Each week, Van Malone works magic on his computer. Malone, in his first season as Kansas State’s cornerbacks coach, dives into Adobe Photoshop and superimposes photos of his players’ heads onto the body in another photo.
What the picture features is what’s most important: It’s the player standing behind the trophy for the Jim Thorpe Award, which annually is given to the player deemed college football’s top defensive back. Malone then frames his work.
“(I call it) the ‘Coach Malone Special,’” Malone told The Mercury of his Photoshop aptitude, noting that while it’s only a hobby, it pays dividends on the recruiting trail.
But the framed photo — players don’t get to keep it, as Malone switches it out every week — isn’t the only recognition the Wildcats’ cornerbacks receive from Malone.
There’s also a tangible trinket: a miniature replica of the Thorpe Award.
“We always talk about the individual awards,” Malone said during K-State’s media day last month. “That’s not the only thing, but we do recognize there’s an award out there for defensive backs. So we present that Thorpe Award each week during the season to a guy.”
For his efforts during the player-led practices over the summer, senior Kevion McGee earned the award. Fellow senior — and like McGee, an Oklahoma native — Darreyl Patterson picked up the mini-Thorpe during the first week of preseason camp. And stellar play during the final week of camp helped fourth-year junior AJ Parker count the award among his possessions.
Meeting with media members Tuesday, Parker told The Mercury he hadn’t given the award back to Malone. Yet after Parker logged the first turnover of the season — an interception off Nicholls quarterback Chase Fourcade on the opening possession for the visitors last Saturday — one might think Parker would keep the award.
But that wasn’t the case. Instead, McGee took top honors for Week 1.
“(It) is true AJ did have a great game,” Malone said. “Graded out well. (He) had the interception. But ‘Kevi’ won it because he was incredibly productive as well with fewer plays.”
The breakdown: Parker had the interception (which he returned for 20 yards) and a tackle; McGee had only one tackle and no other statistics. But Malone noted McGee made a difference in other ways that might not be reflected on the stat sheet.
Though Parker didn’t retain it this week, Malone said that’s not by design. Each week, he said, “is square one.” Ideally, a different corner would step up each week.
“As a human, you sit there and think, ‘Well, lemme see, maybe I need to (give it to someone else),’” he said. “But no. I think the rules are, you win this week, you win it.”
Malone provided an example.
At “another school” he worked for — one he didn’t name — he had a player who won the mini-Thorpe 10 times in 12 games. (The player in question is former Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert.)
“And at the end of the year, he was a Thorpe finalist — the (actual) award,” Malone said. “He was there as a Thorpe finalist. So why would I give it to somebody else when he’s out there making those plays? And it was true because he ended up being in that room at the end of the season.”
While he doesn’t expect Gilbert-like dominance from any of K-State’s corners this season, he said every week there will be fierce competition for the miniature figurine of the great Jim Thorpe.
“We will have a hearty battle for it throughout the season,” he said.