Shortly after Jake Waters committed to Kansas State, he was asked to explain what most excited him about the decision. As a lightly recruited high school quarterback turned junior-college success, his answer was expected to be wide-ranging.
Instead of talking about the campus, the coaching staff, the facilities or his long-time dream of becoming a starting quarterback at the Division I level, he focused solely on the first challenge he would face with the Wildcats.
“I just want to come in and earn the guy’s respect and compete,” Waters said last December. “The job is not going to be given to me. I don’t want that. I want to compete and I’m going to get that chance. I’m looking forward to that.”
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That approach might go a long way toward explaining why K-State coach Bill Snyder announced Waters was the team’s starting quarterback Monday. Snyder said Waters “went above and beyond” what was asked of him, and won the starting job based on consistency and leadership.
Waters, who came to K-State via Iowa Western Community College, will take the first snap against North Dakota State on Friday in the season opener. He is the first junior-college transfer to start immediately at K-State since Michael Bishop in 1997.
Daniel Sams, a sophomore who challenged Waters throughout spring and fall practices, will also play against the Bison, though Snyder said the extent of his playing time remains undecided.
“Jake just displayed more consistency in all the areas we have talked about,” Snyder said. “In terms of managing the offense and being able to provide the kind of leadership we want, as well as the physical aspects of it. It was mental, emotional and physical, there was more consistency in his presence during these 25 practices that we’ve had.”
Waters and Sams, who were not available for comment on Monday, appeared deadlocked in a position battle when preseason practices began. But Waters began separating himself quickly.
That much was evident by the timing of Snyder’s announcement. The last two times K-State held a preseason quarterback competition, Snyder waited to reveal the Wildcats’ starter until a full depth chart was released.
Snyder is set to reveal the depth chart Tuesday, but we already know who will start at quarterback.
“He (Waters) gained the respect of his teammates by his consistent approach to the game,” Snyder said, “and by spending so much time working at it and trying to develop his mental aspect of the game.”
Snyder said Sams was competitive, but also helped Waters every step of the way. Snyder said Sams missed “practice opportunities during the latter stages of our preseason work,” which held him back. Snyder didn’t specify why he missed practice, but two sources said he was sidelined for nearly a week earlier this month with a mild knee injury. Sams showed no sign of injury at K-State’s lone open practice on Aug. 17.
When asked how much Sams will play on Friday, Snyder replied, “It could be five” snaps. “It could be 50. I just don’t know.”
“I like the idea of having two young guys who can play the position of equal skill level,” Snyder said. “Most people would anticipate you have Jake in the ballgame to throw it and Daniel in the ballgame to run it. That is not the case. What we are looking for is a complete quarterback, one who can invest himself in the running game, one who can invest himself in the passing game. And both of these guys can do that. It’s not a matter of two totally different skill sets.”
Big things have been expected out of Waters since he signed with K-State. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound passer was a top junior-college quarterback last season. He threw for 3,501 yards and 39 touchdowns while leading his team to a national championship.
He has a strong and accurate arm, but is also mobile enough to extend plays with his feet. He has shown off those skills in high school and in junior college for years.
“He invested himself,” Snyder said. “He truly worked at it extremely hard and did above and beyond what was asked of him. It has shown, obviously, on the field with a degree of consistency that has helped him and helped us.”