MANHATTAN — Spring games have long been a staple of college football, but they have never been mandatory.
Pittsburgh, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State all went without spring games this year, opting for extra practices and closed-door scrimmages.
Could Kansas State ever join that group? It’s a fair question. Bill Snyder values practice as much as any other coach, and he often says the spring schedule goes by too quickly. Still, he values the spring game.
“It’s for our fan base,” Snyder said Tuesday at a news conference. “I would prefer practices, but our fans enjoy seeing our players and the environment and all those sorts of things. So we will always do it.”
Spring games also offer experiences that practices can’t. Though private scrimmages between a team’s top defense and offense can provide intensity and give coaches the opportunity to genuinely judge their players, they don’t feel like real games. The only way to replicate that environment is in a public setting, with thousands of fans looking on at a spring game.
The Wildcats play up that aspect of their spring game every year, and they will once again do everything they can to make it resemble a season opener Saturday.
“You have a lot of young guys or a few young guys who are in the program right now who have never experienced that, at least not here,” Snyder said. “With the larger groups you have that opportunity. Part of the day is to develop an understanding about game day. Everything we do on Saturday will be a replica of what we will do any Saturday next fall, trying to duplicate the meetings and the pregame meals and all that goes along with it, the mental preparation and the focus.
“It isn’t the same, but we try very diligently to make it the same.”
Junior linebacker Charmeachealle Moore has never noticed much of a difference.
“We wake up in the morning and go eat breakfast and get into game mode,” Moore said. “We aren’t on our phones. We focus on our jobs. We are practicing, but we still have to play hard. We are excited about it. We get to see the fans. The fans get to come out and see what we are doing. We are very excited, and we look forward to it every year. It’s like a game, and coach prepares us for that game mentality.”
Coaches expect players to embrace their final spring gathering, but they also want them to view the game as a reward.
Winning is still top priority for both teams — the starters traditionally take on the backups with unique scoring systems keeping the game competitive — but staying healthy is important, too. So is running a vanilla package, so not as to give onlookers a true sense of the schemes K-State will run next season.
In the spring game, Snyder allows his quarterbacks to call their own plays, which often leads to pass-happy offenses and high scores.
“It’s running around,” senior defensive end Ryan Mueller said, “and getting people excited for the fall.”
That is often the opposite of what occurs throughout spring scrimmages.
“Our true spring game was last Saturday with the real scrimmage of guys,” Mueller said. “This Saturday is definitely for the fans. It’s a fan event. I am really looking forward to playing in front of our fans and having some of my friends coming to the game. It’s a fan thing. Coach Snyder isn’t going to show anything or reveal our whole playbook.
“It’s a show thing to have fun with, but also another opportunity to work on some fundamental footwork and have a feel for what it is like to be out there and have fans cheering for you with a little bit added pressure.”
That boost of intensity can mean everything for a young player. Just ask sophomore running backs Jarvis Leverett and Charles Jones. Neither has played in a college game before. Yet, they will make their cases for K-State’s starting running back job in front of thousands on Saturday. The pressure will be on.
Leverett missed last year’s spring game with an injury. Jones saw limited action, and can’t wait to experience it again.
“I didn’t have that big of a crowd in high school,” Jones said. “To put in all that work and hear 20,000 fans screaming for you is a real good feeling.”
Not all college football teams value that setting, but K-State does.