheduled to visit the Badgers. That trip might not have made a difference; Webb said CU's coaches were "up front and honest with me. They told me they couldn't guarantee anything, that the best player was going to play. I respect coaches that have that mentality.
"Coach Scherer has been around the business for a long, long time. I really look forward to playing for someone with such a great knowledge of the game."
Webb's knowledge of the game will be under the microscope the first time he steps onto the field in Boulder. Two seasons of experience in the Big 12 give him a leg (maybe an arm) up on CU's returning quarterbacks - Connor Wood, Nick Hirschman, John Schrock, Stevie Joe Dorman - and incoming freshman Shane Dillon. None of that group has a wealth of game-day experience, but the key for Webb will be how quickly he can absorb Scherer's system and apply it. He also is coming from a primarily spread offense at KU to a pro-style, QB-under-center scheme at CU.
"I'm really confident in my ability to pick it up," he said. "I think I can do it pretty fast . . . I've learned a few offenses in my career and a lot of it's the same stuff - just switching terminology and maybe some different responsibilities at the quarterback position."
He conceded his game experience could be beneficial, but added the emergence of a starter is "going to come down to who plays the best in practice and who has the best grasp of the playbook and who has the best handle on the team and the most respect from his teammates."
That might be where his grit enters the equation. "I think that's really important, especially at the quarterback position," Webb said. "It's easy for guys to look at the quarterback and say they're not always taking the hits like they are (at other positions). When you bounce right back up I think you earn the respect of your teammates.
"I pride myself on being tough, but I also try to be a leader. I'm not the loudest or most talkative guy during workouts or practice, but I try to lead by example. I played in over 20 ball games against some pretty good competition, so the experience is there."
No question the Buffs could use it, but it will be up to Webb to apply it. His chance is only a month away.