10 Kansas State

Boasting the nation’s best back, the reigning Big 12 champs (take that, Sooners!) go for two in a row
August 15, 2004

On the day after his team’s 38–9 victory over Nebraska last November, Wildcats coach Bill Snyder viewed a tape of the game and was mesmerized by one four-second sequence. Over and over he watched something he had missed during the game: In the first quarter running back Darren Sproles took a pitchout at the Nebraska 22-yard line, and after breaking a tackle, the 5'7", 180-pound Sproles smacked into 6-foot, 220-pound linebacker T. J. Hollowell at the nine-yard line. Instead of dropping to the ground, however, Sproles dragged Hollowell into the end zone. “That was one of the most incredible runs I’ve ever seen,” says Snyder. “I can’t think of a better player I’ve ever had.... Yes, I think Darren Sproles is the best player I’ve ever had.”

A man who always chooses his words carefully, Snyder has coached his share of standout players over the last decade, including quarterbacks Chad May, Michael Bishop and Ell Roberson and wide receiver Quincy Morgan. But this is the first time in the coach’s 16-year tenure at Kansas State that he’s allowed the school to mount a Heisman Trophy campaign for one of his Wildcats. “Darren has such great character,” says Snyder. “He can handle everything.”

Last year, as a junior, Sproles led the nation in rushing (1,986) and all-purpose yards (2,735). The Wildcats need him to put up big numbers again because they lack experience at several skill positions. In particular, with the departure of three-year starter Roberson, the quarterback duties fall to an untested sophomore, Dylan Meier, who has a strong arm but threw only eight passes as a freshman and was mistake-prone in spring practice.

With its typically soft nonconference schedule, K-State should be able to overcome any early-season growing pains by Meier and get off to a 5–0 start before Oklahoma comes to Manhattan on Oct. 16. In last year’s Big 12 title game, Sproles ran for 235 yards, and the Wildcats shocked the Sooners 35–7. This year K-State is preparing to take Oklahoma’s best shot. “We know they’ll be mad,” says Sproles. “That’ll be a key game for both of us.” --L.A.

FAST FACTS

2003 RECORD 11–4 (6–2, 1st in Big 12 North)

FINAL AP RANK 14

RETURNING STARTERS 10

KEY RETURNEES (2003 stats)

RB Darren Sproles (Sr.)

Ran for 100 yards in a quarter four times

DT Jermaine Berry (Sr.)

Seven sacks and 11 quarterback hurries

T Jon Doty (Sr.)

Only Bill Snyder lineman to catch a pass

C Mike Johnson (Sr.)

Moves to center after starting at right guard

TE Brian Casey (Sr.)

Averaged 18.4 yards per reception

TELLING NUMBER

283.1

Yards per game allowed by the Wildcats, sixth best in the country. Last year was their seventh straight season in the top six in that stat.

BREAKOUT PLAYER

The only true freshman to play for the Wildcats last year, wideout Jermaine Moreira saw action in all 15 games, catching 17 passes for 277 yards and returning 17 punts and three kickoffs. With record-setting receiver James Terry gone, the speedy, elusive Moreira will be counted on to take some of the burden off tailback Darren Sproles.

SCHEDULE

Sept. 4 WESTERN KENTUCKY

        11 FRESNO STATE

        18 LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE

Oct. 2 at Texas A&M

        9 at Kansas

        16 OKLAHOMA

        23 NEBRASKA

        30 TEXAS TECH

Nov. 6 at Missouri

        13 at Colorado

        20 IOWA STATE

COLOR PHOTODARREN CARROLL A CUT ABOVE At 5'7" and 180 pounds, Sproles sliced his way through opponents for nearly 2,000 yards in ’03.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)