MANHATTAN — No matter what happens at the Cotton Bowl next month, Kansas State's football team will head into the 2012 season with more momentum and hype than the program has seen in nearly a decade.
The Wildcats could benefit from added respect at the national level, extra TV attention and in all likelihood a preseason ranking.
Put all three together, and K-State could begin appealing to recruits that have ignored it in the recent past. Those are the type of things that matter to high school players, and make them enthusiastically pick up the phone when coaches call.
Though K-State coach Bill Snyder is hopeful the breakthrough 10-2 regular season will help the Wildcats on the recruiting trail, the long-time coach doesn't see it changing his approach. The type of player his staff targeted last season will continue to be they type of player it targets next season.
"I don't think our direction has changed in regards to who we are recruiting," Snyder said. "I don't see us recruiting differently. I would always like to recruit better, but how we do it, I don't think will be any different."
That means K-State will continue to look for players who fit into the Wildcats' culture and are ready to be coached when they arrive on campus, instead of seeking out players solely because of high rankings on recruiting websites.
Coaches will use their familiar contacts in Kansas, Texas and Florida to find high school prospects, and bring in junior college transfers wherever necessary. Two-and three-star players are fine, as long as they fit the program. Five-star recruits are welcome, too, but only if they meet the same criteria.
"To me, the most significant factor is assessment and how you evaluate young people," Snyder said, "to be strong enough in evaluations that they allow you to understand those intrinsic values that they bring as well. You obviously have to have some on-the-field talent, but some of the other things become so valuable, as well, for us."
K-State currently has 11 commitments for next season, according to Rivals. All are ranked as two-and three-star players, with quarterback Tavarius Bender of Lincoln, Neb., and offensive lineman Aderius Epps of Cedar Hill, Texas, headlining the class. Both are regarded as top-40 players at their positions.
Snyder and his staff could try and take advantage of K-State's notoriety by aiming higher during the offseason. But Snyder says he learned the hard way that was a bad strategy 15 years ago when the Wildcats were regularly going to bowl games during his first stint as coach.
"We became a little more of a national program," Snyder said. "At a particular point in time, we thought, 'Now we can get in (with) whatever those X-number star guys are. We can get in those doors.' What I found out very quickly was that we got away from some of the basic things that we believe in.
"Indeed, we did get in a few more homes. Really what happened was we spent an awful lot of time, an awful lot of effort and an awful lot of money and we'd get in the top five, we'd get visits.... Bottom line was, at the end of the day, we weren't getting those guys."
Those misses were hard for his staff to take, especially when it hurt their ability to recruit the type of players they had targeted the year before. Because they spent so much time on higher-ranked players, the next tier of recruits was already interested in other programs by the time K-State called.
Back then, the Wildcats were unable to capitalize on their on-field success.
No matter how tempting the idea may be, Snyder said he isn't about to let that happen again. He trusts the recruiting system he has in place.
Another year? —Snyder plans to request a medical redshirt for senior offensive lineman Manase Foketi, and is hopeful he will be granted another season with the Wildcats. Foketi started 13 games at left tackle a year ago, and opened this season as the starter there as well, but suffered a season-ending injury in the second game.
Wideouts out — The Wildcats will likely be out two receivers at the Cotton Bowl. Snyder said Tuesday he expects both Tyler Lockett and Curry Sexton to miss the game because of injury. Lockett, who was chosen Big 12 offensive freshman of the year, was ruled out for the season after suffering a lacerated kidney against Oklahoma State. Sexton has not played since catching two passes against Texas A&M.
Rough start — When asked how recent practices have gone in preparation for the Cotton Bowl, Snyder didn't offer a great assessment.
"Not like I would like," he said.
Up-and-comers — Snyder mentioned a number of young players who impress him at the moment. Among them: freshman quarterback Daniel Sams, offensive lineman Boston Stiverson of Andover Central, defensive lineman Laton Dowling and running backs Robert Rose and Wichita native DeMarcus Robinson.