MANHATTAN — When Chris Harper started doubting his future at Oregon, he turned to Tysyn Hartman for advice.
The two have been friends since elementary school, and learned to play football together on a grass field in Wichita. They were on the same youth team and formed a bond that connected them through high school and last as they moved on to college.
He seemed like the perfect person to call.
When Hartman answered the phone, Harper took in everything he had to say. And after one season with the Ducks, he transferred to Kansas State.
"We always kept in touch, even when he was at Oregon," Hartman said. "He would speak about how tough it was being so far away. It was hard for him. I was able to talk with Chris and kind of help him."
Today he doesn't need to pick up the phone to reach out to a lifelong friend. He bumps into them on campus every day.
"Sometimes it feels like I'm back in the City League," said Harper, a Northwest grad.
Not quite, but there is no denying the major connection Wichita currently has with K-State's football team. Ten Wichita natives are on the active roster, and so are eight others from neighboring towns.
Those numbers alone will catch your eye. But what truly makes the connection special is the amount of Wichita-area players who are expected to play key roles this season. Former East linebacker Arthur Brown will be asked to lead a major change on defense. His brother, Bryce, faces the difficult task of following Daniel Thomas at running back. Former Andale star B.J. Finney is set to start at center and kicker Anthony Cantele will regularly be on the field with Harper and Hartman.
"It's a blast to see this many Wichita people not only on the team, but major contributors," said Hartman, who's from Kapaun Mount Carmel. "Just being able to play with these guys that I played against all through my high school career — we're family now — it's been a blast."
There are obvious explanations for the Wichita connection. It's Kansas' biggest city, and coach Bill Snyder admits it is a place where the Wildcats try to build a recruiting pipeline.
"It's a pretty big city as Kansas standards go," Snyder said. "So there should be some pretty good players coming out of there. I'm pleased to have them. They're good people and good young players."
But it goes deeper than that.
The Wichita players on K-State's roster say part of the reason they all ended up in Manhattan is because of the Wildcats' successes in the 1990s. When they were growing up, K-State was contending for conference championships and playing in respected bowl games yearly.
When they wanted to watch an in-state team play on a Saturday afternoon, the Wildcats were often the only option available on television.
Snyder was the coach then and he still is today, but he wasn't when Harper and Arthur Brown committed elsewhere in 2007. Harper committed to Ron Prince's Wildcats in December 2007, but offensive coordinator James Franklin left days later and Harper withdrew his commitment.
Bryce Brown committed to Tennessee in March 2009, four months after Snyder's return as coach.
"One of the main reasons I decided to come to Kansas State is Coach Snyder," said Arthur Brown, a Miami transfer. "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.... Coach Snyder, I respect him a lot. He's very relate-able. He's been in the game for quite some time and he can relate well to every one of his players."
Manhattan is also an easy two-hour drive from Wichita. Being nearby allows players to take the field in front of friends and relatives. It also gives players the chance to get home regularly during the offseason.
That, more than anything, appealed to players such as Harper, Bryce Brown and Arthur Brown, who considered K-State as high school seniors but decided to sign with Oregon, Tennessee and Miami.
Harper and the Brown brothers live together, and organize carpools home all the time.
It may not sound as exciting as some of the activities they had access to in bigger cities and faraway colleges, but it's what they've grown to prefer.
"We all come from great families," Hartman said. "We're all close with our families. Some of the guys that went elsewhere at first were away from stuff. It was hard on them. They wanted to be around it again."
Added Arthur Brown: "Really, most of my enjoyment at Kansas State comes from being around my brother and being around my teammates. It's not necessarily about what we're doing, but who we're doing it with."
From the living room to the football field, they spend as much time together as they can.
"I think they enjoy being around each other," Snyder said. "They like it. What I like is that it helps them in regards of having familiarity. You know what you've got. I want all of our guys to be actively involved and interact with each other in a positive way."
And with each new Wichita player added to the roster comes another success story.
Hartman, a former high school quarterback, switched to safety and became one of the Big 12's best young players a sophomore. As a senior, he is the unquestioned captain of K-State's secondary. Harper saw that success early on, and when he listened to Hartman talk up K-State on the phone, he was easily persuaded to transfer closer to home. He was a starter in his first season. He may be the Wildcats' top red-zone receiver this year.
Then Arthur Brown decided to leave Miami for K-State and Bryce Brown, hoping to be reunited with his brother, transferred to Manhattan as well. Their on-field success is still unknown, but K-State is expecting big things out of both. Arthur Brown is a physically-gifted linebacker who brings hope to a defense that was abysmal last season. Bryce Brown was one of the highest-rated recruits in the nation coming out of high school, and was selected to the media's preseason All-Big 12 team.
K-State's final record could hinge on how well they play.
Good thing they've got a few friends from their hometown to turn to for help.