Saying true freshmen rarely play a role during their first year in head coach Bill Snyder’s program is an understatement. So, when a true freshman accomplishes a first in Snyder’s career, it makes the feat even more impressive.
Freshman linebacker Elijah Lee has bragging rights to this claim as he became the first freshman to add two sacks in one game throughout Snyder’s 23-year career.
The Blue Springs, Missouri native is the first to accomplish the feat since Brandon Harold’s two-sack performance against Louisiana in 2008, which occurred under the Ron Prince tenure.
The only player under Snyder to accumulate two sacks in an entire freshman season was Laird Veatch in 1990.
“I feel like it’s a big accomplishment, but I have to give the credit to my coaches and teammates,” Lee said. “All summer and all camp, they kept telling me, ‘speed, speed, speed off the edge; just keep running and don’t try anything else.'”
The award-winning defensive lineman and linebacker out of the Kansas City metro area said Saturday’s transition wasn’t easy.
“(During the) first couple plays, my stomach was everywhere, up and down,” Lee said of his K-State debut. “On the first series on third down, I kind of got a feel for it. But on the second series when we went back out and I got him out of the pocket, it was much easier.”
Lee said he went through fall camp without knowledge of playing as a true freshman.
“At the beginning of the summer, I just came in and tried to get the flow of everything,” the pass-rushing linebacker said. “Then, toward the end of the summer, I started to compete because I know there is an opportunity for a redshirt. But if you are ready to play, they put you on the field.”
Junior defensive back Morgan Burns was also one of the key replacements in the K-State defense and the Wichita, Kansas native said he wasn’t too disappointed with his first-career start.
“As a defense, as a whole, I think we played well early on,” Burns said. “We had a few issues with the quarterback scramble and they had a few big plays. Me, personally, I had a deep ball thrown on me and missed a few tackles. Part of it was just first-game jitters and working them out. I have a lot to improve on and I always want to get better.”
Sophomore linebacker Will Davis, often labeled as a future starter through his first two years in the program, added two tackles and a fumble recovery in his starting debut.
“I think we did pretty well, obviously with room for improvement,” Davis said. “That is one of the things that we strive for every week, but we did give up some explosive plays in the scramble. We have to get better at that.”
K-State has been criticized for its inability to prevent the big play and the secondary’s awareness of its development. However, Davis isn’t buying into the criticism.
“I always have faith in our defensive backs – I think that they are the best defensive backs in the Big 12,” Davis said. “I am confident in their ability and I think that they are confident in their ability. It is just a matter of them going out and playing.”
In his season-opening press conference on Aug. 26, Snyder voiced his concern over the depth of his offensive line. However, his new starting right tackle mellowed those concerns with his performance.
“Well I think a number of the first-time starters really did very well, maybe even above and beyond expectations in that regard,” Snyder said. “There is no one that I can single out as much, but I thought Matt Kleinsorge, for instance, really stepped up. To my knowledge, after I viewed the tape and had discussions with coach (Charlie) Dickey, he had one bad play, but the rest of them he did quite well.”
It’ll be a quick turnaround for the Wildcat newcomers as they travel to Iowa State on Saturday. For players like redshirt sophomore running back Charles Jones, it’ll be his first road trip as a Wildcat, even though he has been in the program for three years.
Jack Trice Stadium offers plenty of similarities to Bill Snyder Family Stadium, but 55,000 cardinal red-clad fans will offer quite an adjustment for K-State’s newest players.
“(My teammates) said Iowa State’s fan base is kind of like ours, so it’s going to be a pretty crazy environment,” Lee said. “I’ll need to keep my head in the game.”