No extra motivation needed for rivalry game
By ARNE GREEN
By ARNE GREEN
Special to The Telegram
MANHATTAN — Some Kansas State players were born with a desire to beat up on instate rival Kansas.
Take Abilene's Curry Sexton and Cody Whitehair, for whom all things K-State are a family tradition.
"My parents both graduated from Kansas State, so that was kind of a big thing when I was looking at colleges, to come here and carry on that legacy," said Whitehair, a sophomore offensive lineman, who starts at left guard.
Then there are people like defensive end Ryan Mueller, for whom purple was an acquired taste.
His father, Steve, played two years as a walk-on at Kansas leading Ryan to spend his formative years in Leawood cheering for the Jayhawks. Now all he wants to do is beat them.
"I was a KU fan growing up and senior year of high school was not recruited by KU and not even looked at," said Mueller, who will get his shot at the Jayhawks at 11 a.m. Saturday when the two teams wrap up the regular season at Memorial Stadium in Lawrence. "If they offered me a scholarship I probably would have taken it.
"But I grew into the K-State Wildcat family and got recruited here and this game means a lot to me — the KU/K-State — and I just want to do whatever it takes to win."
While Mueller was ignored by KU coming out of St. Thomas Aquinas High School, Kansas State recruited him as a preferred walk-on and he eventually won a scholarship.
And if there's any question about his allegiance, he laid that to rest Monday before K-State's first practice of the week when he made an impassioned plea to his teammates.
"He basically said, 'We've got one more game. We've got one game, we've got to win that game,'" Sexton recalled. "He said, 'I refuse to lose this game.'
"He kind of told us we've got to share that same mentality and I think everybody does."
That certainly goes for Sexton, a junior wide receiver and another son of Kansas State graduates, who sat in the same Snyder Family Stadium seats for Wildcat games from the time he was a young boy.
"You don't want to say it, but you grow up and you learn to hate the other team in every sport," Sexton said. "I think this game just gets so much more amped up, for me personally.
"Two instate teams, one didn't recruit me, one did. This is the team I've grown up a fan of my whole life, so it's a different feeling coming into this game than any other game."
Linebacker Blake Slaughter, a fifth-year senior from Missouri City, Texas, grew into the rivalry. As a team captain, he joined Mueller in addressing the team Monday.
"It's important, and Ryan's made that clear," said Slaughter, who red-shirted last season in exchange for playing a more prominent role on this year's team and now leads the Wildcats in tackles. "Hopefully I made that clear, too.
"We started the season 2-4 and have an opportunity to finish 5-1 and that's a pretty big turnaround. We didn't get to go out the way we wanted to on senior night (a 41-31 loss last week to Oklahoma), so speaking from my perspective as a senior, we want to make this our senior night."
It definitely will be the final game for Kansas, 3-8 overall and 1-7 in the Big 12. But K-State, at 6-5 and 4-4, already is bowl eligible and could improve its postseason standing with a victory.
"It's huge, not that it's just KU, but where we are in our season at 6-5," Sexton said. "Coming off last week, we've got to end the season strong, and obviously a rivalry game is huge.
"KU is a much improved team, they're hungry and this is kind of their bowl game. This game is humongous."
While Whitehair and Sexton may have Abilene locked up, there are bragging rights at stake. Whitehair played on the same Kansas Shrine Bowl team with KU linebacker Ben Heeney from Hutchinson and defensive end Michael Reynolds from Wichita Kapaun, plus played against Hesston offensive lineman Riley Spencer as a high school senior.
"Those are motivation for me," he said.
Just the sight of crimson and blue, or whatever uniform combination Kansas breaks out for the game, is enough to fuel Sexton's fire.
"Like they say, if you can't get up for a rivalry game, you've got problems," he said. "Especially a game like this.
"Nobody should need to fire you up. You should have plenty of self-motivation coming into this game."