MANHATTAN — Shortly after learning he would no longer be Kansas State's starting quarterback last season, Carson Coffman phoned his father, Paul.
The two are close, and talk about football all the time. Paul, who played tight end at K-State and in the NFL, regularly offers his son advice. Knowing his dad would be there for him with support, Carson was straight forward with the bad news. But it was still a difficult call to make.
"It was really disappointing," Coffman said. "I was kind of embarrassed.”
He had reason to feel down.
Not only was he benched in favor of Grant Gregory, he was pulled at the worst possible time. Coffman was expecting to play that week in Arrowhead Stadium, near his home in Peculiar, Mo. He was hoping to put on a show in front of his friends and family. Instead they watched him pace the sidelines during K-State’s 24-23 win over Iowa State.
"It was hard for him," K-State coach Bill Snyder said. "Extremely hard. But it's a competitive endeavor, athletics. Whoever is performing the best is going to be on the field."
At the time, that wasn't Coffman. And so began his tough climb back to the top of K-State's depth chart.
He had to learn how to be a good teammate, and help his replacement become a better quarterback. He had to keep pushing himself in practice, just in case coaches asked him to return to the field. He had to win another quarterback competition heading into his senior season.
After proving himself all over again, he gets a shot at playing inside the stadium he frequented as a Chiefs fan. He gets another shot at the Cyclones, and a full Big 12 schedule.
In a sense, his entire comeback has led up to this moment.
But Coffman doesn't see it that way.
"He's a guy who doesn't get too excited about things and doesn't get too down about things," Paul Coffman said. "Even though he's a funny guy and likes to cut up and do all that kind of stuff, emotionally he's not a roller-coaster-type guy. He's not going to call me up and say 'Woo hoo! They named me the starter today, Dad.’ Or ‘boo hoo, I'm not the starter.' He doesn't go from one extreme to the next."
Perhaps that's why Carson Coffman treats this game like all the rest.
Ask if he is facing any extra motivation to play well this week and he laughs.
"No," Coffman said. "Not really."
Exactly the answer his father expects.
"People will say, 'Are you going to play harder because it's in Kansas City?’æ” Paul Coffman said. "Well if you can play harder because it's in Kansas City why aren't you playing harder all the time?
"You play hard because you love the game. You practice hard, you prepare hard because you want to be the best you can be. Not because you're playing in front of certain people or you have something to prove. You give it your all whether you're in the backyard playing or in Kansas City playing in front of a whole bunch of people. That's just the way he is. He loves playing. That's what motivates him."
It's also what helped him recover from last season's setbacks. After a few blue moments, he was back in his normally jovial mood.
He wasn't a factor on the field, but he retained a leadership role in the locker room and continued to act like a team captain.
"He's resilient," Paul Coffman said. "He could have sulked, but that would have affected his performance. The only two things he's got control of are his attitude and his work ethic. My encouragement to him was, 'Stay positive and just keep working hard. Good things will happen.’æ”
Coffman is off to a 2-0 start this year, and is fresh off his best statistical performance as a Wildcat. During a win over Missouri State, he threw for a career-high 280 yards and three touchdowns.
He says his confidence is higher than ever. And even though he cares little about proving himself against conference opponents, he is ready to prove his team's worth. That's something even he can get excited about.
"This is huge for us," Coffman said. "This game last year really kicked off our success. We had a huge win at the last secondæ.æ.æ. I hope that we can have a big win that can jump start us for Big 12 play."