Curry Sexton lights up when you ask him about catching passes from quarterback Jake Waters. The Kansas State receiver was aware of Waters’ eye-popping numbers at Iowa Western a year ago, but he didn’t fully understand just how accurate the junior college transfer was until the out-of-season workouts.
“With Jake you have to be ready for balls in some situations where you haven’t ever had that opportunity before,” Sexton said Thursday. “Coming in and out of breaks, the ball is on you, routes that have typically been dead in the past, you might be a viable receiver now.
“Sometimes when he’s in, you can be anywhere on the field and might be open, whereas in the past, you just have to run it off.”
Waters completed a record 73 percent of his passes last season for more than 3,500 yards with 39 touchdowns and just three interceptions — earning the 6-foot-1, 210-pound QB NJCAA Offensive Player of the Year honors.
But Waters is just part of the story this spring, as the Wildcats look to replace Heisman Trophy finalist quarterback Collin Klein next season. As good as Sexton says Waters has looked this spring, sophomore Daniel Sams is just as much in play for the starting QB spot as his junior counterpart.
“I’ve been pleased with the progress they’re making, not necessarily with the consistency,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said. “But they’ve given us reason to believe they’re very capable. It’s a matter of doing some of the things they do on a very consistent basis.”
Both Sams and Waters are taking reps with the No. 1 offense this spring, which culminates with the annual spring game on April 27 at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. It’s a battle for the starting quarterback spot that’s expected to go into the fall.
“Both are very competitive and they work hard in trying to develop their game,” Snyder said. “They do a nice job of helping each other. I’m proud of Daniel, even though Jake is making it very competitive for him, he’s doing all he can to help Jake. Jake is a very bright young guy and he picks things up very quickly. More than anything else, it’s about the consistency about being able to do it the same way, the right way, every time.”
Sams dazzled as a backup last season to Klein, rushing for 235 yards and three touchdowns — averaging 7.3 yards per carry — while completing 6 of 8 passes for 55 yards.
It’s easy to say Sams is more of a runner than Waters because that’s what he did more of last season, just as its assumed Waters is the better passer.
But according to junior receiver Tyler Lockett, there are more similarities than differences in the two quarterbacks.
“You can’t see too much of a difference,” he said. “You saw what Daniel did last year — he can run the ball and throw the ball. And with Jake, he loves throwing the ball, but he can also run the ball too — he just didn’t have to run it in juco. They really don’t differ that much.”
The real difference between the two right now probably has more to do with the grasp of the offense than athletic ability. That’s where Sexton said Sams has taken control, something that started this past season under Klein.
“Ever since this fall, when Collin left, Daniel realized this is the time and he’s got to be the guy,” said Sexton, who caught seven passes for 75 yards and a TD last season. “That helped him so much. Through winter workouts, he stepped up and was a leader, was vocal. He’s learned so much of the offense and you can tell he’s really studied it.”
Sexton said Sams and Klein developed a special bond during the last two years, one that’s built on mutual respect.
“Daniel wants to be the best, no matter what he does, and he knew Collin was the guy, so he wanted to soak up as much information as he could from Collin before he left,” he said. “Collin and Daniel were close, but Collin is the type of guy that was so invested in this program that he wasn’t going to leave the guy behind him without as much information as he could.”
And while Klein may have moved on, he hasn’t moved out of town just yet, as he waits for the upcoming NFL draft.
“Collin was at the scrimmage yesterday and he helps those guys study film whenever they want — sometimes they’ll go over to his house,” Sexton said. “That’s the kind of guy Collin is, and it shows they want to learn as much as they can from him.”
Up for grabs
Snyder said seven positions are “legitimately competitive” right now on the defensive side of the ball, including all four defensive line spots, linebacker and the two corner spots. Offensively, there are four spots up for grabs, including QB, fullback, tight end and a wide receiver spot.
Working their way back
Ty Zimmerman missed the final two regular-season games last season with an injury, but returned for the Fiesta Bowl against Oregon. Snyder said he’s participated fully in the spring workouts.
Tre Walker, on the other hand, who missed the final five games, including the bowl game, with a knee injury, has practiced, but was held out of Wednesday’s scrimmage. The senior linebacker’s status for the spring game is still in doubt.
“Ty is doing everything everybody else is, involved in the scrimmage yesterday,” Snyder said. “Tre, we held him out of the scrimmage to get him where he needs to be to do that. As soon as he’s ready, he’ll be in those scrimmages.”
Running back John Hubert is returning for his senior season having rushed for 1,917 yards and 18 touchdowns the last two seasons. But the backup spot isn’t so locked up just yet, as senior Robert Rose and junior DeMarcus Robinson are looking to fill the void left by Angelo Pease.
Braden Wilson was probably the most unheralded piece of the Wildcats’ offense the last three seasons, but yet one of the most important parts. The Wildcats have four players looking to replace the bruising fullback, including Zach Nemechek, Glenn Gronkowski and newcomer Adam Weber.
Weber could be the most interesting candidate for the job after transferring to K-State from Garden City Community College. Unlike Wilson, who was 6-4, 250 pounds, the Colby native comes in at just 5-5 and 207 pounds.
“None of you know who Adam Weber is, but he’s shown up in the last few days and is a tough young guy, competitive young guy,” Snyder said. “He’s got everybody’s attention. He doesn’t have the size that Braden does, but he’s got that kind of toughness.”
Looking for a new tight end
Travis Tannahill is gone, but Snyder said Zach Trujillo and Andre McDonald have made tight end a competitive battle this spring. Nemechek is also in the mix. Trujillo caught two passes for 72 yards last season, while McDonald has 14 career receptions for 212 yards, though none last season.
“I think Zach and Andre McDonald will make it very competitive,” Snyder said. “Andre has really made some improvement during the course of the spring and done some very positive things. We just need some consistency out of all of them.”