MANHATTAN (AP) — Nobody is too special to play special teams at Kansas State.
If quarterback Collin Klein covered punts better than anyone else, coach Bill Snyder mused this week, he would be on the punt coverage team. Snyder paused and tilted his head slightly, appearing to contemplate that idea and then allowing a subtle smile.
“That might be a stretch,” he admitted, “but you get the picture.”
The picture of No. 12 Kansas State’s 41-34 win last Saturday included the kick return team springing Tyler Lockett for a patient, zig-zagging 100-yard touchdown return, Raphael Guidry blocking two field goal attempts and the kick return coverage team limiting Texas Tech to an average starting field position of its own 21-yard line.
While the quarterback may not play on special teams, plenty of others do, including wide receivers Tramaine Thompson and Chris Harper, and defensive backs David Garrett and Tysyn Hartman. It’s risky to put key components of the offense and defense in that position, but Snyder understands the value of it.
And the players have bought into it as the Wildcats head into Saturday’s 11 a.m. game at rival Kansas, which will be televised on FSN.
“It’s a main part of the game,” defensive end Jordan Voelker said, “and putting your best athletes out there on that helps change the game a little bit because they are, they can be big game changers. They can change the game in an instant.”
Every day, practices begin with special teams work, and more of it takes place later on. After the Texas Tech game, that aspect was the first thing that Snyder addressed in the locker room.
“It’s a very valuable third of what goes on,” he said. “I’ve seen too many ball games won and lost with special teams.”
This focus on special teams is hardly a new concept.
Over the years, Snyder gained a reputation for having excellent special teams units. Kansas State’s 79 non-offensive touchdowns since 1999, the second-most in the nation behind Virginia Tech’s 82, illustrate how the extra attention pays off. The list of special teams standouts who have gone on to the NFL is just as lengthy — Darren Sproles, Martin Gramatica, Terence Newman, Andre Coleman, Aaron Lockett, David Allen and Jamie Rheem, among many others.
Sean Snyder fits into that category, too.
An All-American punter when he played for his dad in the early 1990s, Sean Snyder has been a member of the football staff for 17 years. But much of that time was spent in football operations, and later as associate head coach. This is his first season in full-time coaching, and he’s the guy who is most responsible for the special teams.
“Sean does a ton of stuff here around the complex,” said KSU tight end Travis Tannahill, who also plays on the field goal, kick return and punt team units. “He’s got more stuff to do than the president, it feels like. Being a special teams guy from when he used to punt here, he knows his stuff. It’s nice to have a coach who is 100 percent dedicated to special teams.”
Sean Snyder has observed and absorbed the way special teams have been coached for many years. Of course, he also went through that coaching firsthand.
Aaron Lockett, who ranks second in career punt return yardage at Kansas State and is the uncle of freshman Tyler Lockett, thinks that personal experience and long-time proximity to the program makes him well qualified for the job.
“He understands the importance of it, and I think that’s probably the first part of it, understanding how important it is,” Aaron Lockett said. “It’s more of a mental thing than a physical thing. I think 99 percent of the people on the field can play football. It’s a matter of understanding what you’re supposed to do, do you want to do it, and can you go out there and get it done?”
With all the special teams players the Wildcats have had earn All-American status, or graduate to the NFL, it’s natural to wonder how much of that is the system and how much of that should be attributed to some talented athletes.
“At the end of the day you’re really wondering if it’s the person or the system,” Aaron Lockett said, “and I think it’s a little bit of both. I think they have a system in place that’s very successful.”