MANHATTAN There stood Tysyn Hartman at the center of a celebration. Teammates ran toward him from every direction, fans cheered his name with full force and coaches lined up to thump his helmet in approval.
The Kansas State junior safety had just intercepted his second pass of the game Saturday against Texas, and it was clear the Wildcats were on their way to a victory. Hartman had played a major role, and for the first time all season felt like a difference-maker.
"I think Tysyn got his mojo back," defensive end Antonio Felder said.
The Wildcats certainly hope so. Saturday felt like old times for Hartman, a former Kapaun Mount Carmel standout, and not a moment too soon.
Last season as a sophomore he was a threat to make interceptions in every game. He intercepted a team-high five passes, racked up 54 tackles and was considered the leader of K-State's defense. He played so well that K-State placed his picture on billboards opposite star running back Daniel Thomas leading up to this season.
But he has mostly struggled this season. Coming into the Texas game he had zero interceptions on the year and was often benched in favor of freshman Ty Zimmerman and Emmanuel Lamur. After leading the team with 12 tackles against Oklahoma State and his breakthrough night against Texas, though, Hartman is optimistic about the rest of the season.
He has to be, right?
"Oh yeah," Hartman said. "Especially after this drought I've been in. Not having (an interception) since last year. I feel good."
That hasn't always been the case. Taking a lesser role on the field has not been easy on Hartman. During the Wildcats' first few games, he was routinely beaten by wide receivers in coverage and gave up big plays. He frequently over-pursued running backs and took bad angles when coming to the line of scrimmage to make tackles.
For those reasons, K-State coach Bill Snyder has said that Zimmerman passed Hartman as the most consistent safety on the team.
What exactly was the problem? Snyder thinks it was mental. Snyder said he had to remind Hartman that he was relying too much on past experiences to fuel his play.
"Experience should never stop you from continuing to improve your performance," Snyder said. He's conscious of that. He has a good knack for being able to anticipate things. Sometimes anticipation can get you into serious trouble, particularly on the defensive side of the ball."
Following a difficult few weeks, Hartman appears to have learned that lesson.
"He's improved immensely in that area," Snyder said, "and he's making far better decisions."
So does that mean the slump is over?
"I hope so," Hartman said. "I definitely don't want to go back into it. That's for sure."
His teammates are confident that he's not only back, but ready to play better than before.
Even though he hasn't caused as many turnovers as he did last season, they say he has taken on added responsibility behind the scenes. When he was benched earlier this year, he helped Zimmerman develop his game and welcomed the opportunity to participate on special teams.
They appreciated that work ethic, and were as thrilled to see him succeed against Texas as he was.
"Tysyn is a guy that we look up to," senior defensive end Josh Berard said. "For him to not only lead us out there, but to have a game like that, it's a big deal. It makes you realize he's not just a great leader by words, but he does exactly what he says."