MANHATTAN — Kendall Adams can't wait for Saturday.

For most of the Kansas State Wildcats, the 6:10 p.m. season opener against South Dakota is reason enough to get the juices flowing. Adams also appreciates what he went through to get there.

"I have no clue what it's going to feel like, but I'm extremely excited," Adams, the Wildcats' senior free safety, said of his return from a Nov. 18 injury at Oklahoma State that ended his 2017 season two games early. "My first-ever game playing (as a redshirt freshman) was against South Dakota, so it's kind of crazy my first game of my senior year is against them again.

"I'm just excited for it."

A healthy Adams should provide a huge boost to K-State's secondary, which already had to replace two starters from a year ago. His 28 career starts trail only senior cornerback Duke Shelley's 30 on the defense.

"It's great to have him back and to see his road to recovery and how hard he worked to get to this point and to be running around as fast as he is and as well as he is," junior safety Denzel Goolsby said of Adams, who started five games as a redshirt freshman in 2015 and has been in the lineup ever since. "I'm super proud of him and I'm excited to see the things he does."

Adams' rehabilitation for his unspecified foot or ankle injury was an arduous one, requiring surgery and forcing him to miss all of spring practice. But he kept the faith by focusing on incremental goals.

"It was pretty tough at first, especially fresh out of surgery," he said. "It's kind of hard to picture yourself back to this point.

"You hit milestones — walking again, jogging again, slowly starting to get back into drills. Those milestones kind of helped me."

Adams completed the rehab ahead of schedule, which made him available for all of preseason camp.

"I was supposed to be out six to eight months," he said. "I got cleared at five months, so I was ready a bit early.

"What the surgeon explained to me, I was pretty lucky — as lucky as you can be with an injury like that — as far as I didn't have to use any artificial scar tissue or anything like that, so my scar tissue would heal naturally. That helped the healing process go a lot faster, and obviously with my rehab process, I attacked it pretty aggressively."

After shaking the rust and getting back into playing shape, Adams said he felt he was back to normal by the end of training camp. K-State coach Bill Snyder was encouraged as well.

"I'm just pleased he's got his weight down and he's running around well and probably playing right now as well as I can remember," Snyder said.

The Wildcats can use Adams' experience and leadership on a defense that last year was efficient against the run, ranking 13th nationally, but finished 128th out of 129 against the pass.

"Me personally, I kind of take it as locker room material," Adams said of the pass defense, which yielded 309 yards per game. "I just feel it's kind of embarrassing, some of those performances last year.

"I just think it was due to a few blown coverages and not attacking the thrown ball."

The Wildcats have made pressuring the quarterback a priority up front after logging just 24 sacks last year, while the secondary took its own steps to remedy the situation.

"We have a ball disruption chart where every week somebody gets a t-shirt from (equipment manager Al) Cerbe if they have the most ball-disruptions — things like interceptions, pass break-ups, strips, strip attempts, fumble recoveries, stuff like that. I feel like just having a different mindset about attacking the ball is going to make a huge difference this year."

So is having Adams back in the fold.

"He's kind of the grandpa of the team," Goolsby said with a smile. "We joke around about him, how many years he's been here and been playing.

"Off the field, I couldn't say enough good things about him, and the same thing for on the field."