'Little things matter': Colin Grunhard says KU football can learn from Notre Dame rebound
LAWRENCE — Few parallels exist between Notre Dame and Kansas, the former a traditional power coming off a College Football Playoff appearance and the latter a loser of 115 of its last 136 games.
One Jayhawk, though, has identified a similarity between the programs — and, no, it’s not that both fan bases need trigger warnings before hearing the name Charlie Weis.
Colin Grunhard, a redshirt junior center who transferred to KU this offseason after spending his first four collegiate campaigns with the Fighting Irish, recently noted that Notre Dame in the season prior to his arrival there suffered “one of the worst years in (its) history.” Indeed, with a record of 4-8, that 2016 team became only the team's second since 1964 to finish with four or fewer victories (the other being a 3-9 mark posted in 2007 under the direction of Weis).
While the Fighting Irish’s tumble five years ago may seem ho-hum compared to the historic tailspin the Jayhawks have found themselves in across the last decade-plus — KU hasn’t secured a four-win season since 2009 — Grunhard nevertheless asserted that valuable lessons can be learned from the ways Notre Dame pulled itself out of that rare funk.
“The biggest change happens in the weight room,” Grunhard said. “With (strength and conditioning) Coach Ben (Iannacchione) I’ve been experiencing that a lot. We’re working out hard. When we’re running, we’re running hard. Every little thing matters. If it’s three seconds, you hold it for three seconds. Down in the locker room everyone is stressing to clean your lockers, clean your mess.
“Little things matter. I think that’s what the coaches, from Coach Ben to Coach (Emmett) Jones to every coach position-wise, everyone is focusing on the little things mattering, and that’s the biggest thing that’s going to change this university around.”
That last task, Grunhard explained, will be his top priority across his final two seasons.
“I feel I can help the team, help KU win. That’s my only job,” Grunhard said. “I don’t care if it’s starting or as a backup or if it’s in the stands — my only job here is to help KU win.”
If last year was any indication, the Jayhawk offensive line could use its share of help.
That porous unit surrendered 5.2 sacks per game, which ranked last nationally among 127 eligible FBS programs, and in a 62-9 defeat on Nov. 7 at Oklahoma allowed the Sooners to sack true freshman quarterback Jalon Daniels a staggering nine times. As run blockers, the group contributed to a ground attack that mustered just 104.9 rushing yards per contest, which ranked 116th nationally, and posted just 2.67 yards per carry throughout the winless nine-game campaign.
Grunhard indicated he’s seen an eagerness from first-year KU offensive line coach Lee Grimes and the returning Jayhawks within that position group to learn from those mistakes and, perhaps most importantly, turn the page.
“I think a lot of guys are trying to put that behind us,” Grunhard said. “It’s a new year, a new season — everything’s new. We’re going to learn from it. We understand that we can’t give up sacks like we did. That’s the biggest thing: We’re going to move forward with a new coach, a new system and we’re going to play to the best of our ability. And we’re going to get time for our quarterback.”
A 6-foot-1, 290-pounder out of Mission, Grunhard starred at Miege High School and was tabbed by The Topeka Capital-Journal as a Top 11 selection at the conclusion of his senior season. While the Notre Dame walk-on served primarily as depth for the Fighting Irish, who were loaded in the trenches, Grunhard certainly has the pedigree to make a difference at KU — his father, Tim Grunhard, achieved Pro Bowl status during his playing career with the Kansas City Chiefs (1990-2000).
Tim Grunhard actually served as KU’s offensive line coach from 2012-13, a pair of seasons that saw those Jayhawks compile a combined record of 4-20 under the leadership of — you guessed it — Weis. Colin Grunhard recalled making the short trip to Lawrence every weekend during that era, and while the names and faces have changed, the on-field struggles KU endured during that era are very much ongoing.
So, yes, Grunhard knows what he signed up for — and he appears undeterred by it.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Grunhard said. “We have a long spring season in front of us. We’re going to have a great spring game; hopefully we get some fans in there, too. It’s going to be a great season. Everyone is just working on getting better one day at a time. ...
“It’s been all good so far. We’re just ready to put some pads on.”