MANHATTAN — Dante Barnett had just done something he will remember for the rest of his life, and he knew it.
Maybe that’s why the Kansas State freshman defensive back still lights up whenever he talks about the vicious block he delivered in the season opener. It was his first highlight play in a Wildcat uniform. Not only did he get a loud reaction for soaring through the air and sending a potential tackler to the ground, he helped Tyler Lockett break free on the outside for a long punt return.
“I was living my childhood dream,” Barnett said. “Tyler took the punt and went right and I had a big crack-back block that sprung him loose. That made me happy, especially because it helped Tyler. It took me back to high school, when we made plays together.”
Only one thing could have made the moment better: If the play came against Oklahoma instead of Missouri State.
“That would be a dream, too,” Barnett said.
Few would label the Sooners and Wildcats heated rivals, but don’t tell that to Barnett and Lockett, who attended the same high school in Tulsa. Even though Oklahoma leads the series 71-17-4, and has won five straight since K-State upset the Sooners in the 2003 Big 12 championship game, they both view OU as one of their biggest rivals.
So do all seven Oklahomans on No. 15 K-State’s roster, including Andre McDonald, Hunter Davis, Keenan Taylor, Zach Trujillo and Tramaine Thompson. They are all looking forward to facing No. 6 Oklahoma at 6:50 p.m. on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
“There is a chip on my shoulder, because this is OU and the game is in Oklahoma,” Barnett said. “Me and Tyler all week have been like, ‘Man, I just can’t wait to beat OU.’ It’s big because it’s one of the few chances I get to play college football in my home state in front of my friends and family, plus it’s a rivalry for us. Everyone grew up OU fans in Oklahoma.”
But not all high school football players in the state get to play for the Sooners. Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops recruits nationally and puts a heavy emphasis on Texas. He likes to bring in local talent, too, but he signs players from all over.
Barnett was never on Oklahoma’s recruiting radar. Weber State and K-State were the programs that offered him a scholarship, and he is fine with that. But he wouldn’t have minded a little attention from the Sooners.
“Oklahoma State was interested in both Tyler and me,” Barnett said. “That was nice, but we really never heard from OU.”
Few can argue with Stoops’ recruiting strategy given what he has accomplished. He has won more than 80 percent of his games, seven Big 12 championships and a national title.
But Stoops was asked this week if he regretted not recruiting Lockett, given the time he spent around his father, Kevin, who set records as a K-State receiver while Stoops was an assistant with the Wildcats.
“We always thought Tyler was an excellent player, too,” Stoops said. “Obviously all the things he’s doing there, we’re very aware of it. I’m excited for their family. They’re two really good ballplayers.”
K-State coach Bill Snyder was glad to land Lockett and the six other Oklahoma natives that currently play for him when they looked elsewhere for college. And he hopes they can use being overlooked as motivation this week. The Wildcats haven’t beaten the Sooners in a regular-season game since 1997.
“I don’t know if we have been as competitive as I would like,” Snyder said.
Of course, Stoops hopes the seven Kansas natives on his roster use the same motivation against K-State, though most of them were recruited by the Wildcats, including Labette County tight end Brannon Green, who was asked to walk-on.
“A lot of people from my hometown are big K-State fans,” Green told the Oklahoman, “it being a farming community and Kansas State being a big agricultural school. They’re excited for the game and so am I. It’s something I’ve been waiting for for a long time.”
There will be plenty of added motivation on both sides. There always is when players go up against a team from their home state.
“We prepare for every game the same way, but it’s a little different with OU,” Barnett said. “Everyone knows how big this game is.”