15 May 2012
EERinsider.com continues it's series on meeting our new friends in the Big 12 Conference. Our next stop takes is to Manhattan, the home of the Kansas State Wildcats.
We recently had the opportunity to talk with Curtis Kitchens about the Cats. Curtis covers KSU and the Big 12 for 610 Sports (KCSP) in Kansas City. Here is our Q&A with Curtis Kitchens.
EER: First off, what kind of man is Bill Snyder, and what did his return do to the KSU program?
CK: One of a kind. A throwback coach and coaching visionary all in one. The way he approaches his role with regard to mentoring "young people" (as he calls his players) manages to become even more refreshing each year he tacks onto his career - especially when guys like Bobby Petrino and Nick Saban seem to demand most headlines. The evidence is pretty revealing in terms of what it looks like when guys listen and follow what Bill Snyder teaches and preaches. Those who do buy in generally find themselves in pretty darn good shape by the time they leave K-State, whether for the NFL or the rest of their lives.
Snyder's return breathed life back into what had become a joke of a program. K-State was barely hanging on to .500 or sub-.500 seasons, Ron Prince had proven ill-suited to run a football program that was set up for future national embarrassment through insane OOC games. He pulled a couple of nice recruits in, including Josh Freeman, but really had zero idea how to develop players once they arrived to Manhattan. Snyder, of course, is the exact opposite. That's not saying his staff can't recruit, but give that man 20 2 and 3 star-level players, and he might just give you a conference champion (see 2003). As far as names? How about Terence Newman, Ryan Lilja, Jeromey Clary, Yamon Figurs, Tre Walker (current starter), and Tyler Lockett (All-American kick returner as a true FR last year) just to name a few.
EER: KSU was picked to finish 8th last season in conference, ended up tied for 2nd, and went to the Cotton Bowl. What are some realisitc expectations for this years squad?
CK: The good news is I think most of K-State nation realizes that last year was amazing, but that it took some really, REALLY good fortune to make it happen. That level-headed approach has helped temper fanatical expectation for 2012, and nobody is talking winning the Big 12 outright or making a national title run. (Well, I say nobody. You know there are a few who always will.) That said, realistically, I think the goal is eight wins given a schedule that includes just one home game in a month in the middle of the season, and road games at Oklahoma, West Virginia, Iowa State and TCU.
The offense returns intact at the skill positions, though there is a little question along the offensive line. It has talent, but you never know if it will work out until you get on the field against other teams. Defensively, the linebacking unit has a chance to be special. Arthur Brown and Tre Walker will lead there, and if someone can step up to fill Emmanuel Lamur's underrated shoes, it could be really good. (Lamur, by the way, just earned a free-agent contract with the Cincinnati Bengals after a recent tryout.)
EER: We understand quarterback Colin Klein worked on his mechanics during the off season. Tell us about the quarterback?
On the field, Klein's mechanics work is a copy/paste conversation from the past couple of seasons. He has improved each year, and I think many people expect him to put up some big numbers after what he accomplished in 2011-12. The big question there is: Where will the numbers be? His rushing totals were off the charts last year (317 car, 1141 yds, 27 rush TD) because of a few things - 1) he was injured and wasn't able to throw as effectively as KSU would have liked; 2) he was a great runner, sure-handed and able to fight for extra yardage on a consistent basis; 3) On the intangibles front, the kid just got the job done, so the coaching staff grew comfortable with that and kept giving him the ball despite his sagging overall health.
All of that points to his make-up. The guy might go down as one of the toughest football players in the history of K-State. He was absolutely destroyed last year and never let up. His teammates fed off that, multiple times, and they would have been nowhere near 10 wins had Klein missed time. So, it goes without saying, yes, he's one of the captains again this year. One-of-a-kind, that kid.
EER: Tell us about tight end Travis Tannahill. He provides a nice target at 6 foot 3.
Speaking of a two-star recruit...you're right. He does. It's just a matter of whether KSU uses him or not. In recent years, the TE has seen a little more in the way of pass-catching opportunities within Snyder's offense. That hasn't always been the case, but that could be more an indictment on the players involved as opposed to a rigid scheme. If you have the talent to help out, Snyder usually finds a way to get the ball in your hands. It will be interesting to see how much Travis (and the TE position overall) is used considering KSU appears loaded at the WR position with Chris Harper, Tyler Lockett, Tramaine Thompson, Curry Sexton and incoming JUCO Marquez Clark, who put up Super Tecmo Bowl numbers last year.
EER: KSU needs to fill 3 holes on the offensive line. Is this a concern, or is the depth there to move forward?
Up front, remember the return of senior tackle Manase Foketi, who received a medical redshirt following a blown Achilles early last year. Also, if there was a lot of trepidation here, a sizable piece went away during the KSU spring game. A couple of redshirt freshmen really stood out. Both Boston Stiverson and Cody Whitehair appeared to have the "it" to their game where they should at the very least battle for starting spots come August and probably win them. The overall view is extremely bright on the line considering those two can go along with sophomore center BJ Finney, who stepped in last season and flat dominated. He was a true freshman last season, but I like to refer to him as an "old soul." In talking with him, it seemed like he had been a starting lineman at KSU for years.
So, it may take just a little time to settle in next season, but overall, the future is pretty darn bright for the O-Line.
EER: What kind of atmosphere is Manhattan, Kansas on a Saturday?
I'm sure you all would be willing to put Morgantown up against anybody, and I would do the same with Manhattan. The town is simply gorgeous on Saturdays when every light post has a flag, every business marquee has a message well-wishing the team, and the streets are packed with purple-wearing fans. The mood is always festive and energetic, and on great weather days, it's off the charts. Great games always help ratchet up that factor, of course. Last year, for example, when 6-1 Oklahoma came to town to face 7-0 K-State, the parking lots and streets to the stadium were jammed a good five hours before a 2:30 p.m. kick. Too bad the game was so one-sided...and not for the home team.
Wait until WVU makes a trip here. You'll see what I mean. The place is magical.
EER: Is there anything else you want Mountaineer Nation to know?
I'll just say thanks for the opportunity to share with you and your readers. And, if you/they like straight sports coverage and/or blogs, always feel free to drop by the blog and leave comments. We're all Big 12 fans (now...ha.), and I welcome the conversation! Thanks again, guys!
We appreciate Curtis taking the time to talk some football. Be sure to check Curtis out on the radio in Kansas City. You can follow him on twitter @curtiskitchen and you can check him out at www.curtiskichen.com.
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