From foes to friends
By ARNE GREEN
By ARNE GREEN
Special to The Telegram
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — From the moment he introduced himself to newcomer Jake Waters last winter, Daniel Sams was a model teammate.
Bill Snyder expects nothing less; and Sams had to know that turning a cold shoulder to the competition for Kansas State's starting quarterback job would not sit well with his coach.
But make no mistake, Sams, the understudy to Heisman Trophy candidate Collin Klein last year as a sophomore, and junior college All-American Waters, both were determined to make the position their own.
"I would say leading up to the Texas game we were still feeling each other out," said Sams, who has since combined with Waters to give the Wildcats a dynamic one-two quarterback punch never before seen during Snyder's storied coaching tenure. "Spring ball, we were still feeling each other out.
"Going into (preseason) camp, it was still a competition, so it was really after the Texas game that we really clicked, I guess."
Waters, fresh off a record-breaking national championship season at Iowa Western Community College, eventually won the starting job. But Snyder vowed to use both quarterbacks because, as he has repeated throughout the regular season, "they both deserved to play."
Snyder, who has used both Waters and Sams in every game — if not always equally — declared that nothing will change when the Wildcats (7-5) face Michigan (also 7-5) at 9:15 p.m. Saturday in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl at Sun Devil Stadium.
Waters went most of the way in a season-opening 24-21 loss to Football Championship Subdivision powerhouse North Dakota State, completing 21-of-29 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns, but also throwing a pair of costly interceptions. Sams saw considerably more playing time in victories over Louisiana and Massachusetts, but again found himself on the bench for much of a disappointing 31-21 loss at Texas.
All the while, Sams and Waters said the right things and never made waves. But they also were slowly discovering that perhaps they had more to offer as partners than rivals.
Waters' two fourth-quarter turnovers in the Texas game essentially wiped out a late Wildcat rally, while Sams got only eight carries and did not attempt a pass.
"We were both upset about the game, obviously," Waters said. "We just said, hey, we're sick of feeling down, feeling this way, and whatever's going to get this team wins, we're for it.
"We both kind of made a pact with each other, whatever it's going to take to help this team win, we're for it. We're going to put our egos aside and we just went from there."
Sams credits Waters with taking the first step.
"After that loss, I didn't play that much and for him to come to me after the game and say, 'The only way we're going to win is if we both play,' that meant a lot to me," Sams said. "Because obviously we both came in with the mindset of beating each other out."
Waters also admitted that it took some time to warm to Sams, who despite sharing the knowledge of his two years in the program, also was going after the same job.
"It did take a while because at the beginning he wanted every single snap and so did I," Waters said. "We both wanted to be the guy and thought we deserved to be the guy.
"But as the season went on we began to realize that we both wanted each other and needed each other, and it's been working for us. You can't argue with the kind of run we've had lately with our recent wins."
Though they followed the Texas game with losses to nationally ranked Oklahoma State on the road and Baylor at home, the Wildcats led both games in the fourth quarter and clearly were on the right track.
Then, starting with the Oct. 26 home game against West Virginia, K-State caught fire, reeling off four straight victories and five of six to close out the regular season.
And a funny thing has happened in those weeks since Waters and Sams came to grips with their situation — what started as a working relationship has grown into a friendship that neither could have envisioned three months ago.
"It feels like we've been friends for a long time because off the field we don't really have conversations about football," Sams said. "It gets deeper.
"He knows about my family and I know about his. Every time his family comes up, I talk to his mom and dad like I've always known them."
Sams, who again played sparingly in the last two regular season games, showed his support for his teammate after a 41-31 loss to Oklahoma in the home finale, putting his arm around Waters' shoulder and reassuring him.
"He just said, 'I'm here for you, just don't worry about it. We're going to learn from this and get better,'" Waters recounted following the game. "You've got a guy like that, I love him to death and that really meant a lot to me.
"He wanted to play more (in the game), obviously, and he (chose) to comfort me in that time. He just came up and said he loves me, don't worry about this one, that we're going to learn from it and let's move on."
For the season, Waters has completed 59.2 percent of his passes for 2,198 yards and 15 touchdowns with nine interceptions. His 183 yards per game rank third in the Big 12; and his passing efficiency rating of 152 is second; and he's third on the team in rushing behind running back John Hubert and Sams with 270 yards.
Sams' 784 rushing yards put him eighth in the league with 65.3 per game; and his 11 rushing touchdowns are first on the team. He also has completed 73.1 percent of his throws for 452 yards with four scores and four picks.
Sams and Waters quickly earned their teammates' respect for their willingness to work together. And the fact that the relationship has grown into a friendship isn't lost on them, either.
"I think it helps the team out a lot, just because we've seen them grown together and not go head-to-head and clash," all-Big 12 receiver Tyler Lockett said. "We've come to realize that we can trust both of them and we have confidence in whoever is in there.
"Whether it's Daniel or whether it's Jake, we know that they prepare each and every day. I think it helps a lot, especially in games, and I think that it just helps us out together as a unit."
Sams is the first to admit that he didn't see it coming at the start of the year.
"It still shocks me sometimes because my mom asks the same questions about, 'How did you guys become so close,' because I'm typically not the one to just open up that way," Sams said. "But when we both realized that we just wanted to win and that competition model got thrown out the window, it's really just been friendship.
"I feel that's why we're jelling on the field so well."