MANHATTAN — Kansas State football coach Bill Snyder doesn’t normally talk about injuries, but in this case he is making an exception. There is something he wants to clear up about Tyler Lockett. Something he needs everyone to know about the promising sophomore receiver.
“He’s recovered fully,” Snyder said.
Just in case you are still skeptical, offensive coordinator Dana Dimel has something to say about Lockett, too.
“Tyler is doing fantastic,” Dimel said.
Still not a believer?
“I feel good,” Lockett said. “I’ve been back to 100 percent since the start of summer workouts.”
So there you have it. Lockett and his coaches insist he is ready to return to the field after his breakout freshman season was cut short by a frightening injury. He won’t be able to prove how far he has come since last November’s lacerated kidney until games start next month, but no one is looking forward to Lockett’s return more than Lockett himself.
It’s been a long time since he caught his last pass.
“I want to master the receiver position,” Lockett said. “I know what I can do and I want to do be able to do the best in everything that I do. I’m looking to be more consistent than I was last year, to go hard every day in practice and not take anything for granted.”
He’ll never do that again after what happened last year.
“Just to know that on a given day what you have could be taken away from you was something I had to learn from,” Lockett said. “It actually helped me in a lot of areas in my life, just like to stay humble and be able to know that a lot of people don’t have the opportunity to do what I do.”
Lockett’s thought-provoking moment came last season against Oklahoma State on a night when he was making one big play after another. He amassed 315 all-purpose yards, scored a touchdown and exploded onto the college football scene in a nationally televised game.
His father, Kevin, and uncle, Aaron, made similar plays throughout their K-State careers, and the comparisons never seemed more appropriate. Thanks to his speed and football knowledge, Lockett was emerging as the top young multi-threat player in the Big 12.
But just as everyone was starting to learn about Lockett, his season was coming to an end. He took an awkward hit against the Cowboys and limped away with a lacerated kidney. No one realized how badly he was hurt at the time, including Lockett. He thought he had a broken rib and insisted on finishing the game.
“I’m not known to ever quit something that I start,” Lockett said. “I didn’t want to start there.”
The bad news came the following morning, when doctors confirmed he had suffered internal damage.
Everyone responds to those injuries differently. In some cases, a lacerated kidney can be career ending. In others, special padding can cut rehab time down to a few days.
Lockett fell in the middle. His career wasn’t over, but his season was. Doctors told him to halt all physical activity. No running. No lifting. No football.
“I just had to rest,” Lockett said. “I couldn’t do anything.”
So Lockett turned to food.
When he came to K-State, the 5-foot-11, 175-pounder thought he was undersized for Big 12 football, and said he wanted to spend a redshirt year developing muscle. But when he established himself as one of the team’s top receivers during preseason practices, coaches convinced him to start playing immediately.
Turned out he was ready to make an impact, but not take big hits. Doctors told him he could avoid future injuries by adding size.
“They told me to get more fat in me,” Lockett said. “That’s one thing I’ve got to do is start eating. I just eat a lot of meat. Try to eat meat, eat protein and get my body right.”
Lockett has more upper-body strength and K-State coaches were impressed when he returned to practices last spring. But when bad luck struck Lockett again leading up the Wildcats’ spring game — a tweaked hamstring — his comeback was delayed.
When he showed up for the game in sweats, there were naturally doubters. Could Lockett’s kidney still be bothering him?
“Tyler had a great spring, which a lot of people don’t know because he had that slight injury right before the spring game,” Dimel said. “But he had a super, super spring. He was at every practice. He’s just carrying it over now that we started fall camp.
“He can do so many things. He is going to be a really, really special weapon for us.”
He certainly was last season. Lockett caught passes, ran the ball on trick plays and returned kickoffs. He caught 18 passes for 246 yards, piled up 563 return yards and scored five touchdowns — in nine games.
He was named a freshman All-American by several media outlets, and Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year.
He is expected to give K-State a downfield threat and score the occasional touchdown on kickoff returns.
“Tyler is going to be better than he was last year,” senior receiver Chris Harper said. “We know he can run. He’s smart, he puts the work in and he’s healthy. He has added onto his game. He’s only going to get better.”