Ty Zimmerman emerged from the locker room on Saturday with a medical boot on his right foot and crutches underneath both arms, triggering memories of last season.
The Kansas State senior safety suffered an injury to his right ankle while trying to make a tackle against TCU, and it was obvious he needed time to heal. Almost a full year earlier, he had a similar injury against the same team and missed the final two games of the regular season.
Only then, he didn’t publicly walk on crutches until the following week’s game, a 52-24 loss to Baylor in which K-State’s defense struggled without him. This time, the diagnosis appears worse.
Though K-State coach Bill Snyder didn’t provide a health update on Zimmerman during his weekly news conference on Tuesday, citing his policy of not disclosing injuries, players spoke pessimistically about the status of their top defensive playmaker.
“I would like to dedicate my performance to all the seniors, especially Ty Zimmerman,” sophomore quarterback Daniel Sams said. “It was bad how it ended for him.”
“He is a great player,” freshman fullback Glenn Gronkowski added. “No matter who it is, you don’t ever want to see that happen to anyone. It’s a huge loss.”
Zimmerman is expected to miss Saturday’s game against No. 22 Oklahoma and is unlikely to play against Kansas in the regular-season finale a week later. He was able to recover in time to play in the Fiesta Bowl last season. Time will tell if he can follow a similar path this season.
One thing is for sure, the Wildcats are preparing to play without him against the Sooners.
Zimmerman has started 46 games in K-State’s secondary, he won all-conference honors in his first three seasons and he served as a team captain since the start of his junior year. Before his injury, the Junction City native was on pace for a record senior season, making 69 tackles, three sacks and three interceptions.
His absence will be noticeable against an offense that averages 236.4 rushing yards and uses multiple quarterbacks.
“Ty means a lot to our defense,” junior linebacker Jonathan Truman said. “He is a great player and a great leader. We all look to him for leadership. On and off the field, he is a great teammate.”
Still, K-State is hoping it can handle the loss of its top defensive back better than it did a year ago.
Back then, current starting safety Dante Barnett filled in for Zimmerman, and the Bears used his inexperience to their advantage by beating him deep for a touchdown on the opening series.
Dylan Schellenberg, a junior with limited experience, took over for Zimmerman against TCU. He didn’t commit any glaring mistakes and made two tackles. That will help his psyche against Oklahoma.
“I think everybody handled it well,” Barnett said. “(Zimmerman) went out early in the game and that gave Schellenberg enough time to adjust to the game. We all got the chance to adjust to each other. I thought we played good. That will be very helpful. Anytime you can go into a game and get your feet wet it is helpful.”
TCU managed 348 yards and 31 points against K-State. Most of its successful plays came on short, quick passes. But David Porter beat Schellenberg for a 51-yard touchdown grab in the second half.
Maybe Zimmerman would have prevented the bomb. Maybe not.
It will be up to other players to prevent big plays against Oklahoma, while Zimmerman watches on from the sideline.
“He means a lot. He is a leader to the defense,” Gronkowski said of Zimmerman. “Not just with his plays. He is vocal and he gets everyone in the right spot. He knows what he is doing. That is definitely a huge loss, but we have other players who can step up.”
“That’s not cold,” Snyder said. “This is Kansas, after all. Our guys are accustomed to that.”
Most believe Trevor Knight, who rushed for 123 yards and a touchdown against the Cyclones, will get the nod, because Blake Bell is dealing with an injury. But Bell has started the last eight games and Kendal Thompson also made plays against Iowa State.
Stoops has said he won’t make a decision until game time.
“The good thing is that they can only get one quarterback on the field at any given time,” Snyder said.