MANHATTAN — One game. One tackle. One disappointing year.
No matter how Brandon Harold looks at it, there is no positive spin to put on his second season at Kansas State. Merely thinking about it is hard.
"My spirits got real, real low," Harold said.
Hurting matters were the higher-than-the-moon expectations he carried into 2009. Back then the 6-foot-5, 264-pound defensive end remembers thinking he was coming into his own as a player, and that he was ready "to explode — I felt like was coming into my own as a player."
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Those feelings were understandable. As a freshman, he played well enough to earn high praise at the regional and national levels.
After 45 tackles and leading all freshmen nationally with 10.5 tackles for loss, he had become one of the most popular players on the roster.
K-State began pushing him for a spot on the Big 12's all-conference team in the preseason. Everyone expected another big year.
But it never came. Harold started the season on crutches and had to undergo extensive rehabilitation to recover from a knee injury in time to take the field midway through the year at Texas Tech.
Harold was eager to get back in the lineup. K-State coach Bill Snyder was eager to get him back, too. Perhaps too eager, as it turned out.
Harold lasted only a few series against Texas Tech and made his lone tackle of the season. Afterward, he spoke confidently about how his game would improve as the season went on. But secretly, he had doubts.
"I should have made this play in the backfield," Harold said of the Texas Tech game. "Instead of cutting properly and making the play, I stepped and my knee gave out on me. I was thinking the whole game, just thinking, 'Man, I could really beat this dude if I had my knee.' It was getting me down the whole game. After I got a little hurt and tweaked it a little bit, I realized I wasn't going to be able to do it."
So he disappeared. Harold wasn't seen publicly with his teammates again the rest of the season.
His absence was mysterious. Snyder said Harold had re-injured his knee, but offered no timetable for his return. As the season wore on, Snyder suggested Harold could remain inactive and seek a medical redshirt.
Adding to the mystery, Harold didn't play during the spring game because of an academic issue.
Harold refused to go into specifics, but said his problems were deeper than his uncooperative knee.
"I was dealing with a lot of off-the-field issues," Harold said. "So I really couldn't focus on what I was supposed to do. It delayed my return and delayed a couple things."
The distractions became so severe that Snyder had to request a sit-down meeting with Harold in an attempt to get him back on track.
"We battled with things," Harold said. "We had our differences."
But eventually, everything returned to normal.
"Coach Snyder is just a beautiful man," Harold said. "Very caring and very helpful. He talked to me and reached out to my family. He reached out to my heart and decided on what was best for me."
Those discussions have helped Harold forget about last season. He said he now understands where his focus needs to be.
"Becoming a man, I realized what I need to do day by day," Harold said. "Things are just getting so much better."
And because he only played in part of one game last season, he is getting a fresh start. The NCAA recently awarded him a medical redshirt, allowing him to once again enter his sophomore season this year.
Harold hopes things go well this time around. He said he became fully healthy earlier this summer and is ready to regain his freshman form.
Snyder is confident he will.
"I think he is practicing well," Snyder said. "I see some positive things. I think that there is still a lot of learning to take place for him, just from missing the opportunity to be on the field in a little bit different of a system. It takes some time, but I think he is responding to that well at this point."
One thing is for sure: Harold will be able to handle adversity this time around. Being away from the game for a year helped him realize there is more to college football than getting the chance to "explode" and produce individual stats.
As miserable the last year has been for him, he is thankful for that much.
"My faith is a lot stronger," Harold said. "My heart is a lot stronger. My mindset is a lot stronger. My priorities are back in order. I've got a lot more firmness in my life and more meaning, a greater motive. I'm pretty much a happy person right now."