By Kellis Robinett
Jake Waters grew up in Council Bluffs, Iowa, a town filled with three types of college football fans. Many locals love the University of Nebraska, the closest and most historically successful program in the region. Another contingent backs Iowa State, the nearest in-state team. Iowa is awfully popular, too.
But there was only one choice in the Waters household.
"We are Iowa State fans," Waters' father, Rick, said. "I went to school there, a lot of my friends played there and a lot of Jake's friends play there now. We used to go to games there when Jake was young. He thought the stadium and the facilities were pretty neat. He really liked the university."
So much that Waters wanted to play for the Cyclones.
"I always wanted to play Division I football growing up and never knew where it would be," Waters said. "I always just thought my best shot would be at Iowa State."
The Cyclones, as it turned it out, never showed much interest in Waters. He ended up enrolling at Iowa Western Community College, where he caught the eye of Kansas State coaches. He is now K-State's quarterback, and, after a long journey, he is preparing to play his first major college game in his home state. He will live out a childhood dream on Saturday when he takes the field at Jack Trice Stadium.
He just won't be wearing the uniform he envisioned.
"It will be a special experience for me, having gone there as a kid and seeing all the games, never really knowing if I could one day play there," Waters said. "It is going to be a great experience and a great time."
This type of story happens every week in college football. This is normally the part where Waters shakes his head at the mention of Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads and vows to seek revenge against the in-state program that overlooked him. But that's not what this game is about for Waters.
"No one recruited me, so I guess I can say that to everyone," Waters said. "Nothing like that. I can't go out and try to prove them wrong, because there's nothing I can do about it. I have to prepare for this game like I do every other week and take it one play at a time."
Press him all you want, Waters insists he doesn't hold a grudge against Iowa State.
"Not at all," Waters said. "Looking back, I probably wasn't even that good coming out of high school. So I don't blame them. No hard feelings at all."
Added his father: "Revenge isn't part of the picture at all. He just wants to play a good game and help Kansas State win."
Helping matters is the fact that Michigan was always Waters' fantasy school. He was an Iowa State fan, sure, but his room was filled with Michigan posters. And he threw for 271 yards and three touchdowns in a 35-14 victory over the Wolverines in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl last year. That game validated his success more than a trip to Ames could.
Waters looks forward to this game, because of its location. There are only two Bowl Subdivision teams in his home state, so the opportunities to play against them are limited. Though his family makes it to nearly every K-State game, a huge crowd of supporters will be on hand for this one. Nearly 50 friends and family are expected to be in attendance. He will also be facing off against some longtime friends.
"Everyone here knows him," Iowa State linebacker Nigel Tribune said. "He is close friends with our running back Aaron Wimberly, and he is from Iowa. There are dudes in my classes that know him."
This is an opportunity Waters nearly gave up on. When he says no one recruited him, he means it. He didn't receive a walk-on offer from a four-year school. Waters spent his summers playing shortstop for a local baseball team and missed out on the recruiting camps that provide exposure for football prospects. If not for hometown Iowa Western taking a chance on him, he wouldn't be throwing passes today.
Junior college is where Waters blossomed as a quarterback, putting up gaudy statistics and leading his team to a championship. As his time there ended, his recruiting ballooned to unimaginable levels. K-State was one of the first power-conference teams to offer a scholarship. But Penn State and others did, too. Texas called him. So did Alabama, promising to offer him a scholarship if then quarterback A.J. McCarron decided to turn pro early. Waters still shakes his head in amazement at the difference two seasons in junior college made.
One school that didn't express heavy interest was Iowa State, though Rhoads did call.
"All in-state players are on our recruiting radar," Rhoads said. "He was on it going up through high school, and the fact that he stayed in-state at Iowa Western kept him there, as well. We didn't need a junior college quarterback, we felt, when he came out of Iowa Western, so we weren't recruiting one."
Rhoads likes his quarterback, Sam Richardson. But he thinks Waters is a good fit for K-State.