MANHATTAN — Raphael Guidry can't see past the Cotton Bowl. He won't allow himself.
Playing in, and preparing for, the Kansas State football team's final game of the season is literally all the senior defensive tackle likes thinking about these days. Ask him a simple question, such as what his plans are after graduation, and he does little more than shrug.
"I have no idea," Guidry says. "Even if I did, I probably wouldn't say. I just want to live this now while it's still in front of me."
This is Guidry's approach on football and on life. It has helped him become one of K-State's top playmakers on defense — he ended the regular season with four blocked kicks and an interception — and has allowed him to view each game he plays as a unique gift.
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He hasn't always looked at football and life in this way. He had to learn. As recently as two months ago, he allowed himself to think about anything and everything, and his play suffered.
When the season began, his name was listed near the bottom of the depth chart and he didn't see action in one game. Not a good sign considering K-State's defensive line was made up of inexperienced and unproven players at the time. Though the Wildcats needed leadership on their front four, he didn't appear able to provide it.
"I started off slow, just not doing what I needed to do in practice," Guidry said. "I got tired of not playing as much as I did the past few years. To not start out the year on top was hard on me. I had a rough first half of the season. The second half, I just found a way to dig deep and found some motivation to get going."
The source of that motivation: Tragedy.
Leading up to K-State's game at Texas Tech in mid-October, Guidry received a gut-wrenching phone call. He learned a close family friend had been shot and killed in the Houston suburb of La Marque. They were about the same age, went to high school together and Guidry had spoken to him in person as recently as spring break when he visited his hometown of Texas City.
It made Guidry realize that he could no longer take anything for granted, football or otherwise.
"I just woke up one morning and found out what happened. I was heartbroken," Guidry said. "I found out he was shot... I dedicated the rest of the season to him and his family. I wanted to leave a mark for him."
A few days later, K-State coach Bill Snyder gave Guidry the most playing time he had seen all season, and he responded by blocking two kicks and making a tackle for loss.
"That clicked for me big time," Guidry said. "I had a personal tragedy and I just gave my all for him. Once I decided that I'm going to step up, I carried that with me the rest of the season."
He has been a key player for the Wildcats ever since, and an important reason why they are in the middle of their best season in nearly a decade.
Guidry blocked another kick against Texas A&M. As the season went on, he also entered the starting lineup as a defensive tackle. By the time senior day rolled around, he couldn't have asked for anything more. He started the game, he blocked an extra point and he grabbed an interception near the line of scrimmage on a tipped pass.
"He's got a knack for some of the things that he does," Snyder said."... He is pretty athletic and he has always been that way. He has good movement and good change of direction. He is a good guy to run your slants and stunts upfront."
He is also a good guy to energize teammates during practices. K-State starts every practice kicking field goals. As the team's top kick blocker, that is the 6-foot-4 Guidry's time to shine, attempting to leap above the center and block the kick.
"It's something I love to do," Guidry said. "I try to get a block every day."
Every time he does, his teammates take notice.
"He has come a long way," linebacker Arthur Brown said. "He's gone out and proven it in practice, and you definitely have to put that into perspective when you talk about his games on Saturdays. He's been putting in work he should be proud of."
Guidry is proud of what he has accomplished in a short time. He has gone from seldom-used reserve to a starter on the Wildcats' defensive line, and one of the top kick blockers around. He also received a degree from K-State during the school's fall commencement on Saturday. All after losing a close friend.
It was a wild and emotional ride, and he's not sure what will come next.
For now, his focus is on the Cotton Bowl. If the past two months have taught him anything, that's exactly where it should be.