LAWRENCE — Hasan Defense’s bold preseason proclamation seemed lofty at the time, and five games into the season, the statement looked downright impossible.
Just two games later — and amid a midseason position change, at that — the Kansas cornerback-turned-safety’s summer guarantee to reporters that he’d intercept six passes this season is somehow, someway within realistic striking distance.
What the heck happened?
“I’m just trying to reach my goals, stay humble,” Defense said. “At the end of the day that’s all I want to do. No matter the circumstances I don’t want to lower my goals or minimize my goals because I haven’t been doing what I’m supposed to. But yeah, the goal was six picks at corner, and it’s the same thing at safety.”
Defense has three interceptions in the Jayhawks’ last two contests, picking off West Virginia quarterback Will Grier twice and snagging an Alan Bowman pass attempt during last Saturday’s 48-16 defeat at Texas Tech. The 5-foot-11, 188-pound ball hawk will look to keep the hot streak going when the Jayhawks (2-5, 0-4 Big 12) host TCU (3-4, 1-3) at 2 p.m. Saturday at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium.
“It’s crazy to think about it happening in two games,” said Defense, who already ranks third in program history in single-season interception return yardage (125 yards). “It’s something I expect, but not in two games. That’s always a blessing. As far as return yardage, I’ve got to catch a pick-six soon anyway.”
It’s been a rewarding stretch for a junior that a month ago was struggling to stay on the field until a switch to safety ahead of Week 4 breathed new life into his season. Defense’s play, though, hasn’t been what’s most impressed head coach David Beaty.
“He’s just been terrific for us,” Beaty said Monday on his weekly radio show. “I’m more proud of him in his maturation than anything because he was struggling a little bit with some things, just finding his way, and man, he’s done a really nice job of settling in.”
A lack of maturity is a trait Defense openly admits he had last season as a first-year Jayhawk who transferred here from Kilgore College in Texas. His verbal disputes with Beaty and defensive coordinator Clint Bowen were frequent events at team practices, with Defense now acknowledging he simply wasn’t able to handle feedback.
“Number one, it’s just taking criticism and constructive criticism,” Defense said. “That’s one thing when I first got here, I wasn’t really able to see eye-to-eye with people when they told me about it, but now I feel like I’m able to take it and enhance it in the correct ways.
“(It’s) just knowing that people are trying to help, just knowing not everybody is out to attack or criticize you. It’s a critique. I just took it that way. I take the positive out of situations and not the negative now.”
Defense cites his fellow defensive backs — Mike Lee, Bryce Torneden, Shak Taylor and Julian Chandler, among others — for pulling him aside and telling him he was overreacting to what they deemed fair criticism. “When they say it, it’s a lot different than when a coach says it, so that’s helped me a look at it in a different perspective,” Defense said.
Few witnesses to last year’s verbal clashes between coaches and player could’ve expected the scene Monday, when Beaty called Defense up in front of his teammates and lauded the strides the safety has made in both play and maturity. As Defense reflects, he says Beaty and Bowen have both aided in his “growing up stages.”
In particular, Defense's relationship with Bowen has become a source of pride.
“Definitely respect, utmost respect. Never hate,” Defense said of his dynamic with Bowen. “It’s love and tough love, pretty much. It’s always the great criticism that I’ve grown to want now. He’s helped me out in so many different ways. He’s been like a, I don’t know, pretty much a little blessing just to help me get my head on straight and walk me down the right path.”
That faith in Bowen and his system has only grown since a preseason prognostication Defense revealed this week. Bowen told his players KU would lead the country in turnover margin, and through seven games, the Jayhawks have done just that, sporting 21 total takeaways and a plus-14 overall margin.
Defense remains adamant that he has three picks left in his own tank, though on his next, he says he won’t be chased down and tackled from behind as he was by Grier — “I’m still hearing about it,” Defense joked.
Defense, though, got the last laugh on that particular play.
“I tried to hand him the ball, but I don’t think he wanted it,” Defense said of Grier. “He was looking for his helmet.”
TCU AT KANSAS
Kickoff: 2 p.m. Saturday, David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium, Lawrence
Records: TCU 3-4, 1-3; Kansas 2-5, 0-4
TV/Radio: FS1/KWIC-FM (99.3)
Line: TCU by 13½
Next: vs. Iowa State, 11 a.m. Nov. 3, David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium, Lawrence