As the Big 12 Conference ramps up its 25th football season, it’s a good time to look back through the league’s illustrious history and identify the best football players ever to suit up.
It was a daunting task to rank players from 14 schools over 24 seasons. Some schools, of course, didn’t participate in all 24 years.
Rather than select an all-time All-Big 12 team — we’ll endeavor to pull that off after the 25th season has concluded — publishers from SI affiliates who currently cover the Big 12 were asked to vote on their top 25 players.
Players were judged on both their college careers and their professional football exploits. National awards, championships and individual achievement were all considered.
In all, nearly 50 players received votes. Only 10 players were unanimous selections.
With that, the countdown continues with No. 10 — our second player from Kansas State:
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Did any player electrify the Big 12 Conference more than Kansas State’s Darren Sproles?
Sproles was the quintessential undersized, undervalued, underrecruited high school scatback. At just 5-foot-6 when he racked up huge numbers for Olathe North High School in Kansas, who could blame college coaches for not valuing the size of Sproles’ heart as well as his football skills?
Sproles signed with Kansas State and became the Wildcats’ starter in his sophomore season, when he rushed for 1,465 yards. As a junior in 2003, Sproles led the nation with 1,985 yards, and during his senior season, Sproles ran for another 1,318 yards.
As a senior, he became K-State’s first offensive player to earn All-America honors, capped off by a performance for the ages: 235 yards rushing, 88 yards receiving and a touchdown in K-State’s shocking 35-7 blowout over the No. 1-ranked Sooners in the Big 12 Championship Game.
In his K-State career, Sproles gained nearly 5,600 yards from scrimmage, scored 48 total touchdowns, and finished his career ranked 11th in NCAA history in rushing yards, and sixth all-time in all-purpose yards.
High school to college is one thing. Surely, someone so diminutive wouldn’t make it in the NFL, right?
Sproles did — reached unparalleled success. Now 37, Sproles played his 15th and final NFL season in 2019, (six with San Diego, three with New Orleans, six with Philadelphia).
Sproles rushed 732 times for 3,552 yards and 23 touchdowns, caught 553 passes for 4,840 yards and 32 TDs, returned 311 punts for 2,961 yards and seven scores, and returned 332 kickoffs for 8,352 yards and two TDs — that’s 19,696 all-purpose yards and 64 touchdowns. His all-purpose total ranks fifth in NFL history and is easily No. 1 among active players.
In his NFL career, Sproles earned nearly $45 million.Tomorrow
- No. 8: Derrick Johnson
- No. 9: Dat Nguyen
- No. 10: Roy Williams
- No. 11: Kyler Murray
- No. 12: Grant Wistrom
- No. 13: Von Miller
- No. 14 (tie): Justin Blackmon, Tommie Harris
- No. 16: Terence Newman
- No. 17: Jeremy Maclin
- No. 18-21 (tie): Sam Bradford, Ryan Broyles, CeeDee Lamb, DeMarco Murray
- No. 22-23 (tie): Rashaun Woods, Earl Thomas
- No. 24: Tavon Austin
- No. 25 (tie): Robert Griffin III, Patrick Mahomes & Jason White
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