MANHATTAN — For Daniel Sams, the future is clear.
The junior Kansas State playmaker has switched positions from quarterback to wide receiver, and if all goes well during spring practices, he will stay there for the remainder of his college career.
“Right now he is just focusing at the wide receiver position,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said Tuesday during his first football news conference of the spring. “That doesn’t eliminate anything, it’s just he wants to play there. I am going to give him the opportunity.”
Sams saw action at quarterback in all 13 games last season, amassing 1,259 total yards and 15 touchdowns, but he didn’t start any of them. Jake Waters emerged as the clear cut starter, and Sams openly discussed the possibility of a position change before the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
He wanted to be on the field. If he couldn’t help the Wildcats at quarterback, maybe he could as a receiver. He said he would discuss the idea with Snyder.
Sams didn’t know what to expect. Turns out, Snyder had an open mind.
“The dialogue I had with Daniel was I want you to be happy,” Snyder said. “I want to see you on the field. Because he approached me about playing as a wide receiver, I made my recommendations to him, but I said I would certainly abide by his and give him a chance.…
“If he wants to go out and be a wide receiver, he needs to go out and be a wide receiver and let reality set in. Yes, I can do this. He has proven he is not going to be bad there. Is that really what you want? If it is, we will move from there.”
Snyder has a successful track record when it comes to finding new positions for quarterbacks. Former standout safety Ty Zimmerman entered K-State’s program as a quarterback. So did former linebacker Justin Tuggle, former running back Daniel Thomas and former safety Tysyn Hartman. Even Collin Klein briefly played receiver as a freshman before switching back to quarterback, where he became a Heisman finalist.
Sams, who did not attend Tuesday’s news conference, is hoping for a similar transition. He has been respected both as a leader and a playmaker. He didn’t want to waste those qualities as a backup quarterback. Neither did Snyder, especially with young quarterbacks Joe Hubener and Jesse Ertz showing promise behind Waters.
“He has got to be on the field,” Snyder said. “We have got to find the spot.”
Sams began focusing on his new position immediately after receiving Snyder’s blessing. He enjoyed the process so much that he began describing himself as a receiver on Twitter before spring practices started last week, though he is still listed as a quarterback on K-State’s official roster.
“I think he has got a few tips and little tricks to learn, but he is a tremendous playmaker,” said sophomore receiver Deante Burton. “His athleticism is some of the best in the country. It’s not as natural for him as quarterback, but it is something that is coming along for him pretty easily.”
An added bonus to the transition, Burton said, is that K-State receivers are building a stronger bond with Waters than they did last season when he was splitting snaps with Sams. The possibility of trick plays involving Sams is also intriguing.
How high up the depth chart can he climb?
The Wildcats appear loaded at receiver. Senior deep threat Tyler Lockett may be the Big 12’s top returning receiver, Curry Sexton started seven games last year, Burton is a rising talent, Kyle Klein has all the physical tools and so do Andre Davis and Judah Jones.
Snyder said Lockett, Sexton and Burton top the current depth chart. But he complimented the entire unit. Sams will have to fight for playing time.
For now, Snyder likes what Sams is doing.
“I like the way he is working at it,” Snyder said. “He has made some progress. There have been some ups and downs in there, as well, but he has learned some of the nuances, not as well as he needs to, about the position. He studies it pretty hard and is working on it. He has got skill. Everyone understands that. He can make you miss sometimes.”
Defenses learned that last season, when he ranked second on the team with 807 rushing yards as a quarterback.
His teammates also see that kind of potential at his new position.
“I have seen him running around during practice, and it is difficult to get a hold of him,” Burton said. “I have never had to tackle him personally, and I don’t want to. It will be difficult for teams to gameplan for him, because it’s not like he can’t throw the ball. We have seen him run. I’m not sure they have, but we have seen him catch a ball. (He) is going to be a real problem for them.”
Robinson leads the way — One of K-State’s most intriguing position battles of the spring is running back. Three-year starter John Hubert is gone, and so is his backup Robert Rose. Snyder said the candidates are DeMarcus Robinson, Charles Jones and Jarvis Leverett. At this moment, Robinson, a senior from Northwest, has a slight edge. But Snyder wants to see how he handles a larger workload during the spring. Robinson has rushed for 45 yards in his career as a third-string option.
Cantele kicking again — A nagging back injury prevented Jack Cantele from kicking at full strength last season. The junior from Kapaun missed three games after connecting on 11 of 13 field goals. On Tuesday, he said he has fully recovered and ready to kick at the spring game.
Offseason evaluations — When Snyder was asked to grade his team’s offseason work, he didn’t pass along stellar marks. He said 85 percent of the team met or exceeded expectations, 10 percent remained stagnant and five percent returned to practice in poor shape. A passing grade, but not as high as he would have preferred.
Ailing foot — Snyder wore a walking boot on his left foot Tuesday, a lingering sign of foot surgery following K-State’s bowl game. In past weeks, he has walked on crutches. Snyder didn’t indicate why he required surgery, but he said he would need the walking boot for a few more weeks.
“It’s fine,” Snyder said. “It’s just frustrating is all.”