Kansas State seniors prepared for final home game
By ADAM SUDERMAN
MANHATTAN -- Bill Snyder had kept a close eye on what he had built at Kansas State, even when he stepped away for a brief retirement. When he returned, he knew exactly what he wanted in players.
Guys who fit the mold of his program since its foundation in the late 1980s -- hard-working, refusing to set limitations, willing to sacrifice for the greater good.
Those traits were personified in his first recruiting class, one that raised Kansas State back from mediocrity to the Fiesta Bowl last season. Many of those players will step on the field for their final home game when No. 22 Oklahoma visits on Saturday.
"They've been good young guys," Snyder said. "They made a wonderful contribution to the university, community and program. They're certainly guys that you miss, but by the same token, it's just a springboard into the rest of their lives and all the neat things they've got ahead."
Upon his second arrival into the program, Snyder referred to the program as being in a "state of flux." It needed continuity. The current senior class answered that call, taking the Wildcats to three straight bowl games with a four upcoming.
While they won't reach the 10-win plateau for a third straight season, they've managed to rebound from a 2-4 start to win four straight games, bringing Snyder some satisfaction.
"It starts with their values and principles and attitude toward how they prepare themselves," he said. "Their commitment to those things and the improvement that it would take to become a much better football team then they were. They invested in those things."
All that work during stifling summer months and cold winter days has left a profound impact on the seniors, many of whom began their careers as walk-ons or gray-shirts.
"They're the ones that turned this program back around," freshman fullback Glenn Gronkowski said. "Obviously when they got here, things weren't going too good. They helped turn this program back around and get it where it's going. They definitely mean a lot to us."
Ty Zimmerman perhaps best personifies the senior class.
He walked onto the program and paid his way through school his first semester as a freshman, but impressed Snyder enough that he quickly earned a spot in the starting lineup. He's now on the watch list for the Thorpe Award given to the nation's best defensive back.
Zimmerman, who hurt his right leg last Saturday against TCU, is questionable for Oklahoma, but he'll be among the seniors who get recognized prior to the opening kickoff.
He'll be joined by running back John Hubert, the school's fourth-leading rusher with more than 2,600 yards. Wide receivers Tramaine Thompson and Torell Miller, offensive linemen Cornelius Lucas, Tavon Rooks and Keenan Taylor, linebackers Tre Walker and Blake Slaughter, and defensive backs Kip Daily and Dorrian Roberts will also be among those playing their final home game.
Several of the underclassman pointed to those seniors as the reason that Kansas State managed to rebound from a disastrous start that included a stunning loss to North Dakota State. Their four straight wins have the Wildcats rolling into their game against the Sooners.
"We wanted to be another Big 12 championship team," senior punter Mark Krause said. "The thing you can count on with this group of guys that we've got graduating this year is never giving up. Leadership really stepped up whenever it had to."
After playing the Sooners, Kansas State finishes up with a game against rival Kansas, and then will await its bowl destination. It won't be the Fiesta Bowl, like last season, but it could be anywhere from the Holiday Bowl to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
"I really haven't tried to think about it," Krause said of his final stretch as a Wildcat. "I'm trying to take it one game at a time and I'm excited that it's ramping up as it is."