MANHATTAN — When Josh Cherry heard his coach wanted to speak with him on the chartered flight home following a rough loss at Louisiana-Lafayette earlier this year, he feared the worst.
The Kansas State junior kicker had missed two field goals and an extra point in the loss, which was decided by two points, and he had yet to make his first field goal of the season. Blame was already being assigned from all angles, and now Bill Snyder was going to join in.
Or so he thought.
"A lot of coaches could have just said, 'This guy is going into the tank. Let's bring somebody else in and give him a shot,' " Cherry said.
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Snyder, though, is not like most coaches. Instead of telling Cherry he was going to be benched, he told him his job was safe.
Cherry has since made 7 of 10 field goal attempts, including a career-long 47-yarder against Kansas last week. During that stretch he rattled off six straight makes and gained so much confidence that he stormed down field and made a tackle on a kickoff against the Jayhawks.
His game has progressed so much that an argument could be made for Cherry as the Wildcats' most improved player.
All he can say to that is, "At the start of the season I took a huge nose drive. But I built my way back up and now I think I'm doing pretty decent."
He'll never forget where that turnaround got started.
"Just the fact (Snyder) stuck with me made me work a lot harder in practice," Cherry said. "I didn't give up. Now I'm doing a lot better than I was. I thank him just for the confidence he had in me. Keeping me out on the field really helped."
Snyder said Cherry struggled more than he should have early on, but also says he never once thought about yanking Cherry from his position.
He had seen Cherry's power and accuracy in practice, booting field goals from near Martin Gramatica range, Snyder claims.
Cherry's mechanics were solid. What he needed was help transferring those skills from practice to games.
More than anything, he needed someone to believe in him.
"When it doesn't go through the upright, nobody is looking at the right guard," Snyder said. "Who bears the weight of all that? No matter what happened, whether the snap was bad or the hold was bad or somebody missed a block, the guy everybody is looking at is the guy with a bull's-eye on his chest — and that's the kicker."
Cherry said he the weight of those troubles wore on him, and with every miss they multiplied. He felt as though he was letting the team down.
His team didn't feel the same way.
"He's been good for us almost the entire year," center Wade Weibert said. "He had a little drought there at the beginning, but we knew that once the Big 12 schedule got here he was going to be good. It was all mental. He definitely bounced back."