Whenever Chris Harper is in search of motivation he thinks back to the first football game Kansas State played last season.
That’s when the Wildcats needed a last-minute touchdown to defeat unheralded Eastern Kentucky at home. Coming into the game, K-State coach Bill Snyder complained about his team’s lack of effort in voluntary summer workouts. At that moment, no one was predicting them to win 10 games and play in the Cotton Bowl.
K-State is facing much higher expectations this season. Harper expects his teammates to embrace them.
“Nobody wants to look back and say, ‘What if?’ ” Harper, a senior wide receiver, said Wednesday at a Wichita Catbackers event at the Drury Plaza Hotel. “That’s kind of what happened last year with the first game of the season. People weren’t putting in the work they needed to in the summer. If we would have done that, how much better would we have been? Maybe we wouldn’t have had those three losses.
“Being so close to being one of the top teams in the nation has really pushed us. We have better participation overall and we have been much more active this summer. We have more confidence in our team.”
Snyder, who isn’t allowed to coach his players in the summer and relies on player feedback to gauge progress, enjoys those types of comments.
Earlier this week, word reached his office that the team had a poor workout. Though he has no complaints about players showing up for summer school and workouts as he did last offseason, he is still a perfectionist. He doesn’t want to hear anything negative.
“I was a little upset with them the other day, because of a workout that wasn’t quite as good as I would have liked it to have been, from what I was told. But that’s the first time it’s happened,” Snyder said. “We talk regularly about not taking anything for granted, certainly our own performance.
“I have great confidence in them, but dynamics change year in year out with who you have. We will be a different team. The expectations that are important are the internal expectations and what we expect out of ourselves and what your players expect out of themselves.”
So far, those seem to be the highest of all.
“There are a lot of people who expect a lot out of us, but I always say we expect even more out of ourselves,” said senior linebacker Arthur Brown. “There is always room to improve. We have to remember that.”
One area K-State will undoubtedly need to improve before the season begins in up front.
Expectations were certainly diminished last week when senior left tackle Manse Foketi, who had started 15 games and was expected to anchor K-State’s offensive line coming off an injury, said he would not return.
He is seeking a transfer, but Snyder will not grant him a release from his scholarship. When asked why he would not allow Foketi to finish out his college career elsewhere, Snyder had little to say.
“That’s just our policy,” Snyder said.
Still, K-State will need to find answers on the offensive line. Without Foketi, the Wildcats are down four players who started on the offensive line a year ago. They will have a young unit, but Snyder doesn’t necessarily think that will be a bad thing. A year ago, B.J. Finney started at center as a freshman and is now a team captain.
If more players step up, Snyder sees K-State’s offensive line pushing forward without Foketi.
“They’ve gone 16 months without him,” Snyder said. “That doesn’t mean he’s not a good player, he’s a very good player, but I think they will work extremely hard. They did during the spring and they have worked hard so far this summer. I would like to think they would continue to do that.”
Snyder, Harper and Brown heard plenty of encouragement from fans on Wednesday. Many told them they looked forward to watching K-State win a lot of games in the fall.
That’s something the Wildcats have been looking forward to for quite some time.
“We are putting more pressure on us than anyone else,” Harper said. “We want this season to be something really special.”
Weber meets Wichita fans — It didn’t take new K-State basketball coach Bruce Weber long to run into supportive fans. On his walk through the Drury Plaza Hotel lobby, one stopped him with a handshake.
“It is so great to have you here at K-State,” the fan said.
A few feet later, another fan stopped him with a few kind words.
“Can’t wait to see you take our basketball team to the next level,” the fan said.
All Weber could do was smile. Though he is more than halfway through his first summer Catbackers tour, this part of the job never gets old.
“It’s been unbelievable,” Weber said. “It’s been kind of surprising, to be honest. People keep telling me, ‘Thanks for coming to K-State.’ I just say, ‘Hey, thanks for having me.’ They have all been very warm with open arms. You can really see the passion of fans throughout the state.”
When Weber was hired, K-State fans had mixed emotions. Many were still upset about the hasty departure of Frank Martin to South Carolina. Some were hoping other candidates would get the job. At his introductory news conference, Weber had to ask fans to give him a chance.
But now that he has been on the job almost three months, and K-State’s roster has remained nearly intact, fans have begun looking forward to what the Wildcats will do under new leadership.
Weber knew that support would come with time, but he tried to speed things along by greeting fans across the Sunflower state.
“It is important to get your face out there and promote your program,” Weber said. “It has been good. People have gotten to know me a little more. You’re not going to win every fan over right away. You can only do that with winning. The main thing is to make sure you win over the players. That’s the important thing. If you do that and you create a program and a culture, then people will be excited.”
Tickets going fast — Kansas State has sold more than 3,500 season tickets and 1,000 student tickets for the upcoming football season than it did at his point last season.
Scott Garrett, the Wildcats’ assistant athletic director for ticketing and fan strategies, said that kind of ticket demand hasn’t been seen at K-State in more than a decade. Tickets remain available for every home game, but that may not be the case as the season draws near.
“We are at an unprecedented level,” Garrett said. “We are going to have some games sell out much earlier than we are used to.”