After most K-State games this season I have given you a key takeaway or my thoughts on what happened the day prior. This was a special season for the Wildcats and a lot of people need to be appreciated and thought of when you consider the 2022 Wildcats.
Fair warning, this might go long, but if you like the Cats, I think you will be cool with it.
THE NEBRASKA TRIO
Let’s kick this off with three guys on the roster who spent the better part of their college careers thinking that conference titles and bowl games were mythical creatures. Just a fantasy. And over the course of reading that fairy tale, the narrators tried to paint the picture that the reason why those things weren’t real were due to the players who busted their tails. Not the coach who eventually got fired or the negative fan base that resides a state north of the State of Champions.
Yes, I am talking about Nebraska transfers Adrian Martinez, Kade Warner and Will Honas. Martinez shouldered the blame for an entire staff and fan base in Lincoln and he had to put up with it well into his start at K-State. Think back to his appearance on the wonderful 3MAW podcast in May, where he was shredded by red-clad fans telling him he was wrong and the problem for the Huskers, after saying that this might be the most talented team he had ever played on.
— KC Sports Network (@KCSportsNetwork) May 28, 2022
He was right! This team he was on won ten games prior to playing in a bowl game, and delivered the Big 12 title to Manhattan. For Warner, he was told he contributed to the problem and couldn’t catch, yet he made big plays for the Wildcats this season. And Honas, who sat out injured this year, got to experience a winning culture and find a way to contribute.
Even as Martinez had to miss four of the games K-State played this season, and also leave early in two of them, he played a large role as a mentor to Will Howard, a great leader and winner of the coin toss in overtime.
SIXTH-YEAR SENIORS AND THOSE THAT STAYED FOR KLIEMAN
In 2018, Bill Snyder’s fantastic career came to a less-than-stellar end with a 5-7 season and confusing personnel decisions. There were players that had to make up their minds if they stayed and played for Chris Klieman or transferred out. Some left, but a lot stayed, and all the work they put in led them to this moment. A guy like Malik Knowles, who had ups and downs in his career until 2022, when Collin Klein became his offensive coordinator and got the play-making receiver the ball and led to an all-Big 12 selection.
Or there are the guys like Eli Huggins and more, that 2021 could have been their senior year and hang up the cleats. It would have left the Wildcats with holes on both sides of the ball and a blow to a roster that needed depth. But they made the decision to come back and play for K-State and Klieman, using their extra year of eligibility after COVID. Those guys were rewarded this weekend and should be remembered fondly when looking back at the 2022 Cats.
What came with the 2022 season was the assumption that he would redshirt and get the shot next season, but most people had their doubts. Six games into the season, Howard had not played and the Wildcats were 5-1, leading the Big 12. Then Martinez left the game against TCU early and Howard played like a guy that expected to see action. He shredded the TCU defense in the first meeting and when people asked “is this real?”, he responded with a resounding “yes!”
Then he lost his job again after Martinez returned and played well against Texas and started the game against Baylor. Again though, Martinez went down early with an injury and Howard was comfortable burning the redshirt to give it his all for Kansas State.
The junior from Pennsylvania made it all worth it, as he made big plays in the Big 12 Championship against TCU to avenge the loss in his first action of the season, as well as let everyone know that this is his team in 2023. College football would be an even better product if it had more Will Howards.
UNLIKELY HEROES AND BEING SELFLESS
I was at a loss for words when RJ Garcia, a freshman receiver with less than 10 catches in his career, rose up and hauled in a monster touchdown for K-State in the Big 12 Championship win versus TCU. Garcia’s role was magnified on Saturday after Malik Knowles had to miss the entire second half.
On the other side of the ball, former receiver Keenan Garber saw his first action at cornerback in a Big 12 Championship Game. Garber was a receiver from Lawrence who had not been able to find his way into the receiver rotation during his time in Manhattan. So he came to Chris Klieman and asked about a switch to the defensive side of the ball in November if it was good for the team.
The switch was made and up until Thursday, Garber was on the scout team defense for K-State. Klieman told him to be ready in case he needed to go for Jacob Parrish, instead, it turned out he had to go for one of the Wildcats’ best and most experienced corners in Ekow Boye-Doe. A perfect example of the selfless attitude that all players on this roster have.
Don’t forget Ty Zentner, the man who delivered the game-winning boot and stepped up whenever he was needed. Everyone knew how great of a punter he was, but after Chris Tennant struggled against TCU the first time, Zentner had to step in as placekicker. He went on to nail 9/9 field goal tries, finishing his perfect season with a kick that will not be forgotten at K-State.
THE BEST ROOMMATE DUO IN K-STATE HISTORY
One is an all-American, the other is the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, and both live under the same roof. Deuce Vaughn and Felix Anudike-Uzomah are roommates and also the leaders of their respective sides of the ball.
On Saturday, they confirmed why they received the accolades mentioned above. With K-State needing a big play to push the game to arm’s length, Vaughn ripped off a 44-yard touchdown run where he gave his patented ankle-breaking move to a TCU defender. Then his friend and roommate, Anudike-Uzomah sacked Max Duggan and made plays to stop TCU short of first downs or force them to fight for another play, all while likely getting held a time or two. The biggest was the Duggan run on 2nd and goal in overtime when Anudike-Uzomah came from behind to stop him short. It won K-State the game.
K-State is truly fortunate to have two players of their talent who also showcase the development that happens at K-State. Both were under-recruited and assumed to not have what it took to be high-level players, but both have proved the people who have said that to be wrong. In the case of Anudike-Uzomah, I hope he also proved the Buffalo Bills scout, who said he needed to “return to school,” before kickoff in the bowels of AT&T Stadium. It would be great if he did, but not required. The two roommates have made their impact on K-State football the same way Collin Klein and Arthur Brown did in 2012.
THE FARGO BOYS
Chris Klieman is likely just getting started with what he can achieve at K-State, but it is a pretty good start. He has now won 30 games in his first four seasons at K-State, to go with the first Big 12 title since 2012. With the reactions split when he was first hired, wondering if he could translate national titles at the FCS level to success at a program in the Big 12, he has made me believe that football is football and he can coach it.
Klieman never deviated from his philosophy and beliefs but did have to make tough decisions along the way. One of the main reasons the Wildcats are conference champions this season is that Klieman fired his friend, Courtney Messingham, as offensive coordinator after last season. He hired Collin Klein who dominated defense over the last half of the season.
Hats off to Gene Taylor, who has received his own criticisms while in Manhattan. He has handled it all with grace and the right approach to continue to better K-State Athletics. He had to navigate a transition from the only coach to win in Manhattan with Bill Snyder, to hiring Klieman when people told him it was wrong.
And just when everyone realizes he was right and the finishing touches were put on the hire he made four years ago, he didn’t even get to watch it in person! In the same metropolitan area as his team played for a conference title, he had to sit in a hotel conference room sweating it out with the College Football Playoff committee. Viewing the game on a TV. I have seen how invested Taylor is in the game-to-game success of K-State, it had to kill him inside. The man deserves credit for putting up with that today.
Both he and Klieman can also take a victory lap for the start of something special at K-State.