K-State’s Daniel Sams is too good a talent to waste on the bench
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When they hand you the Super Soaker, you don’t pump once, admire the craftsmanship and then stick it back in the box. When given a shot to test-drive Uncle Morty’s refurbished ’64 Comet Caliente, you don’t spend your turn trying to parallel park the beast.
When Superman offers a lift, you don’t ask for a ride to the nearest Target. When Bruce Springsteen pulls you out of the audience and onto the front of the stage, you don’t just stand there like a dope.
And when Daniel Sams is at your beck and call, you don’t plant him on the sideline like a giant chrysanthemum.
Spring Football 2014 opens up Wednesday at Kansas State, with expectations (and hopes) trending up again after a 2013 campaign (8-5 overall, 5-4 Big 12) that ended with six wins in the last seven contests. A season of transition and early frustration was capped by a 31-14 rout of Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl — the Wildcats’ first postseason victory since 2002. And even with critical losses at both offensive tackle slots, linebacker and safety, the core returnees are pegged to finish among the Big 4 in the Big 12, and might even open the season in the lower reaches of the Top 25.
But there are questions, too. Starting with this fairly large one:
What the (expletive) do you do with Sams?
Here’s what we know: The 6-foot-2 junior-to-be opened the 2013 season as Quarterback 1-A and finished it as an afterthought, a footnote in cleats. In K-State’s final three contests, including the Dec. 28 bowl victory, Sams threw the ball all of once (an incompletion) while running it just nine times for a combined 23 yards. He reportedly left a 31-10 win at Kansas on Nov. 30 understandably distraught.
The Louisiana native was responsible for 15 scores last season (11 of them rushing), sixth-most in the Big 12. But turnovers and questionable decisions in losses to Oklahoma State and Baylor saw his already-scarce playing time dwindle, week by week, to a token series, if that. The Wildcats’ "throwing" quarterback, Jake Waters, found a connection with all-world receiver/returner Tyler Lockett, and the debate under center — in the minds of coaches and certainly among most K-State fans — was, by Thanksgiving, pretty much kaput.
But Sams is (and was) too good, too gifted an athlete to languish on the sideline as depth, too electric to be treated as a luxury. On eight different occasions last fall, the signal-caller rushed for 45 yards or more in a contest — including a 118-yard game at Oklahoma State, a 199-yard effort against Baylor and 109 against TCU. For the autumn, he logged 807 rushing yards and 5.3 yards per tote, but that wasn’t the impressive part. Oh, no.
The impressive part was that everybody saw him coming — and we mean everybody — and he usually succeeded anyway. When Sams was in, the call was generally a straight keeper, a handoff or a read option, with maybe the occasional option-jump-pass tossed in for fun.
Sams’ best weapons were his legs, to the point where it’s not hyperbole to say he might be one of the best two or three pure runners returning to the Big 12, regardless of position. Few Wildcats were more exciting to watch, one on one, in open space against an oncoming defender. His isn’t the kind of talent you save for a rainy day, or only as insurance in case Waters gets hurt.
So whether coach Bill Snyder and his staff didn’t trust Sams to run the entire offense or whether Sams didn’t trust himself is irrelevant now. The 2013 schedule was used to test an experimental platoon, and the experiment is over. The keys to the offense are Waters’ now, as they should be.
In the meantime, Sams needs to play. Somewhere.
Which is easier for us to write (or say) or tweak on your Playstation 3 than it is to pull off in real life, of course. Receiver has been floated as the most likely destination point, but even if Sams knows the playbook back to front, it’s a different perspective, a different skill set, a test of concentration and one’s threshold for violent contact on play after play. The wheels certainly apply. The hands, though, are more important, and with Sams, that remains a great unknown.
For his part, Sams has said he has played other positions as a teen and would be open for, well, just about anything. Big No. 4 had even asked to move to receiver as a freshman in order to get on the field while Collin Klein was entrenched under center. Snyder shot the request down.
"His emotions aren’t centered around what Jake does or doesn’t do," the coach told reporters during bowl prep in Arizona. "His emotions are centered on, ‘I just want to be out there.’ And that’s what you want out of the guys. You want them to want to be out there. He and I have had that discussion. And we’ve worked him at other spots as well, and will probably keep doing so."
The winter is about building and experimenting under the cover of darkness while basketball hogs the stage. Considering that Sams’ Twitter bio was recently changed to "Junior WR For Kansas State Univ.," maybe it’s safe to assume Snyder’s "work" is already underway.
Then again, maybe not.
"I don’t see any change," the coach told reporters three months ago. "Maybe some additional responsibilities, but not a wholesale position change."
And so it goes with the Jedi Master, who’ll let us in on a need-to-know basis. Which means never.
Ergo, the Sams mystery could stretch through the spring, the summer and well into preseason camp. It might very well turn into a game of "Where’s Daniel?" Quarterback? Tailback? Tight end? Receiver? Safety? All of the above?
Which is fine, really. Just as long as the answer isn’t standing on the sideline, holding a clipboard, a sports car gathering dust. Use him or lose him. Snyder is many things, but an April fool isn’t one of them.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter at @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.