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Bob Lutz: A fine day to be a Kansan Kansas natives clean up with All-Big 12 honors

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012, at 8:18 p.m.
  • Updated Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, at 9:09 p.m.

Can I have a moment? Please?

I am so proud of my state. So proud that little ol’ Kansas has produced more All-Big 12 first- and second-team football players this season than any state not named Texas.

Nine in all, three more than California and five more than Oklahoma.

What do you have to say about that, Oklahoma?

“To the stars through difficulties” (Ad Astra per Aspera) is our state motto, but it just as easily could be “To the All-Big 12 football team with difficulties,” the Latin interpretation of which I do not have. Suffice it to say that Kansas doesn’t produce football players the way it produces wheat. Or Republicans.

Oh, we’ve had our moments. Barry Sanders, John Riggins, Mike Bell, Lynn Dickey, Steve Grogan, Darren Sproles, John Hadl, Bobby Douglass, Jordy Nelson and Terence Newman are native Kansans who made it big on the gridiron.

For the most part, though, basketball is our game.

So Wednesday’s announcement of the All-Big 12 football team gives those of us who don’t think Kansas necessarily gets its football due a reason to puff out our chests and hold our heads high.

Five Kansans — Oklahoma State running back Joseph Randle (Wichita Southeast), Kansas State center B.J. Finney (Andale), K-State linebacker Arthur Brown (Wichita East), K-State safety Ty Zimmerman (Junction City) and Wildcat tight end Travis Tannahill (Olathe East) were first-team selections on the Associated Press list.

Kansans on the second team are K-State kicker Anthony Cantele (Kapaun Mount Carmel), Kansas offensive lineman Tanner Hawkinson (McPherson) and linebacker Ben Heeney (Hutchinson); and TCU offensive lineman Blaize Foltz (Rose Hill). K-State receiver Chris Harper was second team on the coaches’ list, too.

Are we good or what?

For years, there was a knock against high school football in Kansas. We didn’t practice enough; we didn’t play enough games; we didn’t treat football like the religion it is in states to our south.

This All-Big 12 team, though, indicates that football is alive and well in Kansas high schools. Not only are the state’s high school players getting to a major conference like the Big 12, but they’re excelling once they arrive.

K-State won a conference championship with 55 Kansas players on its roster. Yes, more than a few of those are invited walk-ons who will struggle for playing time. But the Wildcats have always gotten tremendous production from their in-state players and this season is no different.

Kansas’ roster had 26 players, a number that is sure to grow under Charlie Weis. And there are 13 other Kansans playing at the other eight Big 12 schools, including five at Oklahoma and four at Oklahoma State.

Don’t forget, too, that perennial junior-college powerhouse Butler is always loaded with Kansas players, as are the other schools in the Jayhawk Conference. And coaches at the smaller four-year Kansas schools in the MIAA and KCAC go hard after in-state players.

K-State’s Arthur Brown not only was All-Big 12, but the conference’s defensive player of the year. He’ll play in the NFL, as will Randle and probably Harper, three products of the Wichita City League. Cantele, a fourth City Leaguer who received All-Big 12 honors, might have a big enough leg to get to the NFL, too.

Good stuff and good for the collective psyche of a state that has too often had to apologize for its football status.

Yet did you know that Kansas ranks 29th of the 50 states when it comes to producing NFL players? We’re ahead of states like Oregon, Kentucky, Colorado, Arizona and Connecticut.

High school football in Kansas has been helped by the easing of restrictions for the amount of time coaches can spend with their players in the summer. I don’t think it’s my imagination that the quality of play in the state’s high schools has increased noticeably since that stance was adopted by the Kansas State High School Activities Association.

It also doesn’t hurt that Bill Snyder coaches a bunch of these Kansas kids when they arrive at K-State. I’ve noticed he does a pretty good job.

So good work, Kansas. Wednesday was a good day and the rest of the teams in the Big 12 should take notice.

We play football here. We’re mean and we’re tough and we’ll hit you.

Got that, Oklahoma?

Reach Bob Lutz at blutz@wichitaeagle.com or 316-268-6597.

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