MANHATTAN — Walt Alexander read Bill Snyder’s comments about Mike McCoy and laughed.
Alexander obviously is a huge fan of McCoy, the former All-City and All-Class 6A running back who starred for him in 2014 and 2015. But the veteran Topeka High coach understood perfectly where Snyder was coming from Tuesday when he described Kansas State’s redshirt sophomore as “a very talented player, a very physical player, a very undisciplined player.”
“Coach Snyder’s comments were the exact same thing I would have said about him when he was here,” Alexander said.
Don’t misunderstand. McCoy isn’t a problem. He actually is a pleasure — always smiling, always courteous, always personable. “He’s a good person and you can see it in his eyes when he smiles,” Alexander says. “Everybody loves Mike.”
The issue here is simple: McCoy isn’t much of a detail guy — and if we’ve learned anything about Snyder during the past three decades, it’s that the Hall of Fame coach is nothing if not a stickler for details.
McCoy is wired differently. He’s the type of player who would come to weights at Topeka High and sing while he was squatting; the type who would get in trouble for removing his helmet but immediately flash that ever-present smile and respond, “C’mon, Coach.”
Punctual? Perfectionist? Those might be words you’d use to describe Snyder, but they aren’t the first words most would use to describe McCoy.
Alexander said he wouldn’t’ be surprised if McCoy had been late to a K-State study hall. Or reprimanded for cutting up and being goofy when it was time to get serious. Or caught using his cellphone when he should have been listening.
Or all of the above.
“It’s all those little things, those attention-to-detail things that I know with Coach Snyder it drives him crazy,” Alexander said. “That is exactly what Mike has always been like. It’s a free-floating, fun kind of undisciplined. It’s not disrespectful at all, but it’s just the way he is with his whole demeanor.”
It also is something McCoy and his Wildcat brothers are working to address, largely because they want the Topekan to make a significant jump this season in terms of playing time and production.
Snyder appears to be expecting the same. While the venerable coach was quick to note that “two out of three doesn’t work,” he concluded his McCoy remarks with this: “When he gets the third order of business in place, then he’ll be a very fine player.”
Did you notice the word “when” and not “if?” Alexander certainly did.
“Obviously, to make it this far and be getting the recognition and getting on the field a tiny bit last year, he must be improving,” the Trojans coach said. “He has to be.”
McCoy continues to improve — and impress — on the field, too. But then, that never really was the issue.
K-State sophomore quarterback Skylar Thompson will never forget the moment he first met McCoy, a 6-foot-2, 228-pounder who would fit in nicely with any All-Airport Team.
“He introduced himself to me and I was like, ‘What position do you play? You play linebacker?’” Thompson remembered. “And he was, ‘No, I play running back.’ I was like, ‘Whoa!’ ”
Ask McCoy’s teammates to describe him, and you’ll hear words like “monster” and “beast” immediately roll off their tongues. You’ll hear them rave about his toughness and strength, praise him for how hard he runs.
McCoy has only 10 official carries and 55 total yards to his credit during his brief K-State career, but most Wildcat fans are quite familiar with his punishing rushing style. He made an indelible impression on Sept. 9, 2017, when he literally ran over a Charlotte defender en route to the first touchdown of his career, a 15-yard bolt that put an exclamation point on K-State’s 55-7 win.
“He’s just a monster, just a physical freak,” fellow K-State running back Alex Barnes said. “Height, weight, speed guy. He has all the tools so it’s just about getting it all to come together.”
Those tools are what carried McCoy to K-State in the first place. During his senior season at High, McCoy ran for 1,496 yards and 24 touchdowns, earning All-City Offensive Player of the Year honors while helping the Trojans go 8-2 and reach the 6A playoffs.
But according to Alexander, not even those impressive numbers and accolades do his former back justice.
“In my opinion he’s the most underrated back that’s come out of Kansas in a long time,” Alexander said. “He has more speed than people realize, and he has tremendous hands. He’s got great hands. They could throw the ball to him; he could play tight end.
“He’s going to be special.”
Perhaps even as early as this season. Despite the discipline issues Snyder cited, McCoy appears to be making a serious push for extended playing time.
While Barnes is the Wildcats’ presumed No. 1 back after rushing for a team-high 819 yards a year ago, McCoy and seniors Dalvin Warmack and Justin Silmon give first-year offensive coordinator Andre Coleman and first-year running backs coach Eric Hickson an abundance of riches with which to work.
Warmack is a shifty runner who gained a career-high 96 yards last year against West Virginia, and Silmon is another physical back who has a pair of 100-yard rushing performances on his K-State resume.
“We’ve seen all of them do some very, very fine things,” Snyder said.
Despite the glut of talent, Thompson and junior Alex Delton — the two QBs locked in a tight battle for K-State’s starting job — both believe McCoy will see considerably more action this season.
“Mike’s a gifted football player,” Thompson said. “The sky’s the limit for him and it’s up to him how good he wants to be.”
Added Delton: “I feel like we’re definitely going to need him this upcoming season. I feel like we’ll use him. He’s still a young guy. He still has some things he has to work out, but I’ve been very pleased with Mike’s progress and I think that our team will benefit from Mike this fall.”
• • •
There’s that word again, though. With McCoy, the conversation almost always comes back to those “things” — those little things that are so big to Snyder and his staff.
K-State’s Dalton Risner, an All-Big 12 senior tackle who has started for Snyder since coming to Manhattan, knows as well as anyone how important those “things” are in the Wildcat program.
“At some universities these coaches are all about practice,” Risner said. “That’s fine. But not here at Kansas State, man. With Coach Snyder, to be a starter and to be somebody that he’s going to let be on the field, you’ve got to be good in the weight room, you’ve got to be good in the conditioning, you’ve got to be good in school and then you’ve got to be good on the practice field.
“If you don’t have all those components, Coach Snyder’s not going to let you play.”
Risner added that it often takes time for younger players like McCoy and redshirt freshman receiver Chabastin Taylor — two guys he views in a similar vein because they have exceptional skills — to learn how to deal with praise and consistently play with energy and focus.
“If we keep those guys with their heads on straight, they have talent that a lot of guys would kill for,” Risner said. “And they work hard, too. I’m not saying that, but (it’s) making sure that they are good in the weight room and all the things that (are) a part of this that aren’t just football.”
Risner and others are committed to that task. K-State recently named 15 player representatives, players who are expected to promote principles that have become a bedrock of the program — principles such as unselfishness, team concepts, unity, strong work habits and commitment to Snyder’s 16 goals for success.
Risner, Barnes, Delton and Thompson all were voted player reps by their peers, and each one said he is personally invested in helping McCoy develop the discipline Snyder demands. Barnes said he considers McCoy one of his “closest friends” and has had lengthy conversations with him in a mentorship capacity. Thompson has offered encouragement, Risner accountability. Delton said he’s witnessed growth.
“He has some things he has to clean up, but I think that’s life,” Delton said. “As of now he’s going in the right direction and I’m confident that he will be ready come the fall.”
McCoy’s former coach shares that confidence.
“He’s going to get there,” Alexander said. “I think the longer he’s around good people and the longer he’s around Coach Snyder, he’s going to keep improving and he’ll figure it out. I’m sure he wouldn’t still be there if he hasn’t figured it out some.”