MANHATTAN — When Kansas State huddles up before plays, the quarterback isn't the only person who talks.
Even though he's responsible for relaying the coaching staff's plays to the rest of the offense, all eyes tend to drift toward Zach Kendall.
Depending on the situation, the senior guard will share inspirational words with his teammates, make an insightful comment about the previous play or amuse everyone with a joke.
Sometimes Wildcats players admit they find themselves wondering not what the next formation will be, but what Kendall is going to say.
"Zach is the foundation of the offensive huddle," sophomore fullback Braden Wilson said. "He's a great leader, but at the same time he's a clown. He can always lighten the mood and keep it serious at the same time. He'll come up with random stuff and just crack a joke in front of everybody. It's awesome."
Such responsibilities are rarely left to an offensive lineman, but Kendall has welcomed the opportunity to lead by more than just his actions. A fifth-year player and vicious blocker, he has long been considered a leader on K-State's line. But this season he has embraced the opportunity to become a vocal presence in front of the entire team. On and off the field, he isn't afraid to speak his mind.
More than anything, though, he wants to create a fun atmosphere for his teammates. Before the season began, he organized weekly camping trips and invited everyone on the team to come along. Just as he planned, the outings significantly helped team chemistry. That's carried onto the field.
The way he sees it, a team can't succeed unless it has the perfect mixture of work and play.
"This is a family," Kendall said. "This is a brotherhood here. We try to have fun with what we're doing. We've just got to keep it light and make sure we're playing well. That makes it a lot easier to have fun."
Kendall, from Peculiar, Mo., has played both center and guard, and often finds himself coaching his teammates on their form during practice.
"Zach has a pretty laid back kind of air to him, but at the same time he's serious and very knowledgeable about his job," quarterback Collin Klein said. "He has a pretty good understanding of what the offensive line is supposed to do on every play and what they're trying to accomplish there. I know he helps out a lot even when he's not taking reps. That kind of leadership is very positive."
It's seen in the locker room, too.
When the Wildcats started the season with four straight wins, he was the first to label K-State as a contender for a Big 12 championship. When the offensive line went through a slump against conference competition, he took it upon himself to get the unit back on track.
After an easy win over Texas in which he helped pave the way for 261 rushing yards, he warned his teammates not to be content about getting their sixth win and becoming bowl eligible. They play at Missouri on Saturday.
"A lot of teams in our conference have six wins right now," he said. "They only take so many. We understand six wins is probably not going to get there. We need to get there. We have the opportunity to get to nine wins this year. Why not? We want to finish 9-3. That's our only goal."
Well, that and to have fun.
While his teammates wear their standard-issue gray dress pants and black sport coats to team events, Kendall jazzes up the same outfit with a purple-and-white bow tie.
Much like in the huddle, all eyes tend to drift toward him.