MANHATTAN — The Cat Pack — Kansas State players linking arms and jogging from midfield to the locker room after games — is going strong 20 years after its debut.
"I've never seen that anywhere else in my life, and I watch a lot of football," quarterback Grant Gregory said. "But it's pretty cool. The crowd goes nuts every time we do it. It really brings us together."
It's one of the oldest Bill Snyder traditions, used to symbolize team unity.
There are others.
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K-State players are required to leave the locker room after games in matching attire: gray dress pants, white shirt, tie and a black sports coat with a Powercat sewn onto the breast.
The thought is that even though players are free to go where they wish, they remain united in their appearance.
It's another sign of what Snyder has done best during his first year back on the job. Coming off a three-year retirement at 70, he has made his players believe not only in themselves, but each other.
When former coach Ron Prince went 17-20 in three seasons, and interest around the program dropped, team unity fell with it.
Under Snyder, it has been restored. It may be the biggest reason a team few expected to contend for a bowl is preparing to take on Nebraska for a Big 12 North championship on Saturday night.
Snyder may have made college football's biggest Cash For Clunkers deal.
"It's more fun to be around the group collectively," junior center Wade Weibert said. "There was some division last year. There were a lot of cliques, and you could see it. But he's definitely broken down those walls. We're all together now."
Snyder likes to write notes. Not e-mails, Facebook status updates or text messages, but handwritten notes.
Earlier this year, K-State athletic director John Currie casually mentioned to Snyder that his son had scored a goal in a soccer game.
What did Jack Currie read three days later?
"There he was with a handwritten note in his hand from Bill Snyder," Currie said. "And it not only was congratulating him on his goal, but making sure he's doing good in school, too."
During his time away from coaching, he wrote notes to every opposing coach who played K-State, congratulating his team on what it did well.
When Louisiana-Lafayette coach Rickey Bustle received his a year ago, he needed two words to describe Snyder: Class act.
The letters symbolize everything about Snyder. They're old-school, and show effort, thought and respect.
During each road game, he encourages players to leave thank-you notes for the hotel housekeeping staff.
"Treating people with respect," Gregory said. "It goes a really long way."
That's what Snyder wants his team to project.
"He takes pride in us being men of character," Gregory said.
When asked this week what gave him the most pride in his first season back, Snyder mentioned nothing of games or the Big 12 North standings. Instead, he pointed to the way his players have grown in the short time he's known them.
"The little victories, so to speak, that are not on the scoreboard," Snyder said. "Some young people have been able to respond to life's lessons that maybe they couldn't deal with, and learned through a variety of different mechanisms how to deal with some of those things. Things that made their life a little bit better."
Amy Button Renz is president of the K-State Alumni Association. Naturally, many of the association's events revolve around athletics and, in particular, football.
They have always been a favorite among fans, but this year she noticed a spike in both turnout and satisfaction.
"Our numbers are up across the board," she said. "We had a recruitment event in Wichita that last year had 150 people at it, but this year had 250 and it was standing-room only."
The Alumni Association has grown in member size. There are many reasons for the increased interest, she said, but the football team's success definitely has something to do with it.
"K-Staters are very excited to have Coach Snyder back leading our football program," Button Renz said. "He's one of the real legends in college football. You can tell our fans have really embraced his return."
Especially because they feel a connection. Button Renz said Snyder is a terrific friend of the association and is always willing to attend an event when he has time.
When Prince was coach, Button Renz said he tried to help out in the same way. "But there's just something special about Coach Snyder," she said. "You can really tell he enjoys visiting with everyone. I have a lot of respect for him because of that. I think a lot of people do."
Fans re-embraced Snyder by showing up in near-record numbers to the season opener. More than 50,000 watched K-State take on a lower-level Massachusetts team. The main reason was to welcome back their coach.
As ticket prices increased through the conference season, attendance numbers dropped and there were plenty of seats for important home games against Kansas and Missouri. But at least 42,000 fans were at each game.
Jeremy Holaday, a junior K-State student, said that excitement has lingered across campus all season. In past years, he said a good number of students had already moved on to basketball by now.
"You walk around campus today, though, and actually hear people talking about football," Holaday said. "I guess they talked about it the last few years, but the talk wasn't good. That's changed. I walk into class now and hear people talking about how much they want to go to the football game."
To prove his point, Holaday pulled up his Facebook page and showed the groups students have created to support football. One pushes Snyder for Big 12 Coach of the Year and another simply read "K-State tickets needed."
Holaday remembers a time when that group would have been named "K-State tickets for sale."
Even Snyder has noticed the energy.
"On Saturdays I come back over here, I'm late getting out and they're still tailgating late, late at night," Snyder said. "It means something to them and that makes me feel good. It really does."
That brings us to Saturday.
Kansas State has played itself into a de facto Big 12 North championship game at Nebraska. If the Wildcats win, they will play for the conference championship Dec. 5 in Arlington, Texas, and then most likely will play in a bowl game.
If it all happens, fan interest will continue to rise, and players will get to keep their impressive season going for a few more weeks.
But whatever happens, Snyder will keep the same approach. His son, Sean, who works for his dad as the director of football operations, says that will never change.
Again, it all goes back to the little things. Most coaches won't put as much emphasis on off-the-field demands as on-the-field strategy.
But it's what sets Snyder apart. By turning every minute detail into an important symbol his players can learn from, it can feel like he's coaching 24 hours a day.
In the recent weeks, with the success of his traditional coaching methods, national media asked the question: How? How did you do it? How did you get K-State into contention for a division title so quickly?
Snyder doesn't like to answer such questions. Praise for himself is rarer than praise for his players.
But Gregory isn't afraid to explain. He knows exactly how Snyder has done it.
"The discipline we have, knowing that he doesn't accept things any other way," Gregory said. "It forces you to come together and grow as both a person and a team. There is no other option."