Special teams: one of many blueprints for K-State’s success

Mason Swenson | The Collegian

It has been 14 years since David Allen stepped foot onto the turf of Bill Snyder Family Stadium as player, but his memories of playing at K-State have not diminished.

The Liberty, Missouri native’s name is etched in several special teams record books, including a notable entry as the first punt returner in NCAA history to return punts for touchdowns in three consecutive weeks.

However, Allen doesn’t sit alone. The depth, richness and prestige K-State holds in this area circles a list of names that runs through every season of head coach Bill Snyder’s tenure in Manhattan.

For the K-State overall punt-return yardage record holder, it’s what makes the memories extra special.

“I take great pride in it,” Allen said. “To be called one of the best at anything is an honor. For me, I’ve always said this and I’ll continue to say this whenever the question is asked, but the guys that were out there and blocked for me, I give them all the credit. My job was easy, catch the ball and run. Those were the guys who busted their butts and they enjoyed it. It was one of those things where they fought tooth and nail just like an offensive or defensive player to be out there and make something happen.”

Right behind No. 32 in the record books sits Aaron Lockett, brother of former K-State receiver Kevin Lockett and uncle to current receiver Tyler Lockett.

“Whether it’s a touchdown, long catch, or a big block, you want to get on the field and make a difference,” Lockett explained. “As a returner, you have to have the mindset that I’m going to make a difference and I’m going to make a difference. You get plenty of opportunities as a returner. As a receiver, hopefully your number is called and you’re able to make a difference. You’ve got to have it in you and you’ve got to have that will to go get it.”

Knowing head coach Bill Snyder’s emphasis on special teams provides an even greater joy for Lockett.

“It’s something I always hold close to my heart,” Lockett, who sits just ahead of his nephew in receiving yards in third place, said. “If you have an opportunity to go out there and be a part of special teams and make a difference, that’s something you should hold close to you, because he does choose 11 special players that can go out there and make it happen. A lot of tradition goes into it and a lot of pride. It’s something people want to be a part of.”

Jon Fabris, K-State’s special teams coach for the 1997 and 1998 seasons, said Snyder’s analysis and preparation for the game makes him one of the game’s greatest to walk the sidelines in college football.

“We’d go into games and we were so prepared,” Fabris said. “We were so prepared and everyone knew what they were doing and what they were in charge of. I always thought we felt like we had an advantage because of who our head coach is. I always thought we were in the game and he’s as good as there has ever been.”

History doesn’t end at K-State in terms of kickoff and punt return yards. In fact, former K-State kicker Martín Gramática still sits in the No. 1 spot for the NCAA’s longest field goal (65 yards) without a tee.

Similar to Lockett, playing for a coach and system that benefits the often thought of third component of a football game was intriguing for the former NFL kicker.

“To show the importance they put on special teams, they recruit a scholarship kicker and punter,” Gramatica said. “Some places they might say we’ll go on with a walk-on guy or try to recruit someone from their soccer team and that’s going to work. Coach Snyder with the help of (associate head coach and special teams coach) Sean Snyder, they played a huge role into what I was able to accomplish and to be able to play in the NFL.”

In Snyder’s mind, it doesn’t matter if it’s his son or any other of his assistants, special teams will always take value in preparing units all across the field.

“All of our coaches have a teaching responsibility in regard to special teams,” Snyder said. “First and foremost, I want everyone invested in it because I want everyone to realize the significance of it and the value of it. We probably spend a little bit more meeting time and a little bit more practice time than most on special teams, although I can’t speak for others. It’s not a totally fair statement, but my guess is we attempt to do that.”

For a majority of college and professional football teams, second-team or even third-team players make up the bulk of a kickoff, punt return or coverage unit.
Not for Snyder, however, as the 74-year-old is adamant in being prepared regardless if you’re a team captain or a three-year starter.

“If a guy is No. 1 at a position that’s somewhat compatible with the special teams unit, we want him on the field,” Snyder said. ” People say, ‘you don’t want to wear your guys out,’ and a lot of people don’t on special teams because your kickoff and kickoff return, your punt coverage, all that requires some significant running. You like to have quickness and speed on there and so does offense and defense. If you have your No. 1s available to play on special teams, you probably enhance your quickness and your speed.”