On the day after his team‚Äôs 38‚Äì9 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. ‚ÄúThat was one of the most incredible runs I‚Äôve ever seen,‚Äù says Snyder. ‚ÄúI can‚Äôt think of a better player I‚Äôve ever had.... Yes, I think Darren Sproles is the best player I‚Äôve ever had.‚Äù
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‚Äôs 16-year tenure at Kansas State that he‚Äôs allowed the school to mount a Heisman Trophy campaign for one of his Wildcats. ‚ÄúDarren has such great character,‚Äù says Snyder. ‚ÄúHe can handle everything.‚Äù
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‚Äì0 start before Oklahoma comes to Manhattan on Oct. 16. In last year‚Äôs Big 12 title game, Sproles ran for 235 yards, and the Wildcats shocked the Sooners 35‚Äì7. This year K-State is preparing to take Oklahoma‚Äôs best shot. ‚ÄúWe know they‚Äôll be mad,‚Äù says Sproles. ‚ÄúThat‚Äôll be a key game for both of us.‚Äù --L.A.
2003 RECORD 11‚Äì4 (6‚Äì2, 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
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.
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.
Sept. 4 WESTERN KENTUCKY
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†11 FRESNO STATE
Oct. 2 at Texas A&M
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†9 at Kansas
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†30 TEXAS TECH
Nov. 6 at Missouri
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†13 at Colorado
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†20 IOWA STATE
A CUT ABOVE
At 5'7" and 180 pounds, Sproles sliced his way through opponents for nearly 2,000 yards in ‚Äô03.