It’s fair to say Isaiah Zuber has been looking forward to this week since the moment he enrolled at Mississippi State.
A year after leading Kansas State with 52 catches, 619 receiving yards and five receiving touchdowns, Zuber is now preparing to face off against his old team in an important nonconference game that will be televised nationally. He’s not sure what his emotions will be when he takes the field Saturday at Davis Wade Stadium and sees purple on the other sideline, but he’s excited to find out.
“That game was always circled, because I went there,” Zuber told reporters earlier this week. “It will be fun to see my guys. It’s going to be competitive. They will probably talk some smack and I will talk some smack back. It’s going to be a good game.”
This is a new reality for college football teams. With transfers on the rise and players gaining the freedom to switch schools with fewer restrictions, these types of reunions are becoming less rare. K-State will go head-to-head with familiar faces like Zuber and Alex Delton (now a quarterback at TCU) this season. Both were major playmakers in Manhattan last year.
“It’s kind of crazy, because when he was here he was like a big brother to me,” K-State freshman receiver Malik Knowles said. “Now he will line up in a different uniform with different colors.”
There will also be trash talk.
“He is going to be chirping,” K-State linebacker Elijah Sullivan said. “I feel like it’s a rivalry game.”
Zuber left K-State abruptly last May and landed at Mississippi State a few weeks later with immediate eligibility as a graduate transfer. His departure came as a surprise. He seemed like a transfer candidate near the end of last season, especially when former coach Bill Snyder singled him out for losing a fumble following a loss at TCU, but Zuber seemed on track to play under Chris Klieman.
After all, Zuber stayed with the Wildcats throughout spring practice while he recovered from knee surgery. He helped his healthy teammates however he could. Things changed, according to sources, when K-State coaches informed Zuber he faced an early game suspension following a violation of team rules. That’s when he started to look for a fresh start.
“I wish him the best,” Klieman said earlier this week. “I enjoyed my brief time with Isaiah.”
K-State has excelled on offense in its first two games of the Klieman era, with the Wildcats averaging 547 yards and 50.5 points per game.
It seems like there were no hard feelings involved.
“We wish we could have had him, but he made his decision and we are just excited to see how he plays,” K-State receiver Phillip Brooks said. “We are good friends with (Zuber). It was his decision to leave. I’m not going to hold that against him.”
Zuber seems happy with his new team and his new number (12).
He is closer to his home of Stone Mountain, Georgia, and he gets to experience what life is like in the SEC for a team that physically dominated the Wildcats 31-10 last season. He hasn’t been much of a factor for the Bulldogs this year, catching just three passes for 37 yards.
No one is expecting him to run wild this week or duplicate his final performance in a K-State uniform (seven catches for 65 yards and two touchdowns), but he does have a role within Joe Moorhead’s passing game.
“It’s been a good experience,” Zuber said. “I’m glad I chose Mississippi State.”
Still, many of his best friends remain at K-State, and he keeps in contact with them regularly. When asked if he could share any of the conversations he had with his former teammates this week, Zuber said it was all “stuff I can’t say on camera.”
K-State players say they will gladly exchange playful trash talk with their former teammate this week, but that’s where it will end.
“We will be brothers again after the game,” Knowles said.
Zuber is looking forward to that most of all.
“I promise you there will be a big smile on my face,” Zuber said, “and some big smiles on their faces, win lose or draw, because I am seeing my old teammates and my friends.”