The scariest moment of the 1995 season for the Wildcats didn't take place on the field. It occurred in the locker room just before the kickoff of the Holiday Bowl in San Diego. Though coach Bill Snyder had just completed his pregame speech, the players were still moping around staring at their cleats. Snyder was nervous, and the players were worried. Suddenly sophomore cornerback Chris Canty stood up and launched into an uncanny, histrionic impersonation of Snyder. Arms flailing, voice cracking, Canty had Snyder's voice and gestures down cold. When he was done, the locker room hung in a dead calm.
"We were stunned," says senior Joe Gordon, a fellow cornerback who is accustomed to playing second banana to Canty, an AP All-America and a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award. "Everybody looked around to see what to do, and all of a sudden Coach Snyder started laughing, then we all started laughing." Snyder clapped his hands and sent his team onto the field, where it whipped Colorado State 54-21 and finished 10-2, ranked seventh in the country. Now, with two bowl victories and a 32-4-1 home record during the '90s, Kansas State rides into the Big 12 on a wave of optimism.
Junior quarterback Brian Kavanagh, who completed 18 of 24 passes for 242 yards and four TDs after replacing injured starter Matt Miller in the Holiday Bowl, will lead the offense. The Wildcats have only one starting receiver back, but he is senior wideout Kevin Lockett, who led the Big Eight with 56 catches for 797 yards and a school-record 13 touchdowns. Another returnee, though new to the wideout spot, is Canty, who will likely see some snaps on offense this season. The veteran interior line, featuring senior center Jason Johnson (6'3", 275 pounds) and guards Kendyl Jacox, a 6'2", 320-pound junior, and Ross Greenwood, a 6'4", 300-pound senior, should match up well with the other big boys of the Big 12.
There are six starters back on a defensive unit that led the nation in total defense (250.8 yards per game) and held six opponents to seven points or less. Up front, senior end Nyle Wiren (eight sacks in '95) pairs with Big Eight defensive freshman of the year, linebacker Travis Ochs, who made 73 tackles last fall.
Led by Canty, Gordon and safety Mario Smith, the Holiday Bowl defensive MVP, the backfield may be the best in college football. Gordon allowed 12 completions in 332 man-coverage situations last season, and Canty's eight interceptions tied him for tops in the nation. "I'm the admiral keeping the ship steady," says Gordon, "while Canty rocks the boat. He's the joker, a real comedian."
That's not to say that any levity will be needed in the locker room of some bowl game this season. The Wildcats are starting to feel right at home there.