Tag Archives: Chris Harper Kansas State

Harper describes change in program since Snyder’s return

23 Oct

Kansas State has enjoyed so much success this year and last year that it is easy to forget the depths from which the program has risen since coach Bill Snyder’s return in 2009. Following Ron Prince’s three-year tenure, the team went 6-6 and missed out on a bowl berth. The new staff – led by the legendary Snyder – had many problems to address.

Certainly, the 7-0 record of the Wildcats to this point in time would indicate that those issues have been dealt with.

There are plenty of numbers about time of possession, turnover margin and penalty yardage that speak to the fact that Kansas State is a disciplined group. Kansas State has the fewest penalties of any team in the country (24 total), leads the Big 12 in turnover margin (+12) and ranks in the top of the conference in time of possession.

But on Tuesday, wide receiver Chris Harper took a good amount of time to describe a culture change beyond statistics.

“When [Coach Snyder] first got here, we were terrible,” Harper said. “We sucked, and it was because we didn’t put the work in. Our work ethic sucked, the discipline and all that.”

Suffice it to say that some of the players on the team when Snyder returned did not live up to the high standards Snyder has for his athletes as individuals. Harper said there were some players who “were in trouble” – guys who wouldn’t even think about going to classes or who went out to Aggieville after games and winded up getting arrested.

According to Harper, those are not problems Snyder has to deal with anymore. Besides the expectations of Snyder and his staff, the players in leadership positions – the names of captains Collin Klein, Arthur Brown, B.J. Finney and Ty Zimmerman come to mind just for starters – will not stand for that kind of behavior.

“The program’s shifted,” Harper said. “There’s a total shift now in the discipline and the work ethic  … That comes from internal leadership too. You’re not just going to be held accountable from the coaches. You’re going to be held accountable from the players, and I think that’s something that matters, and that’s something that’s really big.”

Big 12 Preview: Kansas State

31 Aug

As nice a person as he is, quarterback Collin Klein has no problem showing ferocity in his leadership on the football field, and that attitude will continue to permeate the team this season. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)

Overview: In 2011 the Wildcats’ total offense ranked ninth in the league, their defense fifth. Despite the numbers, and despite being picked to finish eighth in the league, Kansas State won 10 games. This year, I’ve seen the Wildcats picked to finish fifth or sixth in the Big 12. Maybe it is just because I attend Kansas State, but I think those predictions are much too safe.

Offense: The biggest offensive weapon for the Wildcats is quarterback Collin Klein, who scored 27 rushing touchdowns and 13 passing touchdowns in 2011. Those numbers moved him into the company of Heisman Trophy winners Cam Newton, Tim Tebow and Eric Crouch as one of just four college players to collect at least 20 rushing touchdowns and 10 passing scores in a single season. 85 percent of Kansas State touchdowns in 2011 included Klein.

In addition to him, the Wildcats return talented receivers in Chris Harper, Tramaine Thompson and Tyler Lockett. Running back John Hubert is also back, along with center B.J. Finney. The sophomore center will be expected to take a leadership role on the line, where Kansas State is projected to start a pair of freshmen.

Coaches have said the Wildcats’ offense will be more versatile this season, using the passing game more effectively to keep opposing defenses off-balance. Klein added a caveat to that, however: whatever allows the team to win is what Kansas State will do.

Defense: The return of linebacker Arthur Brown is monstrous. He led the Wildcats with 101 tackles last season and is the heart and soul of the defense. He will defer that title, of course, if you ask him, which just makes him that much more of a leader for this unit. Tre Walker should also make an impact at the position. Coming back in the secondary are Nigel Malone and Ty Zimmerman, but the Wildcats will have to replace last season’s starters Tysyn Hartman and David Garrett. The defensive line boasts four seniors in tackles Vai Lutui and John Sua and ends Meshak Williams and Adam Davis.

This season the defense is under the direction of Tom Hayes, who was promoted to coordinator after coaching the secondary last season.

Special teams: Kansas State’s most under-appreciated unit is in good hands again this season. Placekicker Anthony Cantele and punter Ryan Doerr are both seniors. Lockett, though a sophomore, took two kickoff returns all the way last season, and Thompson, a junior, generally gets good yardage on his punt returns as well. Longsnapper Marcus Heit played in 12 games last season and was perfect on 128 snaps, continuing the tradition of excellence set by his predecessor Corey Adams, who signed with the Dallas Cowboys last summer.

Schedule: With a road game at Oklahoma slated as their Big 12 debut, the Wildcats may not go undefeated as long as they did last season. However, one way or another they will have two weeks before facing Kansas for their conference home opener. On Oct. 13 and 20 Kansas State has back-to-back road games against Iowa State and West Virginia, and following are home games against Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. The Wildcats go to Texas for contests with TCU and Baylor, and then they finish up with Texas at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

Projection: In 2011 I predicted eight wins for the Wildcats, and everyone said I was much too optimistic. I never saw any publication project even that number, and as it turns out, Kansas State and its 10-win season made even my guess look too conservative.

This season, I’ve projected a range of wins for each team in the league. For the Wildcats, my range would be eight to 10. Officially, I say 10. The Big 12 has some of the country’s best teams – six of them, if you believe preseason polls – so two losses would still be an extremely impressive year.

Motivated by bowl loss, Harper embraces leadership role

28 Aug

Chris Harper and Wildcats made the Cotton Bowl last season, but the group looks to improve on 2011’s results.(Photo by James D. Smith/CBAA).

After the game clock at Cowboys Stadium hit 00:00 on Saturday, Jan. 6, Chris Harper retreated. The wide receiver stayed away from social media, avoided talking about football and generally stayed in his shell for several weeks after Kansas State lost to Arkansas in the 2012 Cotton Bowl, 29-16.

These days, he wears his bowl game T-shirts every day to practice at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. The wardrobe choice works as a daily confrontation of the loss that fueled him throughout the offseason and continues to fuel him now.

“That game was terrible,” Harper said with conviction. “Tthat’s not going to happen at practice, that’s not going to happen during the game. I’m going to make sure that’s not going to happen.”

As a junior, the wide receiver led the team with 40 catches, 547 receiving yards and 5 touchdowns. Overall, though, he is far from satisfied with his contribution in 2011.

Looking back on last season, Harper included himself in the group that did not show the necessary diligence in summer workouts. The casual attitude toward offseason work contributed to an overall lack of preparation that ultimately led to a near-loss against Eastern Kentucky in the Wildcats’ season opener.

“Everybody doesn’t look at [summer] as a big deal, but we saw that it was a big deal in our first game,” Harper said.

Needless to say, summer workouts got a little more respect in 2012. Most players took the preparation time more seriously. Harper was one of them. He wants to make the most of this season, especially when he looks back on the missed opportunities of last year. Maybe the most bothersome of those lost chances was his approach to the Cotton Bowl, where he said he thinks his disengagement and lack of leadership hurt the Wildcats.

“I didn’t set an example for the other guys, and I think it had an impact on the game,” Harper said. “I think that was part of the reason why the Cotton Bowl happened – because I didn’t put the time in that I needed to. You can’t just go out there and not do anything and expect to be great.”

Now, Harper faces his final season as a Kansas State football player, and he intends to make every effort to improve not just his own play but that of his teammates as well.

“I know the receiver position was lacking leadership that we needed,” Harper said. “I’m still not a guy that’s going to go out there and yell at you, be vocal, but I feel like when you’re out there on the field, [and] people see you doing it, you don’t have to say too much.”

While quarterback Collin Klein and linebacker Arthur Brown have taken on vocal leadership roles as team captains, Harper sees plenty of evidence from them that the most important part of leadership is nonverbal. That part occurs when their teammates witness them work hard – not just doing the minimum, not just going through the motions because they already have their starting spots, but consistently striving to reach their next level.

“When you’re in a position of leadership, you have to do that much more to show the other guys that there’s a reason you’ve gotten there,” Harper said. “It’s not just by happenstance.”

Head coach Bill Snyder always says that if a player makes himself better, he makes the team better overall. In that regard, it looks like Harper is off to a good start.

Conversation with the Coordinator: Dana Dimel

18 Aug

Ask head coach Bill Snyder about the strengths and weaknesses of a unit, and you probably will not get a bulleted list. Maybe because he wants to keep all information close to the vest, maybe because he does not have time to give you a legitimate blow-by-blow of the issues, or maybe because he thinks the specifics are beyond your level of knowledge. Whatever the case, you will more than likely receive a rather vague response.

At Kansas State media day, co-offensive coordinator Dana Dimel was more straightforward, and before being called away to take pictures, he talked about the inclusion of more passing in this year’s offense, the return of Tyler Lockett, changing up the rushing attack, Braden Wilson and Travis Tannahill – oh, and those strengths and weaknesses.

***

“Our strengths are our versatility and our skill positions, for sure – our quarterback and his leadership and his talents,” Dimel said. “Weaknesses are our lack of depth on the offensive line and our backup quarterback. That’s our two weaknesses that when we go into camp, we’re addressing.”

He feels good about the starting offensive line, youthful as it is, and he is focused on getting positions two deep. If any injuries occur over the course of the season, Dimel wants to make sure the line does not take a step back and hinder the rest of the offense. Pass protection will be key, as the Wildcats hope to have a more versatile offense this season.

“We feel like we can control it better if we can be more diverse in what we do,” Dimel said. “Time of possession, eliminate penalties, eliminate turnovers. If you do those things, the other team doesn’t have the ball very much, and when they do get it, they don’t get it with very good field position, so that was the story of what we did last year.

“Now we’re kind of feeling like if we can get more first downs, they’re going to have the ball even less, so that’s one of our emphases … and we’re going to try to do that by being more diverse with what we do on offense, try to expound on our passing game, basically.”

***

Key to that passing game is sophomore Tyler Lockett, who as the only true freshman on the team last season racked up 246 receiving yards and 563 yards in kickoff returns over nine games before going down with an injury.

Lockett, the son of Kansas State receiving legend Kevin and nephew of kick return great Aaron, did not play in the 2012 spring game after tweak the earlier injury in a previous practice. However, coaches say holding him out of that game was merely precautionary and that he is good to go for the season. Having him healthy improves the receiving group significantly.

“It’s a huge boost,” Dimel said. “Our last time that we had Tyler and [fellow receiver] Chris [Harper] was the Oklahoma State game, and we showed our diversity there when we had both those guys at full cylinder, so we’re feeling like if we get both those guys back healthy, we can kind of be that balanced of a team where we ran the ball well and threw the ball well.”

***

Of course, a renewed commitment to a balanced offense – and thus more passing, ideally, does not mean the running game is going away. On the contrary, Kansas State needs more participation on the ground. Quarterback Collin Klein and John Hubert certainly carried the bulk of the load last season, combining for over 2,000 yards rushing. This year Dimel looks for more from some of the other running backs on the roster, such as Angelo Pease, DeMarcus Robinson and Robert Rose.

“We’re not looking to run John any more than what we did last year,” Dimel said. “We’re looking to run John more efficiently than what we did last year, and then we’re looking to run the other backs more than what we did last year. That way it takes stress off of what we do with Collin, so that’s kind of the game plan.”

***

Of course, fullback Braden Wilson figures into the offense as well. Primarily used for blocking, he rarely got the ball, but when he did, people remembered. The 6’4″, 254-pound senior steamrolled opponents and has impressed the coaches with a relentless work ethic. Even Snyder calls him the hardest worker on the team. Beyond that, though, Dimel said Wilson has what it takes to make the game a career.

“He’s very much an NFL prospect because what he does is what NFL teams want to do … and that’s create matchups and angles with what you do by moving him offensively and still be able to play a physical style of football with him,” Dimel said, “and he’s got very, very good hands, and he’s got a ton of toughness and has been around a lot of offense now, so he can translate that to the next level and be a very good player there.”

As for now, Wilson makes the Wildcats tough to prepare for because he is used in a unique way, Dimel said.

“What he brings to the table for us is every week when somebody lines up to play us, they’re turning on the film and they’re saying, ‘Okay, we’re going to have to come up with a new game plan because we haven’t faced this all year. This is a different style than we’ve faced all year,’” Dimel said. “That’s what he allows us to do.”

***

Tight end Travis Tannahill is another offensive option for Kansas State, one who has taken steps forward in the offseason. Dimel half-joked that Tannahill “found” the weight room during the summer, and the results – in addition to no longer being afraid to take his shirt off in public – have been positive.

“It’s helped him because he’s always had a lot of finesse and been a good football player, but now he’s got the physical tools to back it up, so I think he’s going to have a really good year,” Dimel said.

***

The slow and steady, count-it-down offense that inevitably compels Kansas State fans to remind the team each snap of the dwindling play clock – “Three! Two! One!” – is not going anywhere this season. Nevertheless, the coaches expect it to be more versatile. Few specifics have been given by coaches, Klein or center B.J. Finney, but all say that improvement in Klein’s passing has been made. Everything remains to be seen, of course, but when a team can win 10 games with total offense ranked ninth in the league, it is exciting to consider what could happen when that offense gets better.