K-State football roundtable: Most improved, valuable players

Junior quarterback Jesse Ertz looks for open players to make a play against Kansas during the Sunflower Showdown on Nov. 26, 2016. The Cats won 34-19. (File Photo by Evert Nelson | The Collegian)

The Kansas State football team played its final regular season game of the year Saturday, which K-State won 30-6 over TCU. In honor of the season’s end, the Collegian’s sports editor Scott Popp, editor-in-chief Tim Everson and writers Avery Osen and Brett Engle share their thoughts on this year’s MVP and most improved player of the team.

Who is your MVP?

Scott: It’s very difficult to choose one MVP because of the fact that football is such a team sport, but if I had to choose one player, it would be senior defensive end Jordan Willis. Willis just embodies this K-State team. He gives it all every single play and does the little things right and he does it consistently. Oh, and he was also downright dominate at times this season. He led the Big 12 in sacks with 11.5 (also tied for the most in K-State history in a single season) and could (should) win Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.

Tim: I’m going to have to cheat on this one. The offensive line has been dominant this season. K-State went from the run game being one of its weaknesses in the 2015 season to a clear strength this season. More so, the Wildcats are doing it with mostly underclassmen, starting two freshmen and two sophomores throughout the season.

Avery: My MVP has to go to junior quarterback Jesse Ertz because of the value he brings to this team. He had some incredible plays this season to keep the Wildcats in many games. I think of the fourth-and-2 play at Baylor, which really gave K-State the momentum to win that game. Without him, I think K-State is a .500 team, but the Wildcats have really exceeded expectations with him this year.

Brett: Ertz. Coming off an ACL injury, nobody was really sure how he was going to respond. As the year went on, his throwing improved, and he also proved to be one of the most athletic quarterbacks in the country with his running ability. The Wildcats would not be 8-4 without Ertz.

Who is your most improved player?

Scott: Senior wide receiver Deante Burton has quietly become a reliable, sure-handed, go-to receiver. Burton’s first three years on the field were plagued by drops, but this season has been quite a turnaround. His numbers won’t “wow” anyone, but Burton made a number of difficult catches this season and was a reliable target for Ertz when the Wildcats needed to move the chains.

Tim: Senior nickelback/cornerback Donnie Starks has emerged as a weapon on the defense in the final part of the season. After switching over to corner after an injury to sophomore defensive end Duke Shelley, Starks’ staked a major claim to start in the Texas Bowl later this month. Grabbing his first three interceptions of his career in the final three games of his career definitely helps move the needle but passed the flash, he’s been a solid defender and leader for this defense. When you came into the season names like Willis, senior linebacker Charmeachealle Moore and senior defensive back Dante Barnett were ones that were buzzed about. Starks has joined that list and it’s all because of the way he’s performed on the field this season.

Avery: I think the most improved player has to be freshman running back Alex Barnes. It’s proven by how much playing time head coach Bill Snyder gave him the past few weeks. The freshman keeps on impressing me and will be fun to watch in the future if he does keep improving. He has played ahead of more experienced upperclassmen, which gives me confidence he is the choice, especially next year. K-State has a rich history of running backs, and I think he could rank up with the best after his years here in Manhattan.

Brett: Barnes is definitely the most improved. He came in not expecting to get many carries, and he didn’t for a majority of the year. But when his number was called, he impressed. K-State fans have to be ecstatic to have Barnes in the backfield for another three years.

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