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KSU's Zimmerman not letting up

By ARNE GREEN

Special to The Hays Daily News

MANHATTAN -- The first time Collin Klein saw Ty Zimmerman across the line of scrimmage from him, he did a double-take.

Zimmerman, who that same day in the spring of 2010 had been part of Klein's quarterback group, suddenly was on defense and lined up at safety.

"I remember when he first came in and having the initial thought of, 'Man, he really has a good grasp for the game and a good sense of what's going on,' " Klein said of Zimmerman, now a third-year starter at free safety for Kansas State, ranked No. 2 in the BCS. "The first day they shifted him over to defense, he still had the green jersey. That's how quick the transition was."

At the time, Klein was a sophomore backup to Carson Coffman and Zimmerman a grayshirt freshman out of Junction City just trying to catch his coaches' attention. He did, but not in the way he had envisioned.

"The coach at the time (defensive backs assistant Keith Burns) came up to me and asked me to make the switch and I did," Zimmerman recalled. "I didn't know if it was permanent of not so I still had that green jersey on, which was kind of weird, seeing a quarterback running around out there trying to hit people."

Zimmerman, who strictly played quarterback while leading Junction City High School to a state championship his senior year, took to the defensive side quickly. By the second game of 2010 he was in the starting lineup and has been there ever since.

"It was my feeling that he had the skill to play that position and to play it very quickly," K-State coach Bill Snyder said of Zimmerman's switch. "There are a variety of positions that you would like to have quarterbacks and that happens to be one of them.

"What I appreciated about Ty so much was that he has a tremendous capacity to be able to have a global understanding of both defenses and offenses. Coming from the offensive side of the ball, you have a much better understanding of what offenses do and how they go about doing it."

Zimmerman, whose father Randall is the long-time Junction City coach, recorded 74 tackles with three interceptions in 2010, receiving freshman All-America honors from three different publications and a second-team all-Big 12 nod from the league's coaches. Last year he had 58 stops with two picks.

"He obviously has a very good mind for the game as far as what's going on around him and what he and his unit are trying to accomplish," Klein said. "He just plays extremely hard and makes plays.

"He makes a lot of plays all over the field and makes tackles for loss and still is able to cover and be back where he needs to."

This year Zimmerman is tied for second in the Big 12 with four interceptions and ranks fifth on his team with 37 tackles. He intercepted passes in each of the first four league games before being denied in last week's 55-24 victory over Texas Tech.

"I really didn't get much action, but we got the W and that's all that matters," he said after the Tech game, in which the Wildcats improved to 8-0 overall and 5-0 in the Big 12. "That's all I care about."

Zimmerman, who has started 33 straight games, said the biggest adjustment in going from offense to defense was the physical nature of his new position. Quarterbacks wear green jerseys in practice for a reason.

"As a quarterback, you don't really get hit that much," he said. "But I noticed that the first scrimmage I had, how many bruises and bangs you get.

"That first year I was kind of swimming, hitting those big running backs, but now I've gotten a lot more comfortable with it."

Even so, he continues to learn.

"You can't ever be satisfied as a player," Zimmerman said. "You can't ever let up.

"I know I've got tons of stuff to work on each and every week. I've just tried to make plays as they come and I've got a lot of great guys surrounding me."