Seniors Step Up in Final Memorial Stadium Outing
Nov. 13, 2011
Senior Day at Memorial Stadium is always a special event, but Saturday it was made even more special as a number of seniors stepped up in KU's near upset over No. 25 Baylor.
Emotions ran high before kick-off as 15 talented Jayhawk seniors would be honored for their service to the football program during the last few years. Included in that group was Steven Johnson, who walked-on and eventually earned a scholarship during his sophomore season.
"I was just kind of taking it all in as I was walking onto that field for the last time," said senior linebacker Steven Johnson. "Kansas is a great place that gave me an opportunity to continue to play football."
The Media, Pa. native entered the contest leading his team and tackles, but it would be something he did with the football on Saturday that would make headlines. With a little more than two minutes remaining in the first period, Johnson would jump on a ball, fumbled by BU quarterback Robert Griffin III at the Bears' 49-yard line, which would set up a Kansas touchdown early in the first quarter.
"I saw Robert Griffin looking at me half the time, so they were trying to read off of me and get me out of the game," he said. "So I was just trying to fly around and help my team win by making plays."
Johnson would finish the game with a total of 10 tackles, which gave him a team-leading 109 on the season.
One of Johnson's senior counterparts, center Jeremiah Hatch, would also have his moment in the sun. Just shy of the nine minute mark in the second quarter, Hatch would find himself in a rather unusual situation, playing receiver as he caught a ball in the end zone that was fumbled in mid-air by BU wide receiver Tevin Reese. The catch was ruled a touchback, and preserved the 10-0 second quarter KU lead.
"I was just trying to run down the field to make a tackle, and all of a sudden, the ball just lands in my hands," Hatch said. "No way did I think that I would ever catch a ball like that."
"That (play) should be at the beginning of his highlight film and at the end of it," said fellow senior Jeff Spikes. "He laid out and that was amazing because he didn't give up on the play."
Johnson and Hatch's senior spirit rubbed off on another duo of KU defenders making their final Memorial Stadium appearances. Cornerbacks Isiah Barfield and Anthony Davis found themselves in the middle of two Baylor Turnovers.
Barfield's would come first with about five and a half minutes left to play in the first half, when he forced the ball out of the hands of Tevin Reese off of a pass from Griffin. The next Bear turnover would come when Davis intercepted a Griffin pass with 22 seconds remaining in the third quarter at the Kansas 16-yard line.
"Those guys stepped up," Hatch said. "Most of the seniors did their job, came out and tried to get a victory."
For Hatch, Saturday's game was more than just a culmination of his Memorial Stadium memories, but a deep connection he will share with his senior class.
"We have been through a lot," the center said. "We have seen different coaching staffs, and took part in wins and losses together, so we are a very close group of guys."
Even though running out of the tunnel onto Kivisto Field is now a thing of the past for that tight-knit group of Jayhawk seniors, they still have two games left in their collegiate careers to share in one last victory together.