MANHATTAN — Daniel Sams has always possessed the physical tools needed to play quarterback at Kansas State, but it takes more than fast feet and a strong arm to lead an offense.
Sams understands that better than anyone.
That’s why the soon-to-be sophomore is trying to prove himself as a leader and a master of the playbook during spring practices. If he can do that, he thinks he can take over for Collin Klein as the Wildcats’ starting quarterback in the fall.
“I ultimately want to get to where Collin was,” Sams said. “No one can argue with being a Heisman finalist. I just want to get there and be the type of leader he was for this team.”
Sams is only a few weeks into a competition for the starting quarterback job with junior-college transfer Jake Waters, but he is getting positive feedback so far. Though K-State football coach Bill Snyder describes the position battle as a virtual tie, Sams likes what he has accomplished.
Not only has his timing improved on passes to Tramaine Thompson and Tyler Lockett, he has also broken loose for a handful of long gains on scrambles. He seems to be reading defenses better with each practice, and he is starting to get good at changing plays at the line of scrimmage.
A little too good, perhaps.
Every spring, Snyder outlines a set of plays that are off limits. In an attempt to help everyone learn and improve on basic schemes and formations, trick plays aren’t used. But Sams called one when he saw a defense unprepared to stop it.
“I actually got in trouble for checking to a play we didn’t implement yet,” Sams said. “We run a tight script. Coach said it was a good check, but we aren’t going to run that in spring ball.”
Still, it was nice to see that kind of confidence from a player who attempted eight passes last season.
“That’s a real task,” Snyder said. “That’s not an easy thing to do. He has progressed quite well at that. That makes him a little bit more familiar with everything that he is doing.”
Sams has continued to change plays since. He feels comfortable doing it.
“My mentality is if we’ve got a mismatch as far as a linebacker on Lockett we are going deep,” Sams said. “That’s just something I always do. Sometimes it works. Sometimes I get myself in a third-and-eight, a difficult down. But most of the time it works.”
Few got to see this side of Sams last season. He only saw action in the fourth quarter when victory was assured. His main duty was running out the clock, which meant lots of rushes.
He took advantage of the opportunities, zooming by defenders for 235 yards and three touchdowns on 32 carries, but questions remained about his arm and overall football knowledge.
“Everybody knows that I can run. I feel that throwing the ball is really what I want to do right now, because my legs can always get me out of a difficult situation,” Sams said. “I really want to throw the ball more than what I ran it last year.”
Teammates are already saying they would be comfortable catching passes from Sams next season.
“He has gotten so much better at making reads, making checks, anticipating and getting the ball out quicker,” receiver Curry Sexton said. “In the past, I think he just knew, ‘I’m the No. 2 guy. I’m there if Collin goes down.’ Other than that you are behind the scenes most of the time. Now that he can attack the job and go get the job, we have seen him grow in so many different ways and become a better overall quarterback.”
Many saw Sams as the heir apparent to Klein. Then Waters came to K-State after leading Iowa Western Community College to a national junior college championship, and Sams had to start proving himself all over again.
Both players are dual-threat quarterbacks with slightly different talents. Sams is one of the fastest players on the roster. Waters, by all accounts, throws a more accurate pass. They both want to take the first snap in the season-opener, but Sams said their competition is friendly.
They watch film together. They share tips in between plays. They push each other on the field.
Sams wants to be K-State’s next starting quarterback, but he also wants to help Waters.
What kind of leader would he be if he didn’t?
“Coach Snyder always stresses it will be hard to get guys to follow you on the field if you don’t do the right things off the field,” Sams said. “That’s really what I want to improve on … I feel like my athleticism and my knowledge of the offense will take care of itself. I just want to work on being a leader.”