Jake Waters used to be shy. As recently as one year ago, when the Kansas State quarterback prepared for his first spring game, he did so quietly in the back of the Wildcats’ locker room.
Even though he was competing for the starting job as a junior transfer, and had more than enough talent to win it, he felt new. Having recently transferred into the program from junior college, he wasn’t comfortable trying to lead. So he left that to other, more-established teammates.
Things are different now. When Waters takes the field for another spring game at 1:10 p.m. Saturday, he will be ready to take command as the team’s unquestioned starting quarterback.
“Now that I have a full year playing under my belt,” Waters said, “it is a lot easier to take that role.”
He isn’t shy anymore.
“It’s a ton different,” Waters said. “Right now my confidence is so much better than it was when I first came in here. Last year at this point my head was still spinning a little bit. Now I am trying to perfect every little detail of the offense, getting everything to where I want it to be.”
Waters hopes to show off his progress. Fans are expecting a lot. Waters is coming off a debut season in which he completed 159 of 260 passes for 2,469 yards and 18 touchdowns. His 189.9 passing yards ranked third in the Big 12. He also ran for 312 yards and six touchdowns.
Those numbers came while splitting time with Daniel Sams, who has since moved to receiver. Waters is now taking all of the snaps in practice. Teammates say his game has improved.
“He has become really accurate with his throws,” sophomore running back Jarvis Leverett said. “He understands how to control the offense better and read defenses and check to audibles. It’s the whole thing. He is doing real good.”
Added coach Bill Snyder: “He just understands things a lot better and has more confidence.”
Of course, his biggest improvement is visible off the field.
“Jake is a guy who is going to bust his tail and be first in the running and first in the lift and always have a positive attitude,” sophomore receiver Deante Burton said. “When he came in he was a little quiet. That had to be a little scary coming in around 150 guys. Everyone has their own demeanor and goals.
“But throughout the season his work ethic made it easy for him to be a leader and for us to follow. It has been real easy for guys to fall in line and see what he can do.”
Still, he has work left to do. K-State’s offense isn’t where it should be right now. At least that’s what Snyder has repeatedly said since spring practices began.
Though the Wildcats return most of their offensive talent – Tyler Lockett and Curry Sexton at receiver, B.J. Finney, Boston Stiverson and Cody Whitehair on the offensive line, Glenn Gronkowski at fullback and Waters – they have only shined in one closed-door scrimmage.
Snyder says K-State has been stronger on defense, a surprise considering the Wildcats lost their leading tackler at linebacker, a four-year starter at safety, a pair of starting cornerbacks and two defensive linemen.
“When we are rolling, it is a lot of fun,” Waters said. “We have got a lot of explosive guys in our running game and in our passing game, but when the defense gets rolling, too, it can be the opposite. They look great.”
A strong spring game might ease those concerns.
“When we get rolling, I am excited about it,” Waters said. “That is what we are trying to get to, that consistency level where we can go out there and do it pretty much every day.
“I think we are more consistent as a whole. Coach might not think that, but, for me, I know more of what is going on, so I think we will still have the same highs but we won’t get as low. We are more consistent in that, but we still need to get better. The defense has had our number.”
Waters is confident K-State’s offense will perform on Saturday.
In spring practices, he often played against a defense that knew what plays were coming. That won’t be the case during the spring game, when Snyder will let Waters call his own plays. Waters says he is going to “air it out” and have as much fun as he can with that freedom.
The plan is to put up points the way only an experienced quarterback can.
“The country has a show coming in watching Jake,” Burton said. “I think he is going to do real big things and make a name for himself. He is going to put K-State in a big light. I think we are going to get rolling. We are going to follow him and ride his coattails.”