TU football notebook: Meaningful afternoon
BY BILL HAISTEN World Sports Writer
Friday, December 28, 2012
12/28/12 at 2:54 AM
It is an annual custom for Liberty Bowl participants to tour the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. On Thursday, members of the University of Tulsa and Iowa State football teams met with St. Jude's pediatric cancer patients and staff members.
For Golden Hurricane offensive line coach Denver Johnson, the St. Jude event was personally significant. On April 1, 1996 - only a few weeks after Johnson had become the offensive line coach at Oklahoma - his daughter Kelsey, then 4 years old, was diagnosed as having leukemia.
"When I got the call," Johnson recalled, "I thought it was a bad April Fool's joke."
Kelsey was hospitalized at St. Jude for three months. Her treatment continued for 2 1/2 years.
"We thought we had lost her two or three times," Johnson said.
Today, Kelsey Johnson is a senior nursing student at Ole Miss. She aspires to become a nurse at St. Jude.
"I really believe that angels tread the earth. I believe that," Johnson said. "If in fact they do, they are required to do a tour of duty through St. Jude. The people there are unbelievable. The work and the research they do - the progress is just outstanding. Some forms of cancer are just simply classified as curable now because the success rate is so high."
Hurricane practice: The Tulsa-Iowa State Liberty Bowl is set for 2:30 p.m. Monday at the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.
During TU's Thursday practice at Memphis University School (a private academy comparable to Tulsa's Holland Hall and outfitted with an excellent stadium), the temperature was in the mid-30s.
"Very little wind, which makes it very manageable," Hurricane coach Bill Blankenship said. "It can be pretty cold if there's not a lot of wind. I thought it was a pretty pleasant day for this time of year."
Singleton update: When Iowa State defeated TU 38-23 in the Sept. 1 opener at Ames, Hurricane tailback Alex Singleton carried only three times and netted only 1 rushing yard. The 260-pound senior went on to set two program records - a single-season total of 21 rushing touchdowns and a career total of 41 TDs overall.
Before the 2012 season, Singleton had rushed for a career total of 701 yards. This season, he has run for 765 yards (4.1 per attempt). On about 60 percent of his carries, the result was a touchdown or a first down.
"It's a little contextual. A lot of times, we're giving him the ball on the 1-yard line," Blankenship said. "But it's still pretty amazing. He's been very productive for us. He's gotten so much better this year. He had always been a short-yardage back, but now he has become a real force. He's in much better condition and he's in a better place mentally in terms of what his role is."
TU coach Denver Johnson and his daughter Kelsey Johnson, a former patient at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, talk with patient Jackson Mock, 7, during a tour of the hospital on Thursday. TOM GILBERT/Tulsa World