MANHATTAN — A year ago, Daniel Thomas and Emmanuel Lamur were in junior college, and Grant Gregory was a backup at South Florida.
All three were destined for the Kansas State football team, but as transfers they were not in Manhattan in time for spring practices. Gregory was such a late arrival that he missed out on chunks of summer practice, too.
Those offseason workouts are not glamorous, but for newcomers they are much-needed opportunities to learn about their new team.
Without that practice time, it can be difficult to catch up to the rest of the pack.
Nonetheless, Thomas, Lamur and Gregory are key players for the Wildcats, who are leading the Big 12 North and a win away from being eligible for a bowl game.
Thomas, a junior running back, leads the Big 12 in rushing with 1,087 yards and is considered by many to be K-State's best player. Lamur, a sophomore safety, leads the team with 51 tackles and Gregory, a senior quarterback, is 4-2 as a starter.
"They're a part of a unified organization, not sitting on the edge of it," K-State coach Bill Snyder said. "And they've done that quite well."
Their progression was helped by Snyder coming out of retirement to coach the Wildcats for a second time, and K-State's returning players facing adjustments within a new system.
But their path to the starting lineup was never easy. Not only did they have to win over their coaches, but their teammates as well.
Their first few days on campus were critical.
"Even though Grant isn't a community college guy, he's a transfer who comes in and is in a capacity where you need leadership," Snyder said. "You have a safety (Lamur) on your football team that you need to have some leadership from him as well. And they've got to be engaged with the people who are in the program."
Snyder said they were able to make smooth transitions because of their personalities.
When looking for potential transfers who need to come in and quickly grasp a new system, that's what matters most to him.
"All of those youngsters," Snyder said, "are just young guys that have come in here and have been here just a brief period of time. They are good, young guys, humble, and work extremely hard and are well-liked by their teammates. That made their transition a little bit easier."
Thomas improved fastest and rushed for more than 100 yards in three of his first four games. Now K-State is pushing him as an All-America candidate.
That never surprised Snyder. He said his players seemed to respect Thomas the second he walked into the Vanier Football Complex.
"Part of it is the social development as he relates to young people in the program," Snyder said. "He's a very humble young person. When you first enter a program, humility is a major asset and so our players have taken to him because of that."
Lamur had five tackles in each of his first three games. He's had three interceptions since.
"He's a great football player who came in and worked hard in the offseason," defensive end Jeffrey Fitzgerald said. "It shows right now. He's doing a great job. He's brought a lot of emotion to the game and just helps out the defense a lot."
Lamur and Thomas were not available for interviews this week.
Gregory faced the toughest transition. Not only did he have to learn a new playbook as a quarterback, he had to gain respect while backing up Carson Coffman.
Gregory remembers thinking it would be difficult at first while fighting for a starting job.
"Winning," Gregory said, "that's the most important thing to me."
Teammates say Thomas and Lamur are the same way. They have to be. It's what it takes to make the kind of instant impact they have.
"They're some of the hardest workers on our football team," senior offensive lineman Nick Stringer said. "The way they've come in and picked up on the playbook and developed into leaders on this football team is pretty impressive."