LAWRENCE — At one point in time, Kansas fans knew James Sosinski as a dual-sport athlete for the Jayhawks.
That label may undersell the senior tight end and former men’s basketball walk-on forward — that is, at least in the eyes of a teammate who’s seen the 6-foot-7, 260-pounder dominate elsewhere.
“He’s a really good golfer. Yeah, much better than I am,” said senior quarterback Carter Stanley. “I want to say his handicap is around five. But no, he’s a very solid golfer. He loves it, no doubt.”
Solid enough to perhaps in another life have been a three-sport athlete?
“Like, seriously,” Stanley responded with a laugh. “And we’ve kind of joked about it with him, but I think he could.”
A Gary Woodland-esque collegiate crossover into golf wasn’t in the cards for Sosinski, of course. But after years of frustration on gamedays, his rollercoaster journey could be on the verge of an apex.
Sosinski hauled in his first two career receptions last Saturday in the Jayhawks’ 24-17 home victory over Indiana State, scoring the first offensive touchdown of the season for KU (1-0) on a 10-yard pass from Stanley. After a lengthy review that could’ve nullified the strike — “No way,” Sosinski recalled thinking at the time — the ruling was upheld, and the Chandler, Ariz., product had his first major collegiate highlight.
On the gridiron, that is.
“It was surreal. Felt like a long time coming, being my third year here,” said Sosinski, who walked on to the shorthanded men’s basketball team midway through the 2017-18 season. “It just shows you all the hard work in the offseason paid off."
As Stanley and other teammates contend, Saturday’s showing may simply have been the tip of the iceberg in terms of the tight end's production this season.
“Sos is a great guy. Real fun dude to be around. Talented,” said senior left tackle Hakeem Adeniji. “For him to get that first one, it was awesome. I think he has more, a lot more in store, too.”
Sosinski shares that confidence, the result of two elements — perseverance, and a grueling fall camp program he labeled “one of the hardest things of my life.”
“I think I had a really good offseason of just working hard,” Sosinski said. “Just got a little bit stronger, a little bit faster, I feel like. I feel like I got my chance and I ran with it the whole time.”
It’s a chance that, for whatever reason, Sosinski didn’t get under former head coach David Beaty. While Beaty publicly gushed about Sosinski’s potential, those words translated to little more than the occasional special teams cameo.
Sosinski said he still isn’t sure what, if anything, was holding him back the last two seasons.
“I feel like I could’ve had the same impact if I could’ve played last year, but that’s out of my hands,” Sosinski said. “I’m obviously better than I was last year, that’s 100-percent true. I feel like I’m just getting my time on the field to really just show my potential.”
The most challenging part of the last two years, Sosinski said, was staying upbeat when playing time didn't materialize. He credits his father James — himself a former dual-sport athlete (golf and football) at Arizona State — and teammates in the tight ends/fullbacks room for lifting his spirits. He lauded new head coach Les Miles and tight ends coach Jeff Hecklinski for infusing a new dose of hope.
“I love those guys for what they’ve done for me,” Sosinski said of Miles and Hecklinski. “They’ve done a lot already.”
Before Saturday, Sosinski was perhaps most known around campus for his brief run as a practice body for the men’s basketball team, a stint that included a garbage-time bucket in the final minutes of the Jayhawks’ 95-79 defeat to Villanova in the Final Four. After the football team's victory, Bill Self, assistant coach Norm Roberts and several former teammates reached out "... just telling me congrats and how proud they are of me," Sosinski said.
In Miles and Self, Sosinski sees more similarities than their respective ownership of a national championship ring.
“They’re both very intent on what they want to get accomplished,” Sosinski said. “I feel like they’re not going to move on until they get what they want to see, whether it’s a play or a defense or, ‘This guy is going to do this.’ It’s very focused and they know what they want to get out of it.
"I feel like you see the trust with the basketball team and coach Self, and I feel like for sure you see it here, how the team is just buying into everything coach Miles is saying and just working on whatever he tells us to do.”
Sosinski, who joined KU after one-year stops at UMass (football) and South Mountain Community College in Phoenix (basketball), said he would’ve never imagined such a journey when he was in high school. He also said he couldn't have asked for anything better.
“I mean, the ups and downs and everything, it’s just been great,” Sosinski said. “I just feel like it’s going to be something I can always look back on and be proud of.”
As for his golf game, Sosinski indicated it's still a work in progress. Surprisingly, he listed it as only his fourth-best sport behind football, basketball and baseball, the latter a game the first baseman and pitcher gave up long ago in order to accommodate spring football.
Still, once his football career is over, golf may be Sosinski's sport with the highest ceiling, he said.
“My putting’s good. My dad obviously still plays golf and when I was younger I used to putt and chip with him a lot, so that’s always been a strong part of my game. I’ve just been blessed with height and size, so obviously I can hit it pretty good," said Sosinski, who owns clubs that are an extra 1½-inches long. "So like I say, if I’m hitting the driver straight, I can get around pretty decent.”
Sosinski's official handicap, however, will have to remain a mystery.
“I have no clue, man. I have no clue. It’s high though,” Sosinski said. “Don’t let Carter gas me up too much, man.”