Veryl Switzer, a Kansas State football legend, trailblazer and champion for the advancement of diversity at the university, died over the weekend at age 89.
Switzer, who lived in Manhattan, was a charter member of both the K-State Athletics Hall of Fame and the K-State Football Ring of Honor. He was the first African-American scholarship player to graduate from the university.
“Today is a sad day for Kansas State University,” athletics director Gene Taylor said in a statement. “Veryl was one of the most influential and impactful K-Staters in our lifetime and helped pave the way for so many others to follow in his footsteps. He will be forever remembered as a true trailblazer as we keep his family and friends in our thoughts and prayers.”
Switzer, who was born in Nicodemus in 1932, came to K-State on scholarship in 1950. He would go on to pick up All-America honors in three consecutive seasons (1951 to 1953).
He was the second Black athlete, after Harold Robinson in 1949, to compete on scholarship at K-State.
In a feature story in The Mercury from 1999, Switzer remembered having to enter hotels through the back door and eating separately from his teammates when K-State would travel. When he was allowed to dine with his team, he would have to use a paper cup instead of a glass.
“I was a trailblazer,” Switzer said. “There were ups, downs and I was denied opportunities. Life wasn’t a bucket full of roses. I was asked to knock down barriers. That made me work harder. It made me more determined to excel and demonstrate my worthiness.”
The star running back and safety led the team in rushing in 1952 and 1953 while also being one of the best punt returners in school history.
He still ranks in the top 10 for a career in five punt-return categories including touchdowns (tied for second, three), longest return (tied for third, 93 yards), yards (sixth with 596), average (sixth with 14.2) and attempts (ninth, 42).
Switzer was also the team’s leading tackler his senior season.
He earned all-conference his final three seasons at K-State and he did it all with a left knee injury sustained during a high school practice.
“The best all-around player I’ve ever seen,” Don Stehly, a K-State assistant during the 1952 and 1953 seasons, said. “He was quick as hell and tough as hell. His hits were devastating.”
Switzer was voted the team’s most inspirational player in 1953 when the Wildcats broke a string of five straight seventh-place finishes in the Big Seven Conference by finishing second to a top-5 Oklahoma team.
In addition to his football success, Switzer also won the Big Seven indoor long jump championship in 1952. He earned track and field letters in his final three seasons.
Switzer was named to multiple college all-star games, including co-captaining the West team in the 1954 East/West Shrine Game and was runner-up for MVP.
Switzer was the first halfback and fourth player overall selected in the 1954 NFL Draft. He was chosen by the Green Bay Packers and remains the highest drafted player in K-State history.
During his rookie season, Switzer topped the NFL in punt returns with a 13-yard average.
His professional football career took a hiatus from 1956 to 1958 when he entered the U.S. Air Force as a first lieutenant. During his time enlisted, he played one season on the all-Air Force football team that would go on to win the World Armed Forces Championship over the San Diego Marines.
After a brief return with the Packers in the 1958 season, he went north to compete in the Canadian Football League. He played for the Calgary Stampeders in 1958 before being traded to the Montreal Alouettes in March of 1959. Switzer went on to play two season in Montreal.
Following his football career, Switzer spent a decade working for the Chicago Board of Education before returning to K-State for an administrative job in 1969, where he took a $3,000 pay cut to return “home” to Manhattan.
Initially, Switzer was charged with developing the school’s first university-wide student minority program. He also wrote the original grant proposal and was awarded one of the nation’s comprehensive federal programs for minority student support, which went to educational supportive services and talent search.
Switzer developed many programs, some of which are still in existence today, including Ebony Theater, United Black Voices, Hispanic advocacy groups and the Black Student Union.
K-State said as a direct product of Switzer’s work, the university increased student enrollments and graduation rates and attracted more faculty and staff of color.
“My reward has been seeing young people grow and graduate,” Switzer, who retired from K-State in 1999 at age 66. “The things I relish are not so much self-accomplishment, but good things happening for young people. I’ve tried to help them see their opportunities ...
“I’ve always had a motto that if I saved one kid a year, I’ve paid my salary.”
In addition to his K-State accolades, Switzer is enshrined in the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame and the Big Eight Sportswriters Football Hall of Fame.
“I hope I’m remembered for playing the game with a great deal of heart and a sense of love for competition and for the art of the game,” Switzer said.