Last Sunday the initial BCS rankings were released and the Kansas State Wildcats found themselves in the top five just behind Alabama, Florida & Oregon. While it remains to be seen if the Wildcats can keep themselves up in such lofty company no one can argue that the job Bill Snyder and his staff have done in his second go-round in Manhattan is anything but phenomenal.
One can watch K-State and easily tell that that Snyder is able to maximize every ounce of talent from his players. What may be even more impressive though is where the Wildcats coaching staff is able to find their players.
The starting base defense is a perfect example of a unit where virtually every player did not take a direct route to Manhattan right out of high school.
Beginning upfront you have four seniors who all ended up in Manhattan following stops at junior colleges. The two ends, Meshak Williams and Adam Davis, both originally hail from the State of Georgia but found themselves at K-State after playing at Hutchinson CC.
In the case of Davis, the Wildcats stuck by their commitment to him as he was forced to sit out a season immediately following his time at Hutchinson as he had a back injury that required surgery and put his football career in jeopardy. They were rewarded for their patience as Davis started all 13 games last season for K-State and has started every game so far in 2012.
At one tackle position you have Vai Lutui who came to K-State after playing at Mt. San Antonio CC. He became a starter in his first season for the Wildcats in 2011 and played well enough that he was recognized as a preseason third team All-Big 12 selection by Phil Steele.
The opposite listed starting defensive tackle is John Sua who walked on at K-State following his two year stay at Allan Hancock College. He appeared in only four games last season and finished the year with a grand total of four tackles but he improved enough to earn himself a scholarship.
In the case of the starting linebackers you have perhaps two of the most interesting stories on the team but this unit also holds the one and only starting defensive player who immediately came to Kansas State straight out of high school.
That one starter is junior outside linebacker Tre Walker who came to Manhattan as a three star prospect after a stellar career at Olathe North High School. He immediately made an impact upon arriving as he appeared in all 13 games as a true freshman in 2010 with two starts. Last season he was a starter in every contest and can best be remembered for his game winning goal line stop against Miami that helped springboard the Wildcats season.
The opposite outside linebacker, senior Justin Tuggle, might be one of the most interesting stories in all of college football and a perfect example of how K-State utilizes talent for the overall good of the team. He began his college career as a quarterback at Boston College where at one point he started three games as a redshirt freshman for the Eagles. Following that season Tuggle transferred to Bilnn Community College in Texas where he immediately followed Cam Newton.
After his one season in Blinn he was recruited to K-State where many people expected Tuggle to come in and win the starting quarterback job over an unproven Collin Klein. Everyone now knows that Klein won the job and proceeded to have one of the best seasons in Kansas State history and ended any hope for Tuggle that he would start at QB. Thus he was moved to linebacker due to his size, 6'3"/ 237 lbs, and his speed so that he could have the opportunity to get serious playing time before his eligibility ran out. The move seems to have been a smooth one as he made one of the biggest plays so far of the season for the Wildcats when he sacked Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones and forced a fumble which was recovered for a touchdown by fellow linebacker Jarell Childs. Without going and researching it one could feel pretty confident in wagering that no other top team in the BCS features a starting linebacker who was the backup quarterback in 2011.
In the middle of the defense you will find the Wildcats one and only five star blue chip recruit coming out of high school in Arthur Brown. Naturally in true K-State fashion he had to start his career somewhere else though before finding his way back to the State of Kansas. Initially shunning K-State, Brown decided to attend Miami (FL) before transferring back home after two subpar years at the U.
After fans were subjected to a year of simply listening to stories of his dominance during practice they were not disappointed as Brown was named to the All-Big 12 First Team and also earned the Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year award. His strong play has continued in 2012 as he is a lock to be named a first team all conference performer while he is also under consideration for many national defensive awards and he figures to hear his name called in one of the early rounds of the 2013 NFL draft.
The back end of the Wildcats defense should not be ignored as their paths to Manhattan are just as interesting as the guys who make up the front seven.
The two senior starting cornerbacks, Allen Chapman and Nigel Malone, both come from the Bay Area by way of City College of San Francisco. Last season, Malone surprised everyone as he burst onto the scene with seven interceptions and was one of 15 semifinalists for the Jim Thorpe award. This from a player who was not recruited out of high school and chose the Wildcats over New Mexico and Kentucky after junior college.
Yet another senior is safety Jarard Milo who had one major college offer from Minnesota following his high school career at Olathe Northwest. He instead chose to go the junior college route before eventually walking on at Kansas State where he earned some time on special teams in 2011. Much like the case of John Sua, he has now earned himself a starting role and a scholarship.
The one player on the back end of the defense that is not a senior is Ty Zimmerman who is now in his third straight season of starting for K-State at free safety. As was the case with secondary teammates Malone and Mile, he was not highly recruited coming out of high school in Junction City, KS. He decided to take the grayshirt offer from Kansas State which required he delay his enrollment for a semester.
Obviously the K-State coaches had seen something they liked in Zimmerman but it is hard to believe that even Bill Snyder expected him to come out and become an immediate impact starter as a freshman. Proving not to be a fluke, Zimmerman came back last season and started every game for the Wildcats and he once again has made his presence known this year. He has made crucial interceptions in the Wildcats two conference road victories at Oklahoma and last week against Iowa State.
So if you are keeping track of things at home the starting defense consists of eight players who made their way to K-State from the junior college ranks and of the eleven players it features nine seniors and two juniors.
At most colleges you would expect a very young defense next season due to graduation but a person would be lying if they said they knew exactly who Snyder and his staff will find between now and the start of next year.