Spring games are generally pretty forgettable.
The same could also be said about Kansas State’s annual scrimmage at Bill Snyder Family Stadium on Saturday — unless you’re Kaiden Schroeder.
Diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia, 8-year-old Kaiden had the biggest play of the day for the Wildcats when he took a handoff from Purple team quarterback Jake Waters and dodged defenders on his way to the end zone for a 30-yard touchdown in the closing seconds of the third quarter.
“First and foremost, it’s a result of young people in our program who really reach out to others,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said. “Here, there is so much community service that goes unnoticed in our program. I value them and they volunteer to go do things and they do amazing things with it. It is good for them and they love doing it.
“There are a lot of young people that they bring into our program. This particular one happens to be going though some hard times. It was fun for him and enjoyable for all of our players at the same time. You love seeing things like that, you really do.”
The Wildcats’ star defensive end Ryan Mueller became friends with Kaiden last year when he visited his little fan at a Kansas City hospital where he was undergoing treatment. On Saturday, wearing Mueller’s No. 44, Kaiden was the star, as he was hoisted into the air by the entire K-State football team after scoring his touchdown.
“It was awesome, a great experience, especially for Kaiden,” said Mueller, who pitched the idea for Kaiden’s play to Snyder a few days ago. “I want to thank (athletic director) John Currie, Coach Snyder, the fantastic job of the athletic department we have here… I’m so glad that they were supportive of it — the football staff, the coaches, my teammates — it was something Kaiden will remember for the rest of his life.”
Mueller, who admits he doesn’t know much about playing running back, gave Kaiden a pep talk on the sideline before he ran out to the field.
“I told him to just do what he does when he’s playing video games — use a couple juke moves and run to the end zone,” he said.
Though Kaiden’s touchdown didn’t count officially, it would have made the Purple team’s day look a little better, as it held off the White for a 23-13 victory to cap spring practices.
The Purple led just 7-3 at halftime — scoring its only touchdown in the first half on a 14-yard run by fullback Glenn Gronkowski with 2:03 to play in the first quarter. The White got on the scoreboard with 54 seconds left in the second quarter when Matthew McCrane connected on a 42-yard field goal.
“I don’t think we were the kind of football team that I wanted us to be today,” Snyder said. “There were some good things, there was some bad things. The White team, at some spots, collectively played better than the Purple team. I think we struggled on offense. The White team, offensively, put up some first downs.
“We couldn’t get any three-and-outs for the Purple defense. They struggled a little bit on the big play and the offense just killed itself with penalties and took them out of field position and scoring range on more than one occasion.”
Waters, who finished 26-of-38 passing for 227 yards and an interception, pushed the Purple’s lead to 14-3 on a 10-yard touchdown run with 8:46 to play in the third quarter. The senior rushed eight times for 38 yards.
Jack Cantele extended the Purple lead to 17-3 on a 27-yard field goal in the opening seconds of the fourth quarter.
But the White team wasn’t finished, as quarterback Joe Hubener found receiver Judah Jones for a 51-yard touchdown and Ian Patterson was good on a 46-yard field goal for back-to-back fourth-quarter scores to make it 17-13 with 4:40 remaining.
Holding onto the slim lead, the Purple team finished the game by scoring on a 1-yard touchdown run by defensive end Laton Dowling as time expired — capping an 11-play, 46-yard drive.
Waters, playing in his first game as the clear-cut No. 1 quarterback — with Daniel Sams now a receiver — said he has some work to do before the start of the season.
“I made some decent throws, but not up to where I want to be at all,” he said. “That gives me even more motivation to get better, but for the most part, I wasn’t really pleased…
“We just hurt ourselves on too many drives today.”
It didn’t help that Waters’ go-to target in receiver Tyler Lockett was held out of the game. Instead, Waters connected with seven different players, including Curry Sexton, who finished with eight catches for 88 yards. Manhattan High product Deante Burton had six receptions for 48 yards. Sams caught two passes for 9 yards.
“Yeah, (Tyler) will help,” Waters said with a laugh. “And Curry was the receiver out there who had experience. Those others guys, that was pretty much their first time playing in a live game, so they’re going to get better and learn from this, too.”
One of the most-watched positions on Saturday was the play of the running backs, who are attempting to replace three-year starter John Hubert. Sophomore Charles Jones led the way with 73 yards on 20 carries for the Purple, while Jarvis Leverett had 69 yards on 14 carries for the White. Senior DeMarcus Robinson, who is also battling for the starting job didn’t play Saturday.
“Well right now it is kind of an even bag,” Snyder said. “Jones had maybe a better day, but that is not defining the position right now. They all have good abilities and the most important thing for all of them, like what I was saying earlier, is having a handle on the offense.
“They are all young and they were all on the scout squad last year. They’re making progress though the course of spring practice, but there are a lot of things about the position they don’t know yet.”