MANHATTAN — For years, Kansas State football players have shared two primary goals.
1. National championship.
2. Conference championship.
Strong starts have put the Wildcats in reach of those goals in recent seasons, which made it easy for K-State players to stay motivated as practices and games dragged on. Each victory pushed them closer to their dreams. And the thought of a Big 12 trophy or a major bowl game helped them press on after losses.
Motivation is harder to find now. A 2-4 start has left the Wildcats well out of reach of their preseason goals. A big finish could put them in a decent bowl, but they won’t contend for a title of any kind even if they win their remaining six games. So, with their primary goals no longer attainable and the second half of the season beginning against West Virginia on Saturday, it’s fair to wonder what the Wildcats are now playing for.
The answers that eight players and K-State coach Bill Snyder gave to that question varied from reaching a bowl game to simply playing for pride. But it’s clear no one is giving up on the season. Their answers indicate the Wildcats have the same desire to win as an undefeated team.
“We have got to win out,” sophomore quarterback Daniel Sams said. “Coach don’t like us to look ahead, but that is just the reality of it. I feel like we are too good of a team to be 2-4. What’s really on my mind is just winning out … I really do feel like we have the guys on this team who can do that, because (last week) in practice everyone was talking about how we need to win out.
“I wasn’t expecting to hear that. When I heard a lot of teammates say that I felt like, yeah we can do that, because we have really been beating ourselves. I don’t want to take anything away from Texas, Oklahoma State and Baylor, but if you take away the mistakes we made and the mistakes I made we probably win those games. We can turn it around.”
Sophomore linebacker Mike Moore is also focused on a desirable end result, particularly a bowl game. K-State has held a fourth-quarter lead in five games, so he thinks it is within reach. But his primary motivation lies deeper.
K-State’s senior class has reached the postseason in three straight years. They followed the Pinstripe Bowl with a trip to the Cotton Bowl and then the Fiesta Bowl. After seeing the work those veterans put in to reach those games, Moore wants to send them out on a high note.
“We are playing to finish strong, to win the rest of our games and, mainly, to go to a bowl game,” Moore said. “That is important to us. That’s the goal we that we have right now.”
For freshman fullback Glenn Gronkowski, pride is the driving factor. He has been blown away by the sellout crowds at Snyder Family Stadium and the progress his teammates have made despite numerous challenges.
He thinks everyone associated with the program deserves a few wins.
“We just want to go out there and prove we aren’t pushovers,” Gronkowski said. “It’s about pride, really. We have been in every game, we just haven’t finished. Hopefully we play better in the second half and finish with a winning record.”
The Wildcats have finished with a winning record in three straight seasons and haven’t suffered a losing season since 2008. Those are both trends they would like to continue.
“No team wants to have a losing record, so we want to go out there and play to the best of our abilities and finish with a winning record,” safety Dante Barnett said. “I never hang my head after losses in a season. I still feel like we can go out there and win our last six games, maybe even seven.”
Snyder has a different take. Though he’s pleased that his players came into the season with high goals, he views things on a much smaller scale.
He asks his players to simply stay focused on winning the next game. That is the only goal he has ever placed in front of them.
“When you have goals, my belief is sometimes people get caught up,” Snyder said. “Particularly when you are inexperienced or youthful, you look at the end result and you miss out on all the stuff it takes to get there. I am more inclined to look at the stuff that it takes to get there.… If you do that, you have a better chance to achieve success.”
Sophomore receiver Kyle Klein is a believer in that approach. That’s why he is motivated by something even more basic — camaraderie.
That drove him when K-State was thinking big in the preseason. And it drives him now after four losses. As long as he stays focused on that, he is confident everything else will work itself out.
“I play for family,” Klein said. “There is a lot of stuff that goes on behind the scenes here. We are working from August all the way until January with no reward other than Saturdays. You end up getting really close to the guys. That is why I play, because of the team and the 130 guys we have on the team are family. We all sacrifice for the same goal.
“Even though we lost a couple and our marquee goals are off the table you still play to win and you play for the person next to you. That is across the board for the team. We play for each other.”