MANHATTAN — For Ty Zimmerman, history appears to be repeating itself.
The Kansas State senior safety is expected to trade in crutches for football pads and play in Kansas State’s bowl game for the second straight year.
In both instances, Zimmerman suffered an apparent ankle injury while trying to make a tackle against TCU. He then watched K-State’s final two games from the sideline. Last year, Zimmerman recovered in time to practice for, and play in, the Fiesta Bowl. He is following the same path leading up to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl against Michigan on Dec. 28.
“He is doing well,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said Tuesday, “and I anticipate he will play.”
That will come as good news to K-State’s secondary, which looks to Zimmerman for impact plays and steady leadership.
Zimmerman is a captain who has received all-conference honors of some kind in four straight seasons, and was named Associated Press third-team All-American on Wednesday. As a senior, he has made 69 tackles and three interceptions in 10 games.
The Wildcats managed without him, thanks to solid play from backup Dylan Schellenberg, but they are glad to have Zimmerman back.
“What he means to our team is so much more than you see on tape,” receiver Curry Sexton said. “The leadership he provides for the team and for our defense is huge. He makes all the calls and gets our defense lined up. He is one of the best safeties in the country.
“Just seeing the way that he works, everybody looks up to him. Having him back is big on so many levels.”
Perhaps the largest plus: big plays.
As the son of a coach, Zimmerman, who has not spoken with media in more than a month, has long been respected as a defensive back that rarely makes mistakes. But he is also capable of changing games.
This season, he returned two interceptions for touchdowns. Last season, he was often the catalyst when turnovers occurred. He has combined his football knowledge and his athleticism to become a staple of K-State’s defense.
“There is a reason why Ty is an All-American and our defensive MVP,” senior linebacker Blake Slaughter said. “There are a lot of intangibles he brings to the table. He is so smart and intelligent. He is a great communicator out there. When he is on the field, it is added confidence for other players.
“Having Ty is a big deal. He is a great player and an X-factor in every game.”
Michigan will test Zimmerman. Though the Wolverines averaged 382.8 yards this season, giving them the nation’s 81st-ranked offense, they are capable of throwing the ball behind quarterback Devin Gardner.
Receiver Jeremy Gallon has caught 80 passes for 1,284 yards and nine touchdowns, while tight end Devin Funchess has made 47 grabs for 727 yards and six touchdowns. Michigan averages 252.1 passing yards.
Last year, his presence wasn’t enough to slow Oregon’s high-powered attack, and the Ducks defeated the Wildcats 35-17. This year, Zimmerman could help K-State win its first bowl game since 2002 and end his college career in style.
“Ty is a great defensive captain on our team and a great leader,” senior linebacker Tre Walker said. “He is going to take care of what he needs to take care of. Last year, the same type of deal happened to him and he fought back. I have seen him in action, and I think he is going to do great.
“He is very smart. He makes the right calls. He keeps the defensive backs very calm. He keeps a sense of peace back there and just gives us that great edge that every team needs.”