MANHATTAN — New doesn’t faze Jake Waters anymore.
In the past few months, he has transferred to Kansas State from Iowa Western Community College, adjusted to a new class schedule, learned a new playbook and bonded with new teammates.
Handling so much change hasn’t been easy, but he has embraced it in hopes of becoming the Wildcats’ starting quarterback next season.
He will have to beat sophomore Daniel Sams for the job, and, as of now, K-State coach Bill Snyder insists the battle is tied. But both quarterbacks are about to get an opportunity to take a lead. The top performer during K-State’s spring game, which starts at 1:10 p.m. Saturday at Snyder Family Stadium, will head into preseason camp with the upper hand.
It could be a pressure-packed afternoon for both players, but Waters isn’t treating it that way. Sure, it will be a new experience, but he’s used to that.
“It’s just another opportunity to go out and get better,” Waters said while addressing media for the first time Thursday afternoon. “Just one more chance to get out there with the guys and have fun and play football … I’m going to go out there and try to play my game, just stay within what I can do and not try and force anything. I’m going to give it everything I can and do what I can to help this team get better.”
Waters used the same approach while he played at the junior-college level, and it helped him find great success at Iowa Western. He led the team to a national championship last season by throwing for 3,501 yards and 39 touchdowns. He was named Offensive Player of the Year by the NJCAA and came to K-State as one of the most highly recruited junior-college quarterbacks.
Coaches, teammates and fans alike expect big things out of the 6-foot-1 junior. He likes that. For now, though, he is simply trying to earn his place.
Ask him for a prediction in the quarterback race, and he will tell you to ask his coaches.
“(They) could probably tell you better than I could,” Waters said. “I’m not ready right now with the offense and everything. I think I am making strides, but with how much you have got to learn I am just trying to get better and take one day at a time. I am making my fair share of mistakes. I am getting better. Only time will tell, I guess.”
Snyder is expected to wait until August to name a starter. It won’t be an easy choice.
Sams is a versatile runner who served as Collin Klein’s backup last season. He knows the offense and has experience in it. Waters is known as a much stronger passer, and Snyder has been pleased with his spring practices.
“Everyone has been pleased with the progress he has made,” Snyder said. “It ebbs and flows, but he is an intelligent young guy. He works diligently at it. Mechanically he is sound. He is learning the process. He is learning to make decisions in an environment and a schematic reference that is different than what he is accustomed to.”
What are the biggest differences?
“At Iowa Western, we were up tempo, just get to the line and go,” Waters said. “Here you have to see what the defense is giving you a lot more and make your checks and audibles. That is pretty much the biggest difference. We do a lot of the same concepts, but the biggest difference is the speed of it. You have to know what the defense is doing a lot more here, but I really like it.”
So much so, that when he isn’t at football practices, you can usually find him watching football practices. He says he tries to use “every ounce of free time” he has to watch replays at K-State’s football complex or at home on his iPad.
Receiver Curry Sexton, who has roomed with Waters since he arrived on campus, says the new quarterback is a true student of the game. He always comes to Sexton with questions about K-State’s offense.
“I am just trying to learn this offense as quickly as possible,” Waters said, “and pick up every little thing I can.”
By all accounts, Waters is improving.
His teammates like his humble approach and his arm strength. Once he masters the offense, they expect big things.
“Unlike anyone we have seen, he puts the ball in different spots,” Sexton said. “If there is a tight window in a certain route where a guy looks like he is covered, somehow he fits it in there. He has that ‘wow’ factor more than what we’ve seen in the past.”