Four Years of Covering the ‘Cats

15 May

Bill Snyder Family Stadium – “The Bill.” Bramlage Coliseum – “Octagon of Doom.”

Over four years as a Kansas State student, four years covering football and basketball, I spent an awesome amount of time in those places. They will always be in my heart. I learned there. I made mistakes there. I had success there. I grew up there, in a way.

I’m going to spare you the 2,200 words I came away with when I started trying to summarize my experiences as a sports writer. Instead, I will just list some of the moments that stick most vividly in my mind. Some of them are based on games. Most of them are based on great people and my interactions with them.

– The basketball team defeating Kansas in Bramlage on Big Monday, which was also Valentine’s Day. Students stormed the court. It was this reckless, joyous pandemonium, and it was wonderful to witness – even if my computer was in danger from students leaping over press row to get onto the floor.

– Willie the Wildcat leading the “K … S … U … Wildcats!” cheer from on top of the press box on Senior Night this past season, as Kansas State sealed a Big 12 championship with yet another victory over Texas. As I stood on the sideline and just looked at the crowd, looked at the players, looked at Willie holding up a sign that read “XII,” I knew that would be a moment to remember for years to come.

– Covering the press conference where Bruce Weber was introduced as the new head basketball coach of Kansas State. My first impression was that he was a terrific individual whose values matched perfectly those of the people in Manhattan. He talked some about schemes and getting players to stay, and it is easy to tell he is a great coach, a great motivator. I love how well he did in his first season with the Wildcats, and I hope that success continues in the future.

– Bob Knight slowly approaching the front of the interview room, without a word, after a post game press conference, as everyone sat in silence. A phone serving as a recorder on the podium rang repeatedly while players were talking, and though staff tried to turn it off, it continued to make noise. A team staff member was understandably peeved by the device, and afterward he angrily asked, “Whose phone is that?” The phone belonged to Bob Knight. The moment he left the room, everyone burst out laughing. Of course it was Bob Knight’s phone. Of course.

– Interviewing Frank Martin in Spanish. He took about half an hour to talk with me. I couldn’t believe it because I know how busy head coaches are, obviously. It really meant a lot to me that he took the time.

– Asking coach Bill Snyder about Jaime Mendez, a defensive back who played for Kansas State 20 years earlier, whose school interception record was being approached by current player Ty Zimmerman. Snyder told me the guy’s whole life story. He knew all about him – family, business, everything. If I remember correctly, Snyder said he had just talked to Mendez recently. That really impressed on me that when Snyder talks about family, he’s not just talking. The people who go through that program really do stay connected.

– Watching Collin Klein literally get tackled by the wrist and still not fumble. I don’t know that I’ve ever spoken with someone so mature, measured, talented, tough, humble, responsible, secure, personable … almost any positive adjective you want to use, that is Klein. He struck me as a kid after Snyder’s own heart, and the way they worked together was amazing to watch.

– Listening to Frank Martin talk with some reporters who also had young kids about controlling how much time they spend on video games and what kind of video games they are and are not allowed to play. I also remember one of Martin’s kids coming over and sitting on his lap before the game. It was loud and players were warming up on the court, so I don’t think too many people probably noticed, but that was the family side of him. It was very cool to see.

– Covering the first Pinstripe Bowl, Dec. 30, 2010, from the open-air press box at Yankee Stadium.

– Talking with former Kansas State football players Eric Gallon and Brooks Barta for a story I wrote comparing the progress of the program in Snyder’s first four seasons at Kansas State with the resurgence in these last four years. Barta’s words to describe his experience with the team are some of the best I’ve ever heard, succinct yet powerful – “the hardest and best thing I’ve ever done.” He used the phrase twice.

– Interviewing Denis Clemente in Spanish. He laughed when I asked if it would be okay to ask him questions in his native language so I could practice (one of my minors is Spanish), but he seemed so much more at ease than when he talked in English.

– Watching Braden Wilson just bulldoze defenders. I always thought he should get the ball more often because it was so great to watch. Snyder always said he would love to have 100 Braden Wilsons because he worked so hard.

– Shaking hands with Dick Vitale.

– Watching Tyler Lockett go the length of the field on returns. I go to talk with him after the game, and he is just the most humble, friendly kid. Kansas State really does have a lot of players who represent the program well.

– Sitting in the interview room in the Sprint Center after Kansas State played UNLV and listening through the wall – apparently the locker room is adjacent to the interview room – as Frank Martin screamed, “21 f****** turnovers! 21 F****** TURNOVERS!” He reamed those guys out. In all fairness, 21 turnovers is a lot. We could still hear Martin when Lon Kruger, then the coach of UNLV,  started his post game statement.

– Meeting ESPN reporters Jason King and Holly Rowe.

– Taking pictures with my dad, who inspired my love of sports early, by the court on Senior Night at Bramlage this year. The picture is now the background on my phone. My entire immediate family made that game, and it was special. Very special.

– Working with and shooting the breeze with wonderful fellow sports writers, including 42-year AP veteran Doug Tucker, Kansas State graduate and current AP sportswriter Dave Skretta, former Kansas State Collegian sports editor Justin Nutter and D. Scott Fritchen of GoPowercat.com. I worked with Doug, Dave and Justin, and all three were great mentors to me. As for D. Scott, I always enjoyed sitting next to him in Snyder’s press conferences and chatting about school, his daughter and of course K-State sports. Additionally, he has perfected the art of tweeting. One day I had someone compare me to him in terms of Twitter. I was extremely flattered. Long story short, I’ve met great people through covering Kansas State sports, and I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything.

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