The winds howl across the central plains of Kansas, playing tricks on all birds and balls in flight. If you can catch kicked football at Kansas State, you can catch a kick anywhere.
So it’s no surprise that one of the greatest kick returners in NFL history came off the Kansas State campus.
Darren Sproles returned 643 career kickoffs and punts for 11,313 yards and nine touchdowns. He ranks sixth in NFL history in returns and seventh in yardage.
Sproles went to three Pro Bowls and was named to the NFL’s 2010s all-decade team. He holds the Chargers’ franchise record for most kickoff return yardage and the Eagles’ franchise record for most punt returns for touchdowns. He also owns a Super Bowl ring and is a member of the Chargers’ 50th anniversary team.
But Sproles did more in the NFL than just return kicks. Despite standing only 5-6, he was an offensive dynamo, catching 553 passes for 4,840 yards and 32 touchdowns and rushing 732 times for 3,552 yards and 23 more scores. In 2011 he set the NFL record for all-purpose yards in a season with 2,692. He ranks sixth all-time in all-purpose yards with 19,696, sitting behind the likes of Hall of Famers Jerry Rice, Walter Payton and Emmitt Smith.
But greatness in the Kansas State return game isn’t limited to Sproles, who led the NFL in punt returns in 2014 with a 13.0-yard average. Veryl Switzer also led the NFL in punt returns with the Green Bay Backers in 1954 with a 12.8-yard average. Sproles and Switzer are among the nine former Wildcats who have returned kicks for touchdowns in the NFL.
Andre Coleman returned four kickoffs for touchdowns, tops among the K-State alums. Sproles returned two and Rock Cartwright, Yamon Figurs, Mack Herron, Tyler Lockett, Byron Pringle and Josh Scobey one apiece. Sproles returned seven punts for touchdowns with Coleman, Figurs, Lockett and Switzer scoring one apiece. Lockett is the only other Wildcat voted to a Pro Bowl for his return abilities.
So place Sproles as the return specialist on the all-time Kansas State NFL team. The Wildcats do not have a Hall of Famer yet but this team does include an NFL MVP – Larry Brown for the Washington Redskins in 1972.
Here is the all-time Kansas State NFL team:
QB—Steve Grogan, 16 seasons, 26,886 passing yards, 182 TDs
HB—Larry Brown, 1972 NFL MVP
FB—Don Calhoun, 9 seasons, 3,559 rushing yards, 23 touchdowns
WR—Jordy Nelson, Pro Bowl, 10 seasons, 613 receptions, 72 TDs
*-WR—Tyler Lockett, Pro Bowl, 4 seasons, 194 catches 45 TDs
TE—Paul Coffman, 3 Pro Bowls, 11 seasons, 339 catches, 42 TDs
T—Damion McIntosh, 10 seasons, 113 starts
T—Todd Weiner, 11 seasons, 116 starts
G—Ryan Lilja, 8 seasons, 104 starts, Super Bowl ring
G—Jeromey Clark, 8 seasons, 93 starts
*-C—Cody Whitehair, Pro Bowl, 6 seasons, 95 starts
DE—Darren Howard, 10 seasons, 67 sacks
DE—Ron Yankowski, 10 seasons, 31 ½ sacks
DT—Les Miller, 11 seasons, 20 sacks
DT—Mario Fatafehi, 4 seasons, 5 sacks
OLB—Ben Leber, 10 seasons, 500 tackles
MLB—Gary Spani, 9 seasons, 999 tackles
OLB—Mark Simoneau, 9 seasons, 435 tackles
CB—Terence Newman, 2 Pro Bowls, 15 seasons, 205 starts, 42 INTs
CB—Clarence Scott, Pro Bowl, 13 seasons, 166 starts, 39 INTs
S—Jon McGraw, 10 seasons, 10 interceptions
S—Jarrod Cooper, 7 seasons, 134 tackles
K—Martin Gramatica, Pro Bowl, 10 seasons, 155 FGs, 693 points
P—Scott Fulhage, 6 seasons, 399 punts, 41.4=yard average
KR—Darren Sproles, 3 Pro Bowls, 632 returns, 9 touchdowns
ST—Rock Cartwright, 10 seasons, returner/coverage