By ARNE GREEN
Special to The Hays Daily News
MANHATTAN - Coming out of Lyndon High School, Nick Walsh was certain of one thing.
He wasn't ready for his football career to end.
"I knew I'd miss it if I didn't do it any more," said Walsh, a former all-state running back who five games into his redshirt freshman year is Kansas State's No. 1 punter. "I love contact and right when I got here I got the opportunity to be on scout kickoff and run down there and hit some people.
"At that time I was fourth-string punter so it wasn't too big a deal if I got hurt."
It was his love of contact that had Walsh considering a smaller school in order to play running back or linebacker.
But in the end the allure of big-time college football won out.
"When it came down to it, I decided on K-State because of the family atmosphere," Walsh said. "I wanted to be somewhere big that had a game-day feeling of running out on the field in front of 50,000 fans.
"It's not too often a kid from a 2A high school can run out in front of this many people and I just thought it would be an experience that I would never get another chance like it."
Walsh, who first tried punting as a high school junior, took to his specialty quickly. So much so that by his senior season he saw it as a ticket to Division I football.
"I'd been to a few kicking camps and my dad had helped me out a little bit and (so did) my high school coaches, but I didn't know too much," Walsh said. "And that was probably a good thing because I came into K-State like a sponge with an open mind and I didn't carry a lot of bad habits coming in."
Under the tutelage of special teams coordinator Sean Snyder, himself a former All-America punter for the Wildcats, Walsh improved rapidly. He got his chance in the second game of the season at Iowa State, taking over for starter Mitch Lochbihler, and has held the job since.
Through last week's victory over Texas Tech, Walsh ranks second in the Big 12 with a 43.7-yard average with three kicks of 50-plus yards and three more downed inside the opponent's 20-yard line.
"He can get the ball up in the air - that's a good thing," K-State head coach Bill Snyder said Walsh. "He hits them what his average is for the most part, in the 42-yard range and some a little higher.
"So I think it's just the consistency as much as anything. He doesn't hit too many bad balls, knock on wood."
Walsh said he continues to adjust to the major college level, at first battling nerves, then learning to shake off adversity.
"I'd say the Iowa State game I was a little nervous because I wasn't the starter and couldn't for sure say if I would play or not," he said. "So when (Sean Snyder) called me out there I was a little nervous, especially backed up in the end zone on that second punt.
"But now I'd say I just go out there and I've turned that nervousness into excitement and focus, and I just try to go out there and do the best I can."
A short punt in last Saturday's 45-13 victory over Texas Tech further tested his resolve.
"I'm kind of glad that happened because I jumped back and fired back with a 43-yarder that hung up and he had to fair catch it," Walsh said. "So I was happy to see that I could just relax under those kinds of situations and come back with a positive punt."
Walsh, who also was a standout in basketball during the winter at Lyndon, actually doubled up in the spring, playing both baseball and golf. He credits golf with teaching him to be calm under pressure.
But it wasn't until the summer before his senior high school season that it sunk in that he had a shot at the big time.
"That summer I worked on it a lot because I thought maybe this was something I wanted to do," he said. "I saw my numbers as far as hang time and distance goes and they were comparing pretty well to some of the other guys who were getting recruited to D-I colleges.
"Junior year I just got thrown into the starting role and I had to get better at it to help my team. And then I started loving it."
Bill Snyder celebrated his 75th birthday on Tuesday, much the same as he would any other milestone during his illustrious coaching career.
He kept sawing wood.
Even with his Kansas State Wildcats facing an open date Saturday and two weeks to get ready for No. 11 Oklahoma, there was no party, no time set aside for cake or balloons.
"I'll be right here, doing what we always do," Snyder said during his weekly press conference. "Evaluating film after our practice - practice tape and then Oklahoma tape.
"Same old (thing)."
At 75, Snyder is the oldest active coach in NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision, but has showed no signs of slowing down. The Wildcats are 4-1 overall, 2-0 in the Big 12, and after a particularly grizzly week for teams ranked ahead of them jumped six spots to No. 17 in the latest Associated Press poll.
"It's something I haven't really thought about but it's definitely special," K-State quarterback Jake Waters said of playing for Snyder, who twice has turned the Wildcats into national powers, the most recent coming off a three-year retirement in 2009. "It's his birthday today but you'd never know by the way he's going to act and the way he goes about things.
"It's just kind of special to be coached by a guy that's been through everything that you can think of and coached so many great players. For him to coach us and to give all his time to us is a unique, special place and feeling."
It was a good week to be a Sexton at Kansas State.
Senior wide receiver Curry Sexton and sophomore brother Collin both were recognized by the Wildcat coaching staff for their performance last Saturday in a 45-13 victory over Texas Tech.
Curry shared offensive player of the week honors with quarterback Jake Waters and fellow receiver Tyler Lockett, while Collin was co-special teams MVP along with Stanton Weber. The defensive nod went to defensive backs Morgan Burns and Travis Green.
Curry Sexton is in his second year as a starter, but tripled his career touchdown total with two against Tech, a 48-yard catch-and-run and an acrobatic one-handed 3-yard grab in the end zone. He had nine receptions for a career-high 128 yards.
Collin, who is listed as a wide receiver, has excelled on the kickoff coverage and return teams, plus is the holder on field goals and extra points. He ranks second on the team in special teams tackles and had one stop against the Red Raiders.
On offense, Waters threw for 290 yards and two touchdowns - two each to Sexton and Lockett - plus rushed for 105 yards and one score. Lockett had 12 catches for 125 yards.
Defensively, cornerback Burns and safety Green each had two of the Wildcats' four interceptions, and on special teams Weber had one tackle to bring his season total to three.