Ad Astra per Aspera: "To the stars through difficulty." It's the Sunflower State's motto, and the phrase also happens to be war cry for the 2008 Kansas State football team. Fitting? Well, the difficulty part is certainly there. The stars, on the other hand, are still waiting patiently for the Wildcats' arrival. And while said arrival doesn't look to be in the cards for the near future, the mindset of cornerback Blair Irvin and his K-State teammates remains unchanged.
The Latin slogan, which is printed on the cover of the team's 2008 media guide, has apparently struck a certain chord inside Irvin, who recently had its English translation tattooed across the back of the very hands he uses to knock down passes on Saturdays.
How's that for a lasting impression.
"Being with (my teammates) every day, you can't do anything but shoot for the stars." Irvin said. "These guys want it and I want it. We haven't had anything handed to us. We started out at the bottom, so we can't feel bad that we're at the bottom. We're not really at the bottom though. We're in the mix. We still control our own destiny."
The defensive back, a Louisiana product who has lived in Kansas for less than three years, says the motto, which he first became familiar with upon his arrival at K-State last spring, speaks to him personally, describing his life up to this point and the tumultuous 2008 season his team is currently enduring to tee. It's like the words were written just for him, and according to Irvin, the tattoo was nothing more than the result of the perfect opportunity coming along at the perfect time.
He speaks about his love for the state he now calls home. It's the place in which he met his wife, had his child, and restarted his football career, and the defensive back hopes that this weekend, it will serve as the stage for the turning point of his junior season.
"Kansas: To the stars through difficulty. This place just fits my personality," Irvin said. "I've been through a lot of difficult things, but still, I try to make positives and move forward. When Coach told us about (the motto) … well, that's the way our team is. We've been through a lot, but we're still headed to the stars."
While Irvin is the only player on the K-State roster who as gone as far as to inscribe the words on his flesh, both the stars and the difficulty standing in the way are clear to all parties involved. So though it seems crazy to most, nobody's paging Houston about the problems plaguing this ship just yet. There's no doubt that at least some manner of fight and confidence remains inside this team. Bystanders can see it. It's obvious.
But that confidence could all be snatched away by a stiff gust of Oklahoma wind this weekend, and the players on this team need look no further than the 42-point stomping K-State received at the hands of Nebraska a little more than a year ago for proof of just how demoralizing and season-altering a blowout loss can be.
It's no secret that things have been far from good in Manhattan since the "Lincoln Massacre." K-State dropped every game that followed it in 2007 and the 2008 version of the team ranks in the bottom three of the conference in scoring defense, rushing defense, total defense, kickoff return yards, turnover margin and time of possession.
Oh, and the Wildcats, 4-3 on the year, have yet to brave the tough part of the schedule. A gauntlet of meetings with opponents ranked in the top 20 starts this weekend, when No. 4 Oklahoma travels to the Little Apple, and games with No. 19 Kansas and No. 16 Missouri are set to come on its heels.
How's that for difficulty?
But as likely as a string of three losses seems to be, the Wildcats aren't concerning themselves with embarrassing stat totals, projections or public perception.
"People might be (burying this team to early), but it is what it is," senior defensive end Ian Campbell said. "I don't have any feeling toward fair-weather people. We're here through the thick and thin, and if other people don't want to be there for us, I don't have time to think about that. I care about our fans. I know the loyal fans will be there until the end of this thing, win or lose, and we appreciate that."
Like many head coaches, K-State's Ron Prince makes a point of letting people know that he doesn't read the papers or make any effort to gain and an outsiders perspective on his team, but the men who do the head coach's bidding on the field of play seem all too familiar with the program's current public perception.
Then again, it's hard to argue with facts.
"It's hard to ignore all the stuff you read and what people say, but I was brought up being told that if you don't want to hear bad things, you better do good things," Irvin said. "As a team, we know we're better than what we've shown."
"We have a lot to prove," freshman running back Logan Dold said.
So while the upcoming schedule is rough to say the least, if it's a proving ground Dold and the Wildcats are looking for, they won't need to look very far down the schedule to find it.
A win over the Sooners this weekend would do wonders in turning the team's outlook from bleak to bright. Finding a way to steal two out of the next three would set everything in Manhattan right, but even talking about that chances of such a thing taking place seems like a stretch at the moment, and you won't find too many Wildcats willing to dispute that.
You can't talk or even tattoo your way to the stars after all.
"We've been known to beat top-ranked teams in the past, so their coaches will have them ready for us," Dold said. "Coming (into the next three games) as underdogs means we're the ones with a everything to prove."
The coming three weeks are going to prove something. That much is for sure. Just what that will be, however, is up for debate.