MANHATTAN — In terms of recruiting ratings, Bryce and Arthur Brown are two of the best players Bill Snyder has coached at Kansas State.
The Wichita brothers exited East High as bona fide five-star prospects. They were All-Americans and considered can't-miss players. Most every college football team in the nation wanted them.
And yet, as they prepare to take the field for the first time in the Wildcats' uniform this fall, they are viewed differently. No longer are they can't-miss stars. They have loads of potential, sure, and are widely expected to be two of the best players on K-State's roster. But doubt surrounds them both.
Arthur Brown, a big and physical linebacker who began his college career at Miami, is looking for a fresh start after two disastrous seasons in south Florida, where he was nothing more than a special teams player and totaled 17 tackles. Can he do more with a second chance?
Bryce Brown, a versatile running back who chose Tennessee out of high school, is looking to prove himself on and off the field after going through a nasty, public divorce from the Volunteers and eschewing K-State teammates over the summer to work out on his own while they stayed on campus to practice together. Can he become a good teammate?
Both players showing up in a recent Yahoo sports report for allegedly taking impermissible benefits from a Miami booster before transferring to Manhattan only enhanced those concerns, even though the NCAA has informed K-State their eligibility is not in question.
But Snyder is not worried. Why would he be? Over the years, Snyder has made a living off players with questionable backgrounds. From transfers to junior-college castaways to partial qualifiers and walk-ons, Snyder has won with overlooked talent and turned K-State into a place of reclamation.
Snyder will try to win this season the same way. He will surround the Brown brothers with a throng of other transfers and former junior college players. A good chunk of K-State's roster came straight out of high school, too, but players looking for a second chance get equal treatment.
"I've always been a strong believer in them," Snyder said. "A lot of people say, 'Well, he's in community college for a reason,' and to me that's kind of a kick in the britches.... Young people are young people. I don't view it as though a guy coming out of community college is a guy that has a whole lot of baggage. I'm not looking for that. There are good guys coming out of community college just like there are good guys coming out of high school."
Indeed, Snyder has taken chances on players with all sorts of pasts. All he cares about is giving hard-working players a chance.
From former quarterback Michael Bishop — junior college transfer — to Heisman Trophy candidate Darren Sproles — small size — to rising NFL star Jordy Nelson — walk-on — Snyder has found talent everywhere.
Rarely has he been able to sign top-rated high school seniors, but he has made up for it with his own unique style. He has guided K-State to six 11-win seasons and one Big 12 championship.
That track record has turned K-State into a desirable landing spot for players looking for a second chance.
When it came time for Arthur Brown to decide where to transfer, he knew he would face considerable pressure to regain his high-school form wherever he ended up. His goal was to "keep his head on straight," work hard on a scout team for a year, and try a new beginning with a no-nonsense approach.
"One of the main reasons I decided to come to Kansas State is Coach Snyder," Arthur Brown said earlier this month. "I know just that I had heard a lot about Coach Snyder and a lot of guys have as well. Just being a part of what he's established here at K-State is what I really wanted to be a part of ."
Snyder often takes more extreme chances on incoming players. So much so that they don't even ask for scholarships. They come in eager as walk-ons, looking to prove themselves.
"I remember the day K-State asked me to come walk-on," redshirt freshman B.J. Finney said. "I was so excited. Just the idea of playing for Coach Snyder was a dream come true."
If they play well enough, Snyder promotes them to scholarship status. Such was the case with Finney.
Because of that practice, Snyder says K-State's current roster boasts fewer than 70 scholarship players.
Why does he have such faith in players other coaches want nothing to do with?
"It doesn't mean that he is a bad guy," Snyder said. "We've had a lot of non-qualifiers that have come, gotten their degree and gone on to have great success in whatever professional field they choose to go into. A bad guy is not a bad guy because he might have lower grades than somebody else. He deserves a chance."
For that reason, Snyder is not in favor of raising grade-point average requirements to play Division I football. He says a college education is expensive, and preventing a student-athlete, who is willing and able to push himself at a university, from having access to a scholarship is wrong.
And despite taking a few chances, Snyder has been around plenty of success stories. He's proud when he says K-State has graduated close to 80 percent of its players with him as coach.
His message has always been: "If you go to college and you make the effort and you make it important to you and you try hard, yeah, you can do it."
Over the years, his players have listened and made the most of the second chances only K-State was willing to provide.