Jake Waters is firmly entrenched as the Wildcats' starting quarterback.
MANHATTAN, Kan. — His voice still carries the same monotone quality. The verbiage about "youngsters" and the need to constantly improve has never changed. Even the tennis shoes are the same as always.
As he approaches his 75th birthday this fall, Bill Snyder is preparing for another season at Kansas State. And like a rite of spring in the picturesque Flint Hills, Snyder will be leading the Wildcats onto the field Saturday for their annual spring game.
"I really do think about the fan base when I go on the field," Snyder said this week. "You think about the little children that line the walkway going out of the locker room and you see those youngsters and you see how emphatic they are and their appreciation for the players when they come out. To me, that has to be inspiring for a young guy.
"I think about those things," Snyder said, "but I also think about if we are ready to play."
Yes, Snyder may be a bit more reflective these days. He’s been at this since 1988, after all, when he took over one of the worst programs in college football history. But rejuvenated by that brief retirement a few years back, he seems as spry and driven as ever before.
So while he might soak in the atmosphere in the stadium that bears his name, he will also be looking closely at a number of players and position groups as the Wildcats wrap up spring ball.
Here are five things that Snyder will be looking for:
— Competition. Snyder had not decided early in the week the exact format for the spring game, but he was leaning toward the top offense and defense playing against the No. 2s. Regardless, he wants to see competition throughout the lineup as the Wildcats seek to build up some depth.
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"We have some solid guys coming in, playing, and we have a lot of young faces," offensive lineman B.J. Finney said. "So just putting them in a game-like scenario is going to show a lot, and how they work in kind of a light pressure situation."
— The Daniel Sams Project. After alternating at quarterback with Jake Waters last season, the versatile Sams asked to move to wide receiver, where he could get on the field more. If he is able to transition quickly to his new position, he would give Kansas State’s offense another wrinkle.
"He understood all the schemes, so he knew assignments for wide receivers," Snyder said. "What he did not understand was the execution and how to go about it. That is what he is learning right now, and it is a work in progress, but we’re giving him the opportunity."
— Backup quarterback. Now that Sams has changed positions, the battle is on between Joe Hubener and Jesse Ertz to be the backup to Waters, now firmly entrenched as the starter.
"They are both in the learning stages and have a ways to go," Snyder said.
— The next John Hubert. The longtime starting running back graduated, leaving a perilous lack of experience at the position. DeMarcus Robinson, a senior, has been limited by nagging injuries but remains the front-runner, while sophomores Jarvis Leverett Jr. and Charles Jones are angling for time. The wild card is Dalvin Warmack, a highly touted recruit who will arrive this summer.
"We have been moving people around a lot, especially on the offensive line and then receivers to see who can do what," Jones said. "We have a lot of new faces."
— Keeping the momentum. The Wildcats won six of their final seven games a year ago, the lone loss coming against Oklahoma, and routed Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. With most of their top players returning, they expect to contend in the Big 12 this season.
"We need to realize that nobody cares about what you did last year," defensive end Ryan Mueller said. "It’s all about now, playing the best you can now, and proving you can do it again."