Most teams define their identity by what side of the ball they excel at. If you’re an Oregon fan, you pride yourself on your offense. If you root for TCU, even with their shiny new offense, defense is where you hang your hat.
Wildcat fans, however, can take pride in both of those things. Over the past 20-plus years, K-State has had offensive units that were some of the best in country and defenses that held serve in the Big 12 for many seasons.
Neither side of the ball, however, truly encompasses head coach Bill Snyder’s K-State team quite like the third phase of football: special teams.
“I think it’s valuable for everyone we have, rather they be a young person or otherwise,” Snyder said. “We promote special teams heavily, probably more so than anyone and it’s paid off for us. What’s important about special teams is getting guys that will commit themselves to it.”
Often overlooked and unappreciated, special teams really only makes the ESPN top-10 plays Sunday morning if a return gets taken to the house or field goal that are hit or missed when the game is on the line.
For Wildcat players, however, special teams isn’t about the highlights.
“It’s big,” senior safety Dante Barnett said. “In the history of Kansas State, we’ve seen that our special teams has changed the course of the game many times. So us going out there and having a lot of players who take pride in special teams is big, because we know how important special teams has been for us in the past. At Kansas State, you have to work to get onto special teams, we just don’t put anyone on special teams, you have to work for it. Especially, not being a starter, that something you want to work for, you don’t want to just sit on the sidelines.”
While Barnett is racking up preseason honors for his duties as a safety. It was special teams where he and so many other great K-State players got their start. Players including fellow senior and member of the Wildcat secondary, cornerback and returner Morgan Burns.
“I love special teams,” Burns said. “That’s where I started when I got here. Being on punt return and blocking for guys like Tremaine Thompson and Tyler Lockett, I think I realized how much impact special teams could have in a game. A lot of teams don’t take pride in special teams and a lot of guys don’t want to be on special teams, but I enjoy it.”
K-State has scored a nation leading 96 non-offensive touchdowns since 1999. It’s not just that K-State has turned specials teams into an identity, they’ve turned it into points which translates, as we all know, to wins.
The pride in special team at K-State is unusual, at least compared to what the perception of college football is. You don’t see many kids who want to grow up to be a punt blocker in the NFL. But Snyder’s system uses the special teams not only as a tool to win games, but a development tool for players.
“He also wants guys he can trust out there,” Stanton Weber, senior wide receiver and special teams captain, said. “He wants guys who do their job. What’s great about special teams is that if you study film and work your butt off and you’re an effort guy, they’ll put you out there and give you a chance. If you get to a point where they can trust you, they’re going to give you a lot of chances; they’re going to want you in all of their units.”
Snyder is able to get freshmen excited for playing special teams for obvious reason but for his upperclassmen, Snyder contends that playing special teams is key for their future.
“You know it’s easier sometimes for younger guys because they say ‘That’s my chance to get on the field,'” Snyder said. “When you come in, you want to do it because it’s your chance to get on the field and at the very end you want to get on it, because that’s kind of a inroad to the NFL because whether your offense (or) defense, when you get to the NFL, if you’ve got special teams you’ve got a better chance. That’s the way it is.”
One would believe that as long as Snyder or his ilk roam the sidelines, special teams will continue to be named as a priority for K-State. A priority that, up to this point, has made the Wildcats special.