When Daniel Sams got his chance last season, he often dazzled.
The quarterback rushed for 235 yards and three touchdowns, and practically established a fan club through social media, all while backing up a Heisman Trophy finalist in Collin Klein.
But with Klein gone, it’s now Sams’ turn to step up and try to be the No. 1 guy. But now, the sophomore has new competition.
The most important thing for Sams, though, isn’t whether or not he can win that competition, but if he can improve and become the kind of leader that Klein was for the Wildcats.
“I ultimately want to get to where Collin was,” Sams said this week. “No one can argue with being a Heisman finalist. I just want to get there and be the type of leader he was for this team.”
Becoming a better leader is a horn that Sams started blowing back in December as the Wildcats were preparing to play in the Fiesta Bowl. It was then that K-State landed a commitment from junior college player of the year Jake Waters, a quarterback from Iowa Western.
Sams acknowledged then that he needed to get a better grasp of the offense that Klein seemed to know like the back of his hand — and that leadership was his biggest issue.
Four months later, Sams said he knows the offense as well as he ever has, including how to make the kinds of changes at the line of scrimmage that Klein often did.
Now, he’s focused on rallying the team around him.
“It’s surprised me because I’m catching it as soon as I see it,” Sams said of reading defenses and checking to different plays. “I’ve got the plays down, I know the system really well, it’s just really trying to get everyone to get around me — lead the team.”
Before Waters came into the picture in December, Sams was believed to be next in line to K-State’s Heisman finalist QB. But Waters brings a supposedly better arm to the position, without sacrificing much in the running side of the quarterback game.
K-State receivers describe Waters as the guy who can get a receiver open with his arms, while Sams is a guy that makes more aggressive throws, and takes more chances.
Both quarterbacks work together in practices, watch film together, and share tips on how to improve.
Sams said it’s a competition that never allows him to take a day off.
“I love it man, it’s always a grind,” he said. “With Collin it was a grind, and with Jake it’s the same thing. We’ve really just been helping each other out, it’s not a dog-eat-dog competition, it’s just trying to get better as a team.”
Sams said he has been working to get accustomed to the talents and abilities of wide receivers Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson. When he worked with the No. 2 offense last season, Sams said he didn’t get to play with those two. Now he’s building chemistry and trying to improve timing.
Both quarterbacks have benefitted from Klein still being in town and checking in to play the role of coach. Sams said Klein has watched film with them and even came to the first scrimmage to instruct both guys on what they could do better, and what they were doing right.
Sams said Klein taught him to always work as if he was going to start during their two years together. Sams has tried to stick to that philosophy as he battles Waters for the top job.
The one thing Sams said is sure, is that both he and Waters will be different players than Collin. At the end of the day, Sams said K-State coach Bill Snyder will make the right choice.
“Collin was a Heisman finalist, I can’t really base what I can do off of that,” he said. “I can say I feel like, with me or Jake, we will bring something different to the offense. It’s just a grind.
“We’re just going out trying to help each there. It’s a competition, but at the same time, it’s about helping each other. Coach (Snyder) is going to pick the right guy.”