Coming off a 5-7 season and reloaded with a recruiting class of junior college transfers that would have filled Noah's arc, Kansas State head coach Ron Prince says there is every reason to be optimistic about the year ahead. GoPowercat.com's Rob Cassidy caught up to Prince for a one-on-one conversation following Friday's Manhattan Catbackers event and talked to the Wildcat coach about many of the factors that could affect the pivotal year ahead.
In the past, you've talked to me about how much you enjoy these Catbacker events. Is any particular reason for that?
My experience at other universities is that these things are usually over at some mega-donors house with a couple of very influential people. That's not inclusive. These messages that we have at Kansas State are all about the people. That's what I like about it. People of all walks of life come to these things and they love Kansas State. They get to actually be up next to the people that they want to develop an opinion on or bond with. For me, it gives me a chance to deliver the message that the people want to hear without a filter. It's not through the print, Internet or TV. We get to deliver the message directly, allowing them to infer from our tone and non-verbal. You get a lot of feedback as well. I think that's very healthy.
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Is there any particular Catbacker event that really sticks out in your mind?
Oh man, there's a bunch of them. I think I've been to all of them now. They're all good. The biggest part of them is when student-athletes talk. That's when you can see the people on the edge of their seats. They've heard our messages, but the excitement comes when they get to see these players.
Speaking of players, you have some new ones on campus. Have any of these newcomers really struck you, on or off the field?
We really don't have that much interaction with them right now, but when I listen to the coaches that are working with them, they're great kids. The leadership that we have on this team, specifically (defensive end Ian Campbell) and (quarterback Josh Freeman), is so positive. Those kids have determined that they are going to have a really good team, and they tell the new guys about it. The kids are responding to it. They all believe that we are going to do what we are supposed to do here at Kansas State, and that's competing for championships.
What about some of these newcomers that haven't quite qualified yet? Daniel Thomas for example, how is his progress?
There are three or four guys that are sill working on their stuff, but that was to be expected. We knew they could go all the way down to the wire. You mentioned Daniel Thomas. He's right where we expected him to be.
Do you expect him to qualify this year?
What about John Finau? Do you expect him to make it?
Has (K-State wide receiver) Deon Murphy moved past his academic struggles? Is he back with the team?
Yeah, he's back with the team, but we have a couple of kids that have some things to tidy up in the summer. I'll tell you like I've told other people, "I love Deon, but there are some days that I don't like Deon." It's not that he's malicious or anything like that. A lot of young people want to be so good when it comes to sports. Now, he's accepted that there are responsibilities that come along with being a very public figure. There is a responsibility to do well academically and do well in other ways. I'm confident that he'll do that, but he has some work to do. We've had other players in the past that we've had to handle this way. Now, this has nothing to do with on-the-field stuff. Deon isn't in anybody's dog house or anything like that, but just like if he is your own child, you have to be able to say, "Look, sports is only for a limited period of time. You have to be able to treat it with respect."
As far as recruiting goes, how important is finding a way to start winning games against Missouri and Kansas?
I think ultimately, kids see things in trends and big pictures. It's "how does this affect me?" A lot of kids say to themselves, "how do I fit in? How do I fit in with the players. How do I fit in with the coaches? How can my skills be used best? Do they have my degree program?" Just as long as they see those trends for a positive future, that's what they're about. Most of them feel like they'll cause those games to turn out differently. That's why we recruit, train and coach, so we can win all those games that you're talking about.
What's the biggest difference you see in this team as opposed to last year's team? What makes you think this season is different?
What I know is different is us defensively, especially in the secondary. Our kids, from what I can hear, are excited. They're working out. They're training. They're working with each other. From what Josh and some of the other captains tell me, that's been the biggest difference. These workouts are all voluntary in the summer, but these kids are out there and they're really excited about it. Last year, it was a struggle to get some of the kids out to these workouts. Maybe that factored into things, but I can tell you that the kids this year seem to be very excited.
Aside from (graduated wide receiver) Jordy (Nelson), how are some of the other NFL guys doing. Have you heard from (graduated seniors) Justin Roland and Rob Jackson?
In fact, Justin Roland was back in Manhattan today. His remark to me was, "Thanks. Everything we do, from the way we practice to the way we dress, is exactly the way it's done in the NFL." He came back stunned.
Is that by design?
Yes. That's the background that I have. Players that we've had in the past have done very well when they've gone on because they're prepared. That's what (Roland's) comments indicated. Rob Jackson is also doing a nice job from what I hear. We've done everything we can to give them an opportunity, but my biggest concern is how they're going to be as men. Are they going to have something that they can really hang their hats on? Football is awesome. I love it, but I'm always concerned about how they are going to be as people when football is gone.
Aside from Ian and Josh, are there other players on this team that you feel confident will have a future in the NFL?
I don't know. A lot of it has to do with what kind of person you are and how you play, not just what your times are. I think you see that in the draft. You can look at how drafts are being conducted now. Character is a huge part of it now. What that means is, "How are you going to perform under stress and pressure?" That's what we're telling these guys. We have a number of players that could be professional athletes, but how they conduct themselves under stress and pressure over these next months or seasons is going to tell these professional organizations how they might perform at their level.