On the day after his team?s 38?9 victory over Nebraska last November, Wildcats coach Bill Snyder viewed a tape of the game and was mesmerized by one four-second sequence. Over and over he watched something he had missed during the game: In the first quarter running back Darren Sproles took a pitchout at the Nebraska 22-yard line, and after breaking a tackle, the 5'7", 180-pound Sproles smacked into 6-foot, 220-pound linebacker T. J. Hollowell at the nine-yard line. Instead of dropping to the ground, however, Sproles dragged Hollowell into the end zone. ?That was one of the most incredible runs I?ve ever seen,? says Snyder. ?I can?t think of a better player I?ve ever had.... Yes, I think Darren Sproles is the best player I?ve ever had.?
A man who always chooses his words carefully, Snyder has coached his share of standout players over the last decade, including quarterbacks Chad May, Michael Bishop and Ell Roberson and wide receiver Quincy Morgan. But this is the first time in the coach?s 16-year tenure at Kansas State that he?s allowed the school to mount a Heisman Trophy campaign for one of his Wildcats. ?Darren has such great character,? says Snyder. ?He can handle everything.?
Last year, as a junior, Sproles led the nation in rushing (1,986) and all-purpose yards (2,735). The Wildcats need him to put up big numbers again because they lack experience at several skill positions. In particular, with the departure of three-year starter Roberson, the quarterback duties fall to an untested sophomore, Dylan Meier, who has a strong arm but threw only eight passes as a freshman and was mistake-prone in spring practice.
With its typically soft nonconference schedule, K-State should be able to overcome any early-season growing pains by Meier and get off to a 5?0 start before Oklahoma comes to Manhattan on Oct. 16. In last year?s Big 12 title game, Sproles ran for 235 yards, and the Wildcats shocked the Sooners 35?7. This year K-State is preparing to take Oklahoma?s best shot. ?We know they?ll be mad,? says Sproles. ?That?ll be a key game for both of us.? -- L.A.