Jake Waters and Daniel Sams competed throughout spring for the starting quarterback job at Kansas State. They kept competing during the summer, too, and right into fall.
They’ll still be competing even after the Wildcats open their season Friday night against North Dakota State, even though it will be Waters taking the first snaps of the game.
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The transfer from Iowa Western Community College beat out the backup to Heisman Trophy finalist Collin Klein in a race that was decided only in the last few days, and one that Kansas State coach Bill Snyder seemed to indicate could carry on for several more weeks.
”The competition was productive and I think it was extremely competitive during that period of time,” Snyder said. ”Consistency was a big part of it and many other things.”
Snyder revealed his starter on the Big 12 coaches’ teleconference Monday. It was expected that Waters would speak to the media for the first time since earning the nod on Tuesday, but he was not made available to reporters during the Wildcats’ only weekly availability.
Waters said during availability at the start of fall camp earlier this month that he was looking forward to competing with Sams, and that he wasn’t trying to fill the shoes of Klein, who led the Wildcats to an 11-2 record, Big 12 title and Fiesta Bowl berth last season.
”I mean, I guess I have higher expectations of myself than anybody on the outside ever will have,” Waters said, ”but I can’t think of it as replacing Collin. He was a one-of-a-kind quarterback. Nobody is going to come in and do what he did. I just have to use the guys who are back to help me, use that line and the receivers to make me look better.”
The fact that a junior college transfer is stepping into the leading role for what has become one of the premier programs in the Big 12 shouldn’t come as a surprise – Snyder has relied heavily on transfers for years – but it is something of a rarity.
Waters will be the first to step under center for an opener since Michael Bishop, another Heisman Trophy finalist, took snaps against Northern Illinois in 1997.
”Having had the opportunity to have been here for a full semester and during the summer, he’s well ahead of where Michael was when it came from a global understanding of our offense,” Snyder said, adding that he’s handled all the expectations that come with the job well.
”He’s trying to develop the global picture of our offense and how to understand defenses, which he has made extremely fine progress,” Snyder said. ”To do that and still become a demanding leader is a little bit more difficult for him just because it’s the first time around for him. But I think he’s got everything in order for the most part. Now he’s stepping up a little bit more in terms of him trying to put himself out there with his teammates.”
Waters doesn’t get a cupcake to open his career, even though North Dakota State plays in the Football Championship Subdivision. The two-time national champs return nine starters on defense.
Still, Waters has proven that he’s capable of leading a team. He completed more than 73 percent of his throws for more than 3,500 yards with a staggering 39 touchdowns and just three interceptions last season, making him one of the most coveted JUCO recruits in the nation.
He’ll have plenty of help surrounding him, too. The Wildcats return nine starters, including running back John Hubert, wide receivers Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson, and Rimington, Lombardi and Outland award candidate B.J. Finney at center.
Finney said all that support, along with Waters’ early arrival on campus, gave him a head start in learning Snyder’s complex offense and earning the starting job.
”It helped Jake tremendously to get to know the system and to be able to know the play calls,” he said. ”Just to know what was expected of him early on instead of coming in over the summer, or even right at the beginning of camp like some guys do. Obviously he would have been way behind the eight ball if he had come in at the start of camp.”