Ron Prince says he tries to be the same man every day. It is a trait that’s become embedded into his coaching philosophy from all the years he’s worked as an assistant.
Yet everything, it seems, continues to change around him.
Start with the players. Prince unexpectedly lost a couple of upperclassmen in training camp – first junior Alphonso Moran and then sophomore Derek Meyer, who decided to leave last week.
Before that it was his coaching staff, which underwent a bit of a makeover shortly after the 2006 season ended. His top defensive assistant, coordinator Raheem Morris, left to take a job in the National Football League after just one year in Manhattan.
Even the uniforms, which went untouched for 18 years, have a different look. The double stripes on each shoulder are gone, the word “K-State” has been added to the front and the jersey now has a tighter fit.
But through all the changes, there’s still been a mighty constant, one that gives Prince hope as his team takes the field for the season opener on Saturday against 18th-ranked Auburn: Josh Freeman.
The sophomore quarterback, Prince’s top recruit from a year ago, is the player who has been – fair or not – assigned the task of leading K-State back to prominence.
“He’s been very impressive,” said Prince, whose team is trying to build off last year’s 7-6 record. “The first thing that everyone concedes is that in big games he’s very poised. He has the ability both with his arms and legs to do well.”
Freeman’s freshman campaign began with promise. After taking over as the team’s starter following the fifth game, he led K-State to a pair of home wins against Oklahoma State and Texas. His performance against the Longhorns earned him Big 12 Player of the Week honors.
Still, despite all the highs, Freeman was hardly immune to the lows. He threw zero touchdowns and five interceptions in his final two games in 2006 – both losses – raising his season interception total to 15. This season, Freeman says, he needs to be more careful with the football and make better decisions. That’s not to say he won’t have opportunities to throw downfield, rather, he’ll have to be more calculated in deciding which risks are worth the reward.
“I’m not gonna lie – I like to throw deep, I like to take shots,” Freeman said. “But in the long run, it really comes down to completion percentage and keeping the chains moving. It’s something I worked on a lot this offseason.”
He also spent significant time working with his teammates, something he couldn’t do exclusively a year ago while backing up former quarterback Dylan Meier, who has since graduated. The result has been a better understanding of his teammates and a greater chemistry.
“It makes a big difference knowing who’s going to be throwing us the ball,” senior wide receiver Daniel Gonzalez said. “I think last year we came a long way from him just starting for us. This offseason we’re constantly, all of us together, working as a unit.”
It hasn’t all been positive. A summer training camp that many seniors called the toughest they’ve been through since arriving at K-State seemed to, at times, take its toll on Freeman.
He failed his pre-camp conditioning test, which kept him out of practice for two days before he finally passed. Two weeks later in an open practice on Aug. 18, Freeman didn’t complete a single pass in 11-on-11 drills.
But through it all, Prince said the whole offseason program – and everything he and the coaches put Freeman through – was worth it. He believes his quarterback will enter the 2007 season a better player.
“He’s come out of this very mentally strong and confident in what he can do,” Prince said.