MANHATTAN — For a guy who is viewed by many as Kansas State's top overall player, there is a surprising amount of uncertainty surrounding Bryce Brown.
Is he working hard enough in practice to impress his coaches? Is he healthy? Will he be the Wildcats' starting running back when the season begins?
These are questions that most players with Brown's resume — high school All-American at Wichita East and one of the nation's top recruits when he went to Tennessee — don't usually have to answer.
But when coach Bill Snyder kicked off preseason media sessions by saying he was displeased with the amount of participation in voluntary workouts over the summer, singling out Brown as someone who hasn't impressed him and declaring the top running back spot up for grabs, those questions couldn't be ignored.
On Friday at K-State's media day, Brown was asked about a number of topics. Did he skip any voluntary workouts?
"Yeah, I did," Brown said. "I actually missed quite a few. I was here and there, kinda doing my own thing."
That helps explain Snyder's concerns, and his tendency to speak highly of John Hubert and Robert Rose when asked about who will replace Daniel Thomas as the team's go-to running back.
"We've got a number of guys who are very, very capable," Snyder said. "The competition there will be good. I have no doubt about that."
Brown thinks differently. Ask if he expects to start right away, and he says, "Yeah, I do."
"It all depends on me," Brown said. "It all depends on how I'm working and how much information I can retain and how I'm performing. Because in the end it's about performance and I am very confident in myself that I can be the starting back."
Brown spent much of his summer in Wichita and Tennessee instead of Manhattan. Coaches didn't approve of the decision, but he says it's not like he was goofing off.
The combination of an injured ankle during spring practices and a nagging hip injury he's had since middle school left him concerned about his health and how his body was responding to rehab. So he decided to train his own way. Brown said it's been hard for him to cope with the heat, and he hasn't grasped K-State's offense as well as he would prefer, but overall he thinks he made the right choice. He now feels close to 100 percent.
"My main thing this year was about getting healthy," Brown said."... I didn't feel like I was running as fast as I could. It was something that was nagging and nagging and nagging. I've always had hip issues. I've always had hip problems. So I have to be cautious with what I'm doing as far as work and make sure that I'm careful in that part so that I don't deal with the injuries during the season."
Still, he understands the job may be more difficult to win. He played alongside Thomas in practice while sitting out his transfer year. He watched Thomas share carries with former running back William Powell.
He has also practiced with Hubert and Rose. They are shorter than Brown, who is 6 feet and 220 pounds, but they can juke past defenders and bring different talents to the field.
Hubert led all rushers with 79 yards in K-State's spring game, and Rose has made progress in several areas. Where in the past he classified himself as a speed specialist, now he calls himself a "complete back."
He's looking forward to pushing Brown throughout fall practices. He expects a fierce competition.
"As a unit, I think we can compete with the best of them," Rose said. "You've got Bryce Brown, the top recruit in the nation, you've got John Hubert who can break records and you've got me. I'm just a walk-on, but as a whole I think we're really going to be great."
Snyder will have options, and there's no doubt the position boasts depth. But it won't truly be great unless Brown is brilliant. He's the reason Thomas walked away from college saying K-State's running game wouldn't drop off this season.
Brown says he is up for the challenge. And he wants everyone to know he's ready to redeem himself. Especially Snyder.
"We're here in fall camp," Brown said. "The past is the past. I can't go back and change that. I'm here. I'm working hard. I'm just trying to get back to where I was at."
It may have gotten off to a slow start, but that process has already begun.
"I would also like to be a vocal leader this year," Brown said, "and just do my part and contribute and be the best player I can be at K-State."
Harold a no show — It appears as if K-State has lost its second defensive player of the preseason. Brandon Harold, a junior defensive end, failed to report for the beginning of fall camp and was not present at Friday's media day.
A team spokesman said he hasn't officially been ruled off the team, as junior backup defensive back Tanner Burns was on Tuesday, but his future with the team looks bleak.
"Somebody told him last spring that he didn't have to be around," Snyder said of Harold. "He must have listened real good, because I haven't seen him."
Harold was expected to compete for a starting spot on K-State's defensive line. His absence could be noticeable. As a freshman he made 10 1/2 tackles for loss, had three sacks, forced two fumbles and was chosen to several freshman All- America teams.