K-State has rich tradition in athletics, inspires fans

Russell Edem | Collegian Construction is still ongoing, but renovations on the west side of Bill Snyder Family Stadium have made significant progress since the spring semester ended.

Whether you’ve bled purple from the day you were born or you’re an out-of-state student who’s still a stranger to the Wildcat culture, it’s an exciting time to call the Little Apple home. K-State is coming off of one of the most successful athletic campaigns in the school’s history — defending Big 12 titles in football, baseball and men’s basketball. With football season just around the corner, there’s no better time to brush up on everything you need to know about K-State sports.

On select fall Saturdays, Manhattan undergoes a transformation unlike anything else in the world. Throngs of purple-clad fans pour in to Aggieville and the parking lots of Bill Snyder Family Stadium, creating a gameday atmosphere that’s indescribable. “The Bill,” as it is affectionately referred to by fans, is already a notoriously difficult venue for visiting teams; Pete Carroll, head coach of the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks and a 40-year coaching veteran in the NFL and NCAA, called it the toughest stadium he’d ever coached in after his USC Trojans fell to the Wildcats in 2002. That reputation could grow this year with the opening of the new West Stadium Center, a 250,000 square foot expansion that will add thousands of seats and create a much more impressive appearance.

The 2013 Wildcats have a tough act to follow after last year’s 11-1 regular season record, conference championship and a spot in the Fiesta Bowl. K-State lost many key contributors to graduation, including star quarterback and Heisman Trophy finalist Collin Klein. Although many new faces will have big shoes to fill, if anyone is up to the task, it’s head coach Bill Snyder. Snyder is widely considered to be the architect of the greatest rebuilding project in sports history, specifically for his work leading the K-State program out of the desert when he took over in 1989.

The year before Snyder was hired, “Sports Illustrated” ran an article called “Futility U” dubbing K-State “America’s most hapless team.” Just five short years later, after steadily improving on each previous season, Snyder led the Cats to the program’s second-ever bowl victory in the 1993 Copper Bowl. That was the start of a streak of 11 straight bowl appearances for K-State. The Wildcats were in contention for a national title berth late in the season twice under Snyder, in 1998 and 2012, finishing 11-2 both times.

Snyder retired in 2005 after back-to-back lackluster seasons, and Ron Prince was hired to take the reigns. His tenure did not go very well for K-State, who compiled a 12-13 record under Prince, and he was fired before the kickoff of his third season. Bill Snyder was coaxed out of retirement and has led the Cats to an improved record every season since.

Compared with the rich history of the football program, K-State basketball is often overlooked. Sure, a certain in-state rival to the east boasts three NCAA titles and a claim as one of the top teams in the nation, but Wildcat hoops deserves a lot of recognition as well.

The Cats have won 18 conference titles on the basketball court and appeared in the Final Four four times, including a 1951 title game loss to the Kentucky Wildcats under their legendary head coach Adolph Rupp. K-State has also reached the Elite Eight a dozen times and the Sweet 16 on 16 occasions, and finished in the final Top 25 Poll 15 times.

Twenty-two former K-State players went on to careers in the NBA or ABA, including forward Michael Beasley, who became the second overall pick in the NBA Draft after a single, dominant 2008 season in purple. Six-time NBA All-Star and former Rookie of the Year Mitch Richmond also played at K-State before becoming the fifth overall pick in the 1988 draft.

That number could grow in the near future, with Rodney McGruder and Jordan Henriquez, seniors last season, currently vying for roster spots with the Orlando Magic and Houston Rockets, respectively.

Bruce Weber enters his second season at the helm without McGruder, Henriquez, or Martavious Irving, seniors who were instrumental to last year’s success. The program also lost promising point guard Angel Rodriguez, who transferred to Miami to be closer to his family in Puerto Rico. With a talented field in the Big 12, defending the conference title could be a difficult task.

Last year’s run to the Corvallis Super Regional of the College World Series was undoubtedly the most successful in the program’s history. After a dramatic win over Oklahoma sealed the conference title, K-State hosted a regional round at Tointon Family Stadium. After defeating the field against Wichita State and Arkansas, the Wildcats fell to Oregon State in the final game of the three-game super-regional.

K-State will return most of the key players from last year’s run, including Big 12 Player of the Year Ross Kivett, who turned down a shot with his hometown Cleveland Indians to handle what he described as “unfinished business.” Under coach Brad Hill, who recently signed on for five more years with K-State, next year could be an exciting one for K-State baseball.

Your job

Fans, specifically those in the student section, have a great deal of responsibility in giving the Wildcats a home-field advantage. The crowd is among the biggest factors in creating a hostile environment for opposing teams, and the ICAT section is one of the best in the business. There is a slight learning curve for some of the coordinated cheers, especially the “Wabash Cannonball.”

Get this one down early, because it’s one of the most frequently used. The bulk of the song is spent rapidly moving one’s torso backward and forward in a sort of vertical sit-up, with a few sections of twisting and clapping thrown in. It’s a tough one to describe, so a quick YouTube search may be worthwhile. Aside from the Wabash, just try to not to point in the wrong direction when declaring a Wildcat “first down!” along with the rest of the crowd, and you’ll be all right

Most importantly, go nuts. Not everyone gets the chance to be a part of something as special as K-State athletics. Stock up on purple and be in the stands as often as you can. You’ll never regret the games you go to, but there’s a great chance you’ll regret the ones you missed.

Mike Stanton is a sophomore in journalism and mass communications. Please send comments to sports@kstatecollegian.com.