As K-State’s Big 12 title defense season draws closer and closer, one big question mark still remains: who will step in to replace star quarterback and Heisman Trophy finalist Collin Klein? Klein was instrumental to the team’s 11-1 regular season record during his senior campaign last year, and he left very big shoes to fill, both as a quarterback and as a team leader.
There are two candidates to start the season at quarterback: redshirt sophomore Daniel Sams and junior Jake Waters, a transfer from Iowa Western. Coach Bill Snyder gave no hints as to who was ahead in the race at last week’s Big 12 Media Days in Dallas, saying simply that he, like every other coach in the conference, would do his best to put “the best young guys on the field as number one.”
The job could be Sams’ to lose, since the Slidell, Louisiana product has two seasons in the system under his belt and backed Klein up last season. The 6-foot-2-inch 207-pounder electrified crowds late in several games last season, rushing three times for 61 yards, including a 46-yard touchdown, in his debut against Missouri State. After Klein suffered a concussion against Oklahoma State, Sams came in to complete five of six passes for 45 yards and carried seven times for 20 yards while hanging on for a win.
Waters, who was named the 2012 NJCAA Player of the Year after leading Iowa Western Community College to a 12-0 record and a national championship, holds the NJCAA record for completion percentage at 73.3 percent over two seasons. He threw 39 touchdown passes and just three interceptions for the Reivers, amassing more than 3,500 yards through the air. Though the 6-foot-1, 210-pounder from Council Bluffs, Iowa, has never played in as competitive a league as the Big 12, he’s a proven winner, with two high school state championships and a junior college national title under his belt.
Although the two quarterbacks are often perceived as opposites in playing style, with Waters as the gunslinging pocket passer and Sams as the elusive scrambler, junior wide receiver Tyler Lockett said they aren’t as different as they appear.
“I believe they’re more similar than they are different,” he said. “You look at D-Sams, a lot of people see him as a runner, because that’s what they saw him do last year. Same with Jake; a lot of people automatically say he can throw the ball, which he can, but nobody’s seen him run the ball yet. People haven’t seen those other sides.”
Lockett added that regardless of who ends up taking the snaps, the offense would play to his strengths, just as they did last season for Klein. Senior safety Ty Zimmerman echoed his teammate’s confidence in both potential quarterbacks.
“Sams did a great job stepping up against Oklahoma State last year when Collin went down, so we already know what he brings to the table. Jake’s a smart kid. He came in in January, and he’s already learned the offense, making checks, things like that,” Zimmerman said. “I have full confidence knowing that whoever’s under center this season is going to do a great job for us.”
Both quarterbacks impressed fans at the spring game in April. Sams started the game with the first team before switching with Waters in the second half. Sams racked up 391 yards, four touchdowns and a pick, completing 18 of his 28 attempts. Waters was 14-for-18 through the air, with 249 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Both also rushed for a touchdown.
Bill Snyder remains characteristically tight-lipped about who has the edge in the quarterback competition, but he echoed his players’ sentiments of confidence in both athletes.
“I’ve got a young guy down in College Station that came on the scene, and no one had a clue he was going to get himself on the field,” Snyder said at Big 12 Media Days, referring to Texas A&M; phenom Johnny Manziel. “He ended up winning himself a Heisman. You just never really know.”