Double talk with Talib

Double talk with Talib
By Jason King, Yahoo Sports
October 31, 2007

Jason King
Yahoo Sports
LAWRENCE, Kan. – The Kansas Jayhawks are 8-0 for the first time since 1908, and much of their success can be attributed to charismatic junior Aqib Talib.

A preseason All-American at cornerback, Talib leads KU with three interceptions and nine pass breakups – and he's also scored six touchdowns as a part-time receiver. The 6-foot-2 Talib is one of the leading candidates for the Thorpe Award and is also being mentioned as a potential first-round pick in this spring's NFL Draft.

If, of course, he decides to leave school early.

Never shy about expressing his opinions, Talib addressed that topic as well as a variety of other subjects during an interview Tuesday with Yahoo! Sports.

Jason King: Of all the remaining undefeated teams, Kansas is probably the biggest surprise. Is any of this a fluke, or are you guys really that good?

Talib: We feel like we're right on par with everybody. We aren't afraid to play anybody, just like I'm sure no one is afraid to play us. It goes both ways. We're all Division I football players. We're all 18-23-year-old guys that lift weights. We feel like we can play with anyone in the nation.

King: Do you ever catch yourself watching the so-called "elite" teams and wondering how you'd fare?

Talib: Oh yeah, we always do that. We look at the Oregons and the LSUs and the Ohio States and think, 'Man, they're good.' But that doesn't mean we don't think we can play with them. We'd love to play those guys. That's our goal this year, to play one of the powerhouse schools.

King: Last year Kansas went 6-6, with two of those losses coming in overtime and two more in the final minute. What's been the difference this year?

Talib: I think a lot of it goes back to what Coach (Mark) Mangino had us do in the offseason, in January. He divided us into eight teams and, every day, we had all these different competitions to earn points. The winner got a prize at the end. It wasn't much, but it really brought out the competitive side of a lot of people.

King: Tell me about some of the competitions.

Talib: There was all kinds of stuff, from tug-of-wars to royal rumbles, where you win by pushing your opponent off a mat. You know, last-man-standing type stuff. We played goalie and tried to stop the soccer ball from going into net. We had free throw competitions, lots of stuff.

King: Wait a minute. You're telling me you became a better football team by shooting free throws?

Talib: Yeah. People that never seemed very competitive in the past changed all of a sudden. Coach just put something in us with that little program. I could feel it. Now the whole team has that competitive fire, instead of just a few people.

King: Coach Mangino has always been known as a fiery guy. How has he been different this season?

Talib: He's still the same coach he's been since I got here. I don't think it was the way he was coaching that was costing us those close games. It wasn't him. He was putting us in position to win games but, at the end, it was us losing those games – not him.

King: Your defense is allowing just 10.25 points a game – a mark that ranks first in the Big 12 and second in the country. Still, is this group as good as the 2005 Kansas unit that featured Charlton Keith, Charles Gordon and Nick Reid?

Talib: Man, that '05 defense had so much experience. Everyone knew what they had to do and where they had to be. Add in the athleticism, and that was probably the best defense I've ever been a part of. This defense is starting to do the same thing, though. We're becoming more and more assignment sound, just like (defensive coordinator Bill) Young had with that 2005 defense. Everyone knows where they have to be and no one is trying to do other people's jobs. We're all filling our own gaps and being gap sound.

King: Last year you led the nation in pass breakups and tied for the Big 12 lead in interceptions with six. At preseason media day you said those numbers should've earned you the Thorpe Award that was given to Texas' Aaron Ross. Still feel that way?

Talib: Honestly, I was just fooling around at media day, trying to give (the writers) some preseason stuff to talk about. Aaron Ross deserved it 100 percent. He put up some great numbers, but I felt like I put up some good numbers, too.

King: Only three picks so far this year? Are teams throwing away from you?

Talib: In conference play teams are a lot smarter. It's a lot different than non-conference. They have better, more in-depth game plans. But I had chances for interceptions against Colorado and Baylor and Texas A&M. I just didn't make the plays.

King: Nine pass breakups is a nice stat, though. Surely the people who vote on awards will look at those numbers, too. Are postseason awards a big deal to this team?

Talib: Oh yeah. We want Todd (Reesing, quarterback) to bring home the O'Brien Award and we want J-Mac (defensive tackle James McClinton) to win the Nagurksi. When people are winning awards that means your team is getting the job done.

King: Speaking of which, taking care of business each day has become even more challenging for you since the birth of your four-month old daughter, Kiara Renae. Talk about the balancing act involved in being a student-athlete and a father.

Talib: You have to really be on schedule with stuff. You can't wait until the last minute to do anything. You have to really be on schedule, because it cuts your time back.

King: I'm guessing the majority of your off time is spent with her.

Talib: No question. She's got a little jumper she likes to get in. It's got toys all around it. She loves that. She has a little swing. If she's not in one of those two, I'm probably holding her and talking to her.

King: What else do you do in your free time? Any Lawrence restaurants or hot spots you are partial to?

Talib: My favorite restaurant is probably Pepper Jax Grill. I go over there and get the chicken and cheese philly. That's my favorite little food spot.

King: What about music?

Talib: Right now I'm listening to Lil Wayne's new CD. Plies has a CD out called New Testament that I like a lot.

King: What about Tech N9ne? He seems to be pretty popular around these parts.

Talib: Yeah, he's a Kansas City guy. I haven't gotten into him yet. I haven't lived up here long enough.

King: You went to Berkner High School in the Dallas suburb of Richardson. Is Texas home?

Talib: That's where I was from eighth grade to 12th grade. Before that I was back and forth between Jersey and Cleveland. I guess you could say I consider all three of them home. My mom and dad are in Trenton, New Jersey right now. All of their family is in Cleveland, and then a small part of our family is in Texas right now.

King: And now you've got Kansas to add to that list, too.

Talib: I couldn't be having any more fun right now – and it will get even better next year because everyone is coming back. Having Coach Young coach us for another year is going to make us that much better.

King: Hold on – you just said everyone is coming back. Are you including yourself? Does this mean you're not going to enter the NFL Draft like so many people expect?

Talib: I'm coming back for another one, as of right now. We're doing too good. I can't leave. I'm not going to talk about it anymore until the end of the year. But I'm just saying – that's how I feel, as of right now.

King: OK, so there are no guarantees, right?

Talib: As of right now, this is my team and we're going to finish out the year. Let's leave it at that. We'll talk about the future after the season.

Jason King is a college football and basketball writer for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jason a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

Updated on Wednesday, Oct 31, 2007 10:23 am, EDT

Email to a Friend | View Popular