MANHATTAN (TNS) — Don't be surprised if Nick Walsh punts the ball with extra levels of distance and hang time against Kansas on Saturday.
The Sunflower Showdown is personal for the Kansas State senior.
"I was a big KU fan. That is where I wanted to go," Walsh said. "Never got an e-mail back from them. I sent them an e-mail every day in high school and sent K-State an e-mail probably every other day in high school. K-State was the one that felt sorry for me, in the end, and ended up recruiting me. So I have always had a chip on my shoulder about that."
Walsh is one of 49 in-state products sprinkled across K-State's football roster, and all of them place some level of extra importance on their annual rivalry game against the Jayhawks.
It's certainly a big game for tight end Dayton Valentine, of Baldwin City. Don't be surprised if he blocks with more enthusiasm than usual, or even catches a pass or two. The junior also grew up hoping to play for the Jayhawks. He remembers going to basketball games at Allen Fieldhouse and rooting for Mark Mangino when he coached the football team. Unlike Walsh, KU took a recruiting look at Valentine, and former coach Charlie Weis offered him a walk-on spot.
But his final decision came down to Army and K-State — the only two FBS programs that offered him a scholarship. That made for an easy choice.
"When you are a Kansas kid and you get an offer from Coach Snyder and K-State," Valentine said, "and nobody else wants you, it is more than evident you want to prove those guys right for taking a chance on you."
Valentine said he arrived at K-State motivated to prove KU coaches wrong, but that changed once he adjusted to life in Manhattan. Turns out, this was the right place for him. He is no longer angry with the Jayhawks, but he does want to win this game for his school. He can't imagine the Governor's Cup in Lawrence.
For sophomore receiver Dalton Schoen, this is his first opportunity to help the Wildcats beat the Jayhawks. Don't be surprised if he catches another long touchdown pass. The walk-on from Overland Park grew up in a K-State house surrounded by KU fans. He wants bragging rights the next time he visits home.
"Being from Overland Park and growing up a huge K-State fan my whole life, I always wanted to go out there and play KU," Schoen said. "I think it means a lot for everyone from the state of Kansas with it being the home state rivalry game."
K-State coach Bill Snyder knows how to get the Wildcats to play off those emotions in this game. With a 21-4 record against the Jayhawks, including nine straight victories, he has long been considered a master-motivator when it comes to the Sunflower Showdown.
Once again, he urged K-State players to give their all this week when speaking to the entire team.
"We have an awful lot of Kansas youngsters in our program, and automatically it means something special to them," Snyder said. "Guys from out of state, they treat it as another game, but hopefully the motivation of another game means we need to be motivated to play as well as we possibly can. But, if you're not from in state, be there for your teammates that are from in state, because this is something they live with year in and year out."
Walsh has been on the right side of every Sunflower Showdown since he arrived at K-State in 2013. He wants to keep that streak going on Saturday, and he is glad with how things have turned out.
"Whenever I got up here everything switched," Walsh said. "My whole family switched over to purple and the rest is history."