Jake Waters received a phone call in December that few people ever receive.
He got a call from a Heisman Trophy candidate, immediately following the ceremony in New York City. It was so fresh after the ceremony camera men were most likely still on the scene putting away equipment.
It was Kansas State senior quarterback Collin Klein on the other end of the phone, who finished third for college football’s most prestigious award.
“He told me he wished he was (in Manhattan) to meet me and to talk to me on my visit,” Waters said. “He just said that he loves K-State and Manhattan, and that it would be a great fit. He just told me good luck with everything and that I had a great year.
“There was a lot of small-talk, but it really meant a lot that he would do that after such a big ceremony.”
Waters, a 6-foot-2, 215-pound quarterback, signed with the Wildcats in December and is enrolled in classes this semester. He picked the Wildcats over Penn State, Alabama, Texas, North Carolina State and Houston.
The junior led Iowa Western Community College to a national title and was named the NJCAA National Player of the Year.
Waters passed for 3,501 yards and 39 touchdowns with just three interceptions this past season. He also rushed for 256 yards and six touchdowns.
The Iowa native completed 73 percent of his passes, breaking Cam Newton’s junior college record.
Waters was tabbed as the No. 1 “Pro-style” quarterback coming out of junior college by many publications and many of those same publications were convinced he’d choose Penn State.
But, little by little, that changed.
As soon as Waters visited K-State — his last recruiting stop — Penn State didn’t seem like a sure deal any longer .
“I felt right at home right when I got there,” Waters said of his trip to K-State. “The coaches, the players that I met — it just felt like the right place for me. I had a pretty good feeling.”
He was especially impressed with head coach Bill Snyder.
“Coach Snyder talked a lot about the family atmosphere and it felt like a tight-knit group,” Waters said. “I could see myself at K-State.”
Snyder, who recently signed a new five-year contract, will turn 74 next fall. While some players may be worried to bring up Snyder’s age, Waters didn’t shy away and addressed it from the get-go with the coach.
“On my visit, I just thought about asking him what his status was,” Waters said. “And he was all in and he said he loves what he does. To play for a coach like that is an awesome opportunity.
“I was expecting (the generation gap) too, but right away he was down to earth with me and we connected. There was no problem with age or anything.
“I’m excited to be able to play for him. I’m just anxious to get started.”
There’s no doubt Waters wants to be the starting QB this fall, but the competition will be fierce, starting this spring.
Daniel Sams, who played some as Klein’s backup this past season, will also be licking his chops for the starting spot.
The redshirt-freshman was 6-of-8 for 55 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions this season. Sams carried the ball 23 times for 235 yards and three TDs, averaging 7.3 yards per rush.
Waters can only worry about himself, not Sams.
“My goal is to just come in and work as hard as I possibly can and earn the respect of all the guys on the team,” he said. “I want to compete for the starting job, obviously. I know nothing is promised or guaranteed. My goal is just go in there and work — to go from there and to see what happens.”
Still, Waters is excited about all the offensive weapons returning for K-State, especially wide receiver Tyler Lockett and running back John Hubert.
“He was actually my host on my visit,” Waters said about Lockett. “We connected. He’s a really cool dude. Seeing what he did this season, I’m really excited to throw to him, along with the rest of the receivers. They have a lot of guys that can run and make plays, and as a quarterback, that’s what you want.”
Without a doubt, though, there will be a shadow cast over the Wildcats’ next starting QB — whether it’s Waters or Sams.
It will be the shadow of the much beloved Klein.
“I’m obviously going to put pressure on myself to be the best I can,” Waters said. “But I’ve realized that I’m not Collin Klein. I’m going to be myself. My game is totally different from his, and there’s no way I can do some of the stuff he did. He was a great player and did so many great things.
“I’m just going to come in and contribute any way possible that I can, and try to make the team better. That’s the approach I’m taking. Whatever happens happens.”
Like Klein, Waters does have some wheels, though.
Waters is listed as running a 4.6 a 40, but where Klein was more of powerful truck, Waters may be a more nimble racer.
“I can run a little bit,” he said. “I’m not an in-between-the-tackles power guy like Collin. (Quarterbacks) coach (Del) Miller told me he knows I’m not like that, but I can run the read-option to the outside and pick up yards whenever I can.
“I’m always looking to throw, but I can run a little bit, too… I’m not 6-6 like Collin Klein is, but the coaches told me they are going to adapt to my skill set. I trust them.”
Waters said it will be an adjustment from the junior college level to the Big 12.
“The biggest adjustment will be just the overall speed of the game,” he said. “I’m used to guys with speed, but in Division-I,everyone has that speed.
“Obviously, the defenses will be a little bit more complicated, but we played really, really good competition (at Iowa Western.) It’s not going to be as dramatic, but it will still be a little bit of a transition to get used to.”
Waters continued that the offensive scheme he ran at Iowa Western isn’t too different from what K-State likes to do.
“We did a lot of the same things,” he said. “We did the bubble-screen game, the read-option and stuff like that.
“Coaches told me they’re going to do stuff that I’m used to and comfortable with, so I can showcase my skills and what I can do. I’m definitely excited, but obviously, I’m going to do whatever they ask me to do, and use whatever offense is going to make us be successful.”
Waters considers himself in the same mold of Seattle Seahawks’ quarterback Russell Wilson.
“I like qualities of a lot of different quarterbacks,” he said. “I like the way Russell Wilson played. He isn’t the tallest guy, but I’m not either. He looks to throw first, but he can extend the play with his legs and hurt you that way, too. So I feel like I’m similar to that.”
The phone call from Klein after the Heisman ceremony was a powerful moment for Waters, but the overall success K-State has seen the past two seasons has been a motivator as well. It was also powerful that the Wildcats showed interest before anyone else — including Penn State.
“The success (K-State) has had has opened a lot of people’s eyes — not just mine,” Waters said. “Coming out of high school, I really didn’t have any Division-I interest, so no school was really on my radar. But K-State was the first school to show interest when I was in Iowa. I took a visit this past summer and have kept my eye on them. When they offered me a scholarship I was just really excited.
“Just to see that they saw something in me that other colleges didn’t see yet… I had that in the back of my mind a lot throughout this process.”